Getting married – if you decide to throw an actual wedding rather than going down to the courthouse – is a process that requires the people involved to develop all sorts of preferences.
Even if you have next to no feelings about flower arrangements, cake toppers or linen colors, you will at some point be required to make a selection. One area where you probably have some preexisting opinions, though, no matter how anti-Pinterest you are, is music.
But one of the things I discovered while planning my upcoming wedding, and that was particularly true for me as a critic who pays a lot of attention to text, whether lyrics or dialogue, is that it’s much more fun to come up with wildly inappropriate wedding songs than to pick out tasteful ones. Here are nine of my favorites (you can make it 10 with “The Rains of Castamere” from “Game of Thrones,” which by this point is just far too obvious to include on a list).
1. “Band of Gold,” by Freda Payne: A lot of terrific songs are on this list, whether you’re judging by wedding-inappropriate lyrics or just overall musical quality. But it’s impossible to imagine one that would garner a higher combined score in both categories than Freda Payne’s harrowing track about a wedding gone disastrously wrong. The narrator, an innocent whose husband “took me from the shelter of my mother,” is hopeful when she gets married, only for her husband to book them separate rooms on their honeymoon and then ditch her for good. The chorus – “Since you’ve been gone / All that’s left is a band of gold / All that’s left of the dreams I hold / Is a band of gold / And the dream of what love could be / If you were just here, here with me” – is a succinct nightmare. And like a lot of songs on this list, “Band of Gold” is wickedly effective because it combines deeply unnerving lyrics with sunny sounds.
2. “Rent,” by the Pet Shop Boys: Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have recorded some terrific love songs, among them “Home and Dry.” But I absolutely adore it when they spike their meticulously crafted pop music with poisonous lyrics. Like “Band of Gold,” “Rent” has a deliberately somewhat naive narrator, an escort who treats a long-term paying gig with a somewhat famous man as if it’s a real emotional attachment. Part of the genius of the song is the way it goes back and forth on how much the narrator knows and how much he’s hiding from himself. Maybe he’s convincing himself that the bargain he has struck is fair. Maybe he’s bragging about his sophistication when he sings “Look at my hopes, look at my dreams, the currency we’ve spent / I love you, you pay my rent.” Either way, menace hangs over the whole scenario.
3. “Don’t Marry Her,” by the Beautiful South: After two exceedingly upsetting songs, it makes sense to mix things up a bit with this exceedingly cheeky track. “Don’t Marry Her” comes to us not just from the perspective of the other woman, but from a woman who would like to remain the mistress and avoid what she sees as the corrupting influences of matrimony altogether, thank you very much. (Warning: Some explicit language in the chorus.)
4. “Baby, I’m an Anarchist,” by Against Me!: One of my dear friends from college introduced me to Against Me! through this song, and I am not going to lie, it could double as the best song to play at a wedding or the worst. The whole second verse basically functions as a rejection of a marriage proposal that ends with a snarled “No I won’t take your hand / And marry the state.” It’s dark and funny, simultaneously mocking the self-righteousness of people who live their lives by completely rigid principle, while also arguing fairly sincerely that real love is impossible without political solidarity. As a bonus track, listen to Chumbawamba’s “Home With Me,” which is the emotional and sonic inverse of “Baby, I’m An Anarchist,” but with similar politics. Especially because it’s long past time American listeners knew Chumbawamba for something other than “Tubthumping.”
5. “Blank Space,” by Taylor Swift: I badly miss the Taylor Swift who wrote and sang country songs. But this self-aware, self-parodying track from her latest album is just fantastic. It’s got a shimmery sound that recalls Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream,” yet it’s chock-full of crazy. Specifically, it’s about the way that the surface appearance of love can make us forget what the actual thing looks like and turn us fundamentally selfish. So maybe it’s the perfect cautionary tale for a wedding, or at least the modern wedding-industrial complex, after all.
6. “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed,” by Kinky Friedman: I’m not going to lie: Interviewing Kinky Friedman during his Texas gubernatorial run was one of the stranger experiences I’ve had as an entertainment journalist, and I once had Cloris Leachman stroke my leg while asking me for skin care tips. But I still love this hilarious parody of confused male responses to feminism, which might be a deeply amusing thing to play at a bridal shower. Still, best to avoid it at weddings, given its depressing portrait of marriage.
7. “Fairytale of New York,” by the Pogues: This is a Christmas song, rather than anything explicitly about marriage or romance. But the conversation between a drunken couple who are hashing out the misery of their relationship in a jail’s drunk tank is an alternately chilly and cheery journey through the processes by which people convince themselves to settle. “I could have been someone,” he grumbles. “Well, so could anyone / You took my dreams from me/ When I first found you,” she shoots back. “I kept them with me, Babe / I put them with my own / Can’t make it all alone / I’ve built my dreams around you,” he replies. It’s lovely, and ugly and manipulative, all at once.
8. “Snow in Sun,” by Scritti Politti: The Pogues are serious players when it comes to emotionally manipulative pop songs, but “Snow in Sun” is the Deep Blue to “Fairytale of New York’s” Garry Kasparov. It starts bad in the first verse, when the narrator reflects on “how brave you are / And how come I have strayed so far.” It gets worse in the chorus when he promises “There’ll be something good about me soon.” And the song advances on to unemployment and potential homelessness, all while preserving the narrator’s series of pledges it’s increasingly clear he can’t keep. “Snow in Sun” is a set of vows made by a guy you desperately wish wouldn’t try to pledge himself to you.
9. “Runaway,” by Kanye West: Admittedly, part of the reason this song is on the list is that the video, which features a crew of black-clad ballerinas, an amazing green wall and Kanye West in a tuxedo jacket I would steal straight off his body given the opportunity, is not something anyone planning a wedding and worried about getting carried away with ideas should watch. It’s also, in extended form, an eight-minute conjuration of the kind of wedding toast where someone makes the deeply unwise decision to unburden himself or herself to the assembled guests.