I don’t blame Etta James. Really, I don’t. It’s not her fault that she created one of the most amazingly beautiful wedding songs that was so romantic hundreds of thousands of brides chose it as their first dance song. And let me make this clear: just because it’s popular doesn’t me you SHOULDN’T use it as your wedding song. If you love the music and lyrics (and who doesn’t) then you should absolutely consider it for your wedding song. However, if you’re looking for a potential wedding song that is a little more under-the-radar, I’ve come up with a list of what I consider to be underrated songs that could be perfect for your first dance.
Be warned, however, that this list does not include any recent Top 10, 20, or even 100 hits. A lot of these songs are from the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s…and the most recent one is from way back in 2011. That’s not to say there aren’t any great underrated and unique wedding songs from the past couple years. It’s just that these are the wedding songs that seem to constantly take up rotation on my playlist so I wanted to share.
SEE MORE: 58 of the Best Wedding Songs EVER
TIP: Once you’ve picked out your wedding song, check the other big items off your list with our Wedding Planning checklist.
This version of the song was an early demo of “You Only Live Once” from the Strokes third album, First Impressions of Earth. It’s completely different from the album version, and features Nick Valensi playing keyboards with Julian Casablancas singing the lyrics softly. I think the result is gorgeous, and would work great as a unique first dance song that most people probably haven’t heard yet.
2. Sweet Thing by Van Morrison
You’ll soon discover that there are two Van Morrison songs on this list (that also happen to be my two favorite. Period.). This 1968 song appeared on Morrison’s second album, Astral Weeks, and I could probably argue with you that it’s the most romantic song ever made.
I like Neil Young, but I’m not a die-hard fan. However, this song really, really, makes me want to be one. Every time this song comes on I sit and sulk that we can’t dance to it at home when we’re 95 and tell our great-great- grandkids about how this was our wedding song. Sigh.
4. California Stars by Billy Bragg and Wilco
If you’re not big into slow-dancing, this song has pretty much the perfect rhythm for just swaying back and forth…which is generally my go-to dance move when I’m not embarrassing myself trying to pretend like I can do more.
5. Wonderwall by Ryan Adams
Can we talk about how this version is even better than the original? And don’t get mad at me because Noel Gallagher said the same thing.
I had my bridesmaids walk down the aisle to this song, though I think it could work equally as well for a first dance song. It’s slow and sweet and Cat Power is unique enough that your music nerd friends will love it and your parents will reminisce about the original version by Phil Phillips.
The Smiths and Morrissey are huge in our household, which is why I’m surprised this song didn’t end up as our first dance song (the winner is below). In my opinion it’s one of the most romantic Smiths/Morrissey songs out there that doesn’t have “Fatty” in the title. 🙂
Everytime I hear this song I’m instantly transported back to high school and all those serious adolescent heartaches…which means it’s probably achingly perfect as a first dance song. It’s also not as dated as some other songs from that time period, which means you can play it without anybody giving your the side eye. (Hello, Cranberries).
I don’t automatically think of U2 when I think of wedding songs, but this one really is great. And unless you’ve been watching Reality Bites on cable as much as I have, there’s a good chance most people haven’t heard it in awhile.
I realllllllly wanted to make this our first dance song. It’s on my Top 5 Favorite Songs Ever list, but my now-husband wasn’t a fan of some of the lyrics. And to each their own. I turned down several songs he loved because I just wasn’t feeling them. It’s all about compromise, right?
This was our wedding song! We went back and forth on a first dance song we loved, and this ended up being one we both really liked (it was also one of the only songs we could remember playing on the jukebox on one of our first dates). While it might be slightly more played than a couple others on this list, I still consider it an underrated wedding song.
12. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel
Hipsters rejoice! Neutral Milk Hotel is one of those bands that’s popular but not TOO popular, which means if you use this as your first dance song you’ll still have some cred with the pickiest of friends. (Though Grandma might wonder who the hell is singing.)
If I were to pick the best, most unique song on this list, it would have to be this one (I told you these weren’t in order). It’s a passionate, awesome song that I’ve heard zero people play as a first dance song (though if this was your song let us know!). Plus, Bowie never goes out of style.
My husband danced to this song with his step-mom, and it really was/is a great song. It’s one of those songs you never think about until it comes on and then you’re like “I love this song!!!”
We searched and searched and searched for a Red House Painters that could work as a first dance song. The problem, as most RHP fans know, is that while the have gorgeous songs the lyrics are usually about love gone astray (as most good love songs are). But this cover is not, and it’s by the Red House Painters so it’s a win-win.
I think this song is heartbreakingly beautiful. It’s a little long so I would talk to your DJ about trimming it SLIGHTLY if you go with it as a first dance song, but otherwise it’s sweet and romantic and downright cinematic.
This was an original song written for the Cameron Crowe movie, Elizabethtown, which makes it a bit more under-the-radar and unique (even if you’re not a fan of the movie). It still, however, has that gorgeous tone My Morning Jacket is known for, which means it’s a great choice for a first dance song.
18. Little Trip to Heaven by Tom Waits
If you’re a fan of Tom Waits this 1973 song from his album Closing Time should definitely be a top-contender for you.
19. Fade Into You by Mazzy Star
So the next two almost didn’t make the list because they were deemed “too girly” by some male folk I know (husband, included). I still love these songs, though, and they’re not really played to death at weddings which means they’re perfect for this list. My teenage self is really happy with me right now, BTW.
20. Wild Horses cover by The Sundays
The only downside to this song? It will FOREVER make me think of that scene on the rollercoaster with Reese Witherspoon and Mark Wahlberg in Fear. :/ It’s still beautiful, though, Marky Mark be damned!
Looking for more musical inspiration? Check out my recent suggestions for best wedding music.