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Playlist: Cocktail Hour Songs

by Meg Keene, Editor-In-Chief

Playlist: Cocktail Hour Songs | A Practical Wedding

Playlist: Cocktail Hour Songs | A Practical Wedding


There are some parts of weddings worth all of that time you spend thinking about symbolism and meaning and details, and other parts that are not. The trick is to know the difference. Cocktail hour playlists firmly falls into the “don’t stress too much” category, and for sure the “don’t worry about the symbolism” category. If your cocktail hour is going as planned, everyone will be cocktailing and chatting, not carefully analyzing the order of songs and lyrics. With the cocktail hour playlist, you’re looking just looking to get a vibe going. Maybe you’re going for “soulful” maybe it’s “luxurious” maybe it’s “funky and fun.” But once you’ve figured out the general mood, don’t worry about it too much.

For our cocktail hour, we went with whole albums. Our idea was that if we picked a couple of all-time great albums and played them on random, you couldn’t miss. We played Nina Simone’s Forever Young Gifted and Black, George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, and Paul Simon’s Graceland. The mood was set, the music was good, and at one point I pulled David away for a secret first dance. Bonus? Pulling together the playlist was 100% painless.

All that said, we’ve pulled together some of the coolest reader favorites, plus some staff favorites, for cocktail hour playlists. This particular list is curated by me (with Maddie as my accomplice) so it leans on a mix of jazz standards, soul, classics, and some funky new stuff. I’d call its vibe “eclectic.” Use them to inspire you, not to stress you out. I’m pretty sure Etta James and JT want you to feel nice and relaxed. Happy drinking (and listening)!

Cocktail Hour Wedding Playlist from practicalmaddie on 8tracks Radio.

1. “Águas de Março” by Elis Regina & Tom Jobim

2. “Give Him a Great Big Kiss” by The Shangri-Las

3. “In The Mood” by Glen Miller

4. “You’ve Got Time” by Regina Spektor

5. “You Are The Best Thing” by Ray LaMontagne

6. “Fresh Feeling” by Eels

7. “For Once in My Life” by Stevie Wonder

8. “I Just Want to Make Love to You” by Etta James

9. “Dream a Little Dream of Me” by Louis Armsrong & Ella Fitzgerald

10. “Suit and Tie” by Justin Timberlake*

11. “Me and Julio” by Paul Simon

12. “Jackson” by Johnny Cash & June Carter

13. “One Foot” by Fun.

14. “22” by Lily Allen

15. “If You Want To Be Happy” by Jimmy Soul

16. “Valerie” by Mark Ronson & Amy Winehouse

17. “Brand New Key” by Melanie

18. “Make Your Own Kind Of Music” by Mama Cass Elliot

19. “Moondance” by Van Morrison

20. “Young and Beautiful” by Lana Del Ray

21. “Ten Cent Pistol” by The Black Keys

22. “Everyday” by Buddy Holly

23. “Such Great Heights” by The Postal Service

24. “Gotta Have You” by the Weepies

*We included the explicit version, but you can download the clean version here for the sake of your granny.

Bonus Tracks:

1. “Cigarettes and Coffee” by Otis Redding

2. “Here Comes the Sun” covered by Richie Havens

3. “She” by Elvis Costello

4. “A Quai” by Yann Tiersen

5. “Question” by Old 97’s

6. “Answering Bell” by Ryan Adams

7. “It Had To Be You” by Harry Connick Jr.

8. “Words Cannot Describe” by Mirah

9. “Keep Your Heart” by TV On the Radio

10. “Forever” by Ben Harper

11. “Rebel Rebel” by Seu Jorge

12. “The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room” by Flight of the Conchords

13. “Ocean and a Rock” by Lisa Hannigan

14. “Can’t Stop Now” by Major Lazer

15. “Sunday Kind of Love” by Etta James

16. “Water (Get No Enemy)” by Fela Kuti

17. “Pink Moon” by Nick Drake

18. “White Winter Hymnal” by Fleet Foxes

19. “Elation” by Isbells

20. “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” by Death Cab for Cutie

21. “Oceans” by Puscifer

22. “Flower” by Amos Lee

23. “Oh Me Oh My” by Aretha Franklin

24. “LA County” by Lyle Lovett

25. “L’hymne à l’amour” by Edith Piaf

26. “Everything I Have is Yours” by Billie Holiday

27. “Summer Song” by Chad & Jeremy

28. “The Sweetest Thing” by Camera Obscura

29. “Wished for You” by Squirrel Nut Zippers

30. “When I’m With You” by Best Coast

31. “Welcome Home” by Radical Face

32. “Love Song” by The Cure

33. “Bottom of the River” by Adam Acuragi

34. “She is Staggering” by Polaris

35. “You Give Me Something” by James Morrison

36. “City of Blinding Light” by U2

37. “You Always Make Me Smile” by Kyle Andrews

38. “Girl I Wanna Lay You Down” by Jack Johnson & ALO

39. “Saw You First” by The Givers

40. “Bright Whites” by Kishi Bashi

Top photo from Meg’s personal collection, playlist photo from Yay! NY by beIMAGED

