In The Mood by Jay Maxwell

October 15, 2009 by Jay Maxwell

What kind of atmosphere does your pre-reception play list actually create?

It has always amazed me when someone has the gift of remembering song lyrics and can sing a song “on demand” without looking at any music sheets or lyrics. Several television game shows have even been created that challenge contestants’ knowledge of song lyrics. Often during a consultation with a bride and groom, they will see a song title and then ask me to sing a bit of the song for them. Naturally, I kindly remind them that I am a mobile disc jockey, not a wedding singer, but I will be glad to let them listen to the song to see if it is one they want to add to their play list. Friends of mine have asked me about lyrics and it seems I always draw a blank when it comes remembering them. Even for my favorite songs-those I sing along with on the radio-I do more humming and mumbling than singing because I don’t know the actual words. Of course if anyone asks me questions about who sang a song or the year it was released or how high it went on the chart, then I’m ready to hold an intelligent conversation with them.

Don’t misunderstand me though. Even though my weakness is not being able to sing a song, I am a firm believer that it is an important part of a mobile disc jockey’s job to know the message of a song before playing it for an audience. The recognition that lyrics set the mood of an event is one mark of a true professional who is striving for excellence. At this point you probably think that the remainder of this article will be about the profanity or sexually oriented content which has infiltrated much of today’s music and how we need to steer clear of these songs when playing for a general audience that one typically finds at a wedding reception. Instead, my focus here is on knowing enough about the lyrics of songs in order to set the right mood at an event, in particular, at a wedding reception.

Take a Listen

About fifteen years ago, as my wife and I attended a wedding reception as guests, I recall listening to the songs the DJ played during the social hour while we were waiting for the bride and groom to arrive. Though they were lively, he played many songs that made me wonder if he knew something about the bride and groom’s relationship that the rest of us didn’t. Instead of filling our ears with sounds of everlasting love, many of the songs were about breaking up or cheating. These songs were obviously not being played “on purpose” to send a subliminal message about the couple or their love. He was playing them simply because the music was upbeat. Sure we were all tapping our toes, but in my mind a “dismal” mood had been cast over what should have been a prelude to a grand celebration of love and romance. This experience made me always question my own selection of social hour music and to caution other DJs to be choosey in their initial musical offerings played for guests to listen to as they await the bride and groom’s arrival.

For every wedding, we ask our clients what genre of music they want played for the social hour. Many choose lively jazz or modern love songs. For many years, we had more requests for American Songbook selections (Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Tony Bennett) than any other category. Recently the trend has been for R&B music from the Sixties by such artists as The Four Tops, The Temptations, Martha Reeves and The Vandellas, Marvin Gaye and Otis Redding. Often people will just ask for Motown artists (or similar songs from other labels) to set the mood. Looking at this issue’s list, the majority of the songs are from the 1960s, with a few from the late Fifties or Seventies. What sets these songs apart from many others is that not only a “toe-tapping beat” but the lyrics-don’t forget, that’s what we are talking about here-are about everlasting and true love. Remember: An hour before the guests first meet you and hear your first note, they have witnessed two people commit the rest of their lives to each other. You are now entrusted to help celebrate this union. Songs such as “How Sweet It Is” or “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)” were made to be played for joyous occasions such as a wedding reception. The songs on this issue’s list should provide you with a good resource to ensure that the lyrics are not going to be about heartbreak.

Deceptively Cheerful

There have been songs that I’ve played during the social hour that I later discovered were about a soured relationship. One example is the 1966 hit by the Isley Brothers (remade by Rod Stewart with Ronald Isley in 1990) “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You).” It has a great beat, and by the tone of their singing one would think that it is celebrating true love. Well, perhaps it IS celebrating “true” love, but it is a one-sided love affair. Actually reading the words to the song we find, “This old heart of mine been broke a thousand times…Lonely nights that come… hurting me … heart weeps for you.” The Isleys sing it with such happy voices that one might actually hear a “love” song instead of a heartbreak song. There was one couple who requested (and we played) Al Green’s “Here I Am (Come and Take Me)” for their first dance. For the most part, it could be mistaken for a love song appropriate for a first dance. However the lines, “A love that I cannot have, you broke my heart into half… you’ll find yourself lost and alone on a darkened street” don’t lend themselves to a song for a newly married couple’s first dance. Song titles can be misleading too. Take for example The Four Tops’ classic Top 10 hit “Standing in the Shadows of Love” from 1966. After only the first line of the song, one should mark this off any “true love” list, since the jilted lover says he is “Waitin’ for the heartaches to come.” Later in the song we find phrases like “You’ve taken away all my reasons for livin'” and words like “alone,” “desperately,” “cry” and “misery.” A song like this played during the cocktail hour sends a message completely the opposite of why everyone has gathered for this particular event.

As we strive to be the best mobile disc jockeys possible, we must realize that the appropriate “love content” of a song is probably more important during the beginning of a wedding reception than at any other time during the event. When people first enter the room and begin to settle in to wait for the bridal party to arrive and while they are enjoying dinner they are more inclined to be listening to the songs and absorbing the mood that the lyrics are helping to create. Once the dance portion of the event begins, there is less tendency of the crowd to think about the love content of a song. They might still be attuned to other offensive lyrical content, but that’s another article. Remember that you always have a choice of what to play and what to recommend to a bride and groom or any client-this is equally true when they ask you to play something they can listen to or when they ask you to play something they can dance to.

SOUL SONGS TO SET THE MOOD *

SONG ARTIST

1 HOW SWEET IT IS TO BE LOVED BY YOU MARVIN GAYE

2 I CAN’T HELP MYSELF (SUGAR PIE HONEY BUNCH) FOUR TOPS

3 MY GIRL TEMPTATIONS

4 I WAS MADE TO LOVE HER STEVIE WONDER

5 YOU SEND ME SAM COOKE

6 REACH OUT I’LL BE THERE FOUR TOPS

7 IF I COULD BUILD MY WHOLE WORLD AROUND YOU MARVIN GAYE

8 LOVE MAKES THE WORLD GO ROUND DEON JACKSON

9 MORE TODAY THAN YESTERDAY SPIRAL STAIRCASE

10 SIGNED, SEALED, DELIVERED I’M YOURS STEVIE WONDER

11 MY GUY MARY WELLS

12 WISHIN’ AND HOPIN’ DUSTY SPRINGFIELD

13 THE WAY YOU DO THE THINGS YOU DO TEMPTATIONS

14 THIS WILL BE (AN EVERLASTING LOVE) NATALIE COLE

15 SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL DRIFTERS

16 IT TAKES TWO MARVIN GAYE / KIM WESTON

17 LEAN ON ME BILL WITHERS

18 FOR ONCE IN MY LIFE STEVIE WONDER

19 STAND BY ME BEN E. KING

20 AIN’T NOTHING LIKE THE REAL THING MARVIN GAYE / TAMMI TERRELL

*For the rest of Jay’s Top 50 Soul Songs, check out the November 2009 issue of Mobile Beat

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Jay Maxwell Jay Maxwell (29 Posts)

Mobile Beat’s resident musicologist since 1992 (issue #11), Jay Maxwell runs the multi-talent entertainment company, Jay Maxwell’s Music by Request, LLC, in Charleston, South Carolina. He is also a professor of Business at Charleston Southern University. His passion for detail and continuous research of clients’ requests can be found not only in this column, but also in his annually updated music guide, Play Something We Can Dance To.


Filed Under: Issues from 2009, Music