**This post was sponsored by Monogamy Wines. Thank you Monogamy for helping make the APW mission possible!**

Meg Keene

Meg is the Founder and EIC of APW. Her first book, A Practical Wedding: Creative Solutions for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration, was published in January 2012, and has been a top three bestseller on the wedding bookshelf ever since. Meg has her BFA in Drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She lives in Oakland, CA with her husband and son. For more than you ever wanted to know about Meg, you can visit

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  • Sara

    Happy. That is all.

  • carrie

    Our very, very favorite songs were in the cocktail hour because most of our favorite songs you couldn’t really dance to. Like “Africa” by Toto, “In the House of Stone and Light” by Michael Penn, “Something About You” by Level 42. I still listen to our cocktail playlist, two years later.

    • carrie

      Not letting me edit, so “House of Stone and Light” is Martin Page. Michael Penn is “No Myth.” Which was also on the playlist.

    • kate

      Yep, I feel like all of my song contributions are cocktail hour songs, which is why we decided to probably go with a dj.

  • hampton

    Um, I cannot express enough how much I LOVE that you have included Polaris on the bonus tracks. I love them and especially that song.

  • Destination Wedding Photographer

    Love this advice. There’s so much to stress about the rest of the day, let this part be fun & relaxing.

  • Erin

    Oh man, thanks for including Jackson!! I really want to play it for my relatives (we’re from Mississippi) but I was all hung up on the symbolism. But dang it, it’s Johnny and June!

    • meg

      The symbolism is that it’s awesome.

      Also, Johnny and June were married FOREVER. So there is that.

      • Erin

        His daily To Do list was simply “Kiss June.” SWOON.

  • SamiSidewinder


    • SamiSidewinder

      Oh, and also:
      My Yes and My No, Anthony B
      For a little reggae flavor.

  • ART

    oh man, I love that you included Richie Havens – my fiance is going to have to fight to keep our playlist from being 20% Richie Havens songs/covers!

  • Kater

    Omg, can’t believe the timing…I spent a huge chunk of time sat & sun working out cocktail hour & dinner playlists…kinda wish I’d seen this before then but what can ya do!! Love the idea of using a few classic albums on shuffle, SO SMAHT!!

  • SarahHoppes

    I feel like I want to put on this playlist at my next party.

  • Giggles

    Cocktail hour? That’s just a playlist for a stormy afternoon. Love it!

  • Bubbles

    I really want to play Jonathan Coulton’s cover of “Baby Got Back” during dinner or cocktail hour, just to see if anyone notices.

    Also, when they open the buffet I really want to play “Show Me Where Your Noms At” by Songs to Wear Pants To feat. Hannah Hart. Why? Because I can, that’s why!

  • Annabelle

    I very much love Lyle Lovett, but LA County is about domestic violence; the old boyfriend comes to LA and kills the bride and groom at the alter. For a more, shall we say romantic Lyle song, I think I’d rather hear Nobody Knows Me, North Dakota or I Know You Know, all beautiful. Even better (and way more fun): Here I Am. The quintessential, happy, quirky Lyle love song.

  • Rachel

    Omg I thought it would be totally inappropriate to play some flight of the concords but that shit is the sound of grade 12 to me…my friends would love it…I’m going to go for it

  • Katherine Harrison

    I have been gathering the 1st dance songs of all the couples invited to our wedding and plan to use those as our playlist.

    • Giggles

      I love that idea!

  • Giggles

    Also, “Águas de Março” reminds me of the playlist for our family dinner the night before our wedding, which we completely turned over to my brother. My brother and I both spent almost two years living in Brasil and he spent a year living in other former Portuguese colonies a bit later. So having him do the playlist for our dinner at a Brazilian Churrascaria was perfect. It was all Portuguese music. I should pull that music out again.

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  • wedding decoration company

    this is one of my favorite song “You Always Make Me Smile” by Kyle Andrews

  • Dave

    Hey, I came to this URL expecting the usual cheeseball playlists, but found Fela Kuti and Richie Havens instead. Really nice job on this, and super helpful! Thanks.

  • RayRay

    You’re awesome.

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  • Cassidy

    For a jazzified version of JT’s Suit and Tie, check out the cover by The Stepkids, Too bad I can’t get these guys to play at my wedding!

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