We all know that June is the traditional month for weddings, and has been ever since the Romans decided to name their goddess of marriage “Juno.” Here at Dystopian Dance Party, however, we observe only one ceremony in the month of June. So for all you lovebirds out there, here’s our proposal–har, har–for an alternative wedding date in late May, with 19 songs about that most revered and dreaded of social institutions: marriage. Much like marriage itself, this playlist has its ups and downs, with songs about divorce and prostitution and R. Kelly amongst the more traditional paeans to love and domesticity. But if you really love us, you’ll persevere; and, if all else fails, you’ll see it through to the end for the sake of the kids. Just be glad it’s only 80 minutes long, and not the rest of your life.
1. UGK featuring OutKast: “Int’l Players Anthem (I Choose You)”
(from Underground Kingz, 2007)
In her 2009 book The Industrial Vagina: The Political Economy of the Global Sex Trade, radical lesbian feminist Sheila Jeffreys describes marriage as a form of prostitution. And while it is, to put it mildly, unlikely that Jeffreys is a fan of Texan rap duo Bernard “Bun B” Freeman and the late Chad “Pimp C” Butler, better known as the Underground Kingz, she may be surprised to find that this is one subject on which they share some intellectual common ground. UGK’s 2007 hit single “Int’l Players Anthem (I Choose You)” uses the nuptial themes of choice and commitment to expound upon the parallels between all manner of heterosexual relations: husband and wife, pimp and “ho,” baby daddy and baby mama. In André 3000‘s opening guest verse, he prepares to “give up all this pussy cat that’s in my lap” and commit to one woman; Bun B, meanwhile, makes a different kind of proposal for a girl to “be a real street stalker to walk a green mile.” And Big Boi fears being tied down to a woman through child support, which he characterizes as “makin’ it rain every month on schedule.” These are, to be sure, some uncomfortable comparisons–but the fact that it’s possible to make them at all speaks volumes about the unequal power dynamics of marriage and the sex trade alike.
2. Trick Daddy featuring Jazze Pha: “4 Eva”
(from Thug Matrimony: Married to the Streets, 2004)
But maybe you were hoping to hear something a little more romantic from this playlist than “marriage is a form of prostitution.” Okay, fine: here’s a surprisingly conventional song of love and commitment from Miami’s Maurice Samuel Young, a.k.a. Trick Daddy. Granted, as Trick himself admits, he “ain’t never been a man with manners,” but he can “get ghetto poetic,” and he spits some pretty solid vows for his self-described “thug matrimony”: “Leave me your number and I’ll holla back / You prefer your pet name, nickname, no big thang, girl, I’ll call you that / Won’t be no problem with no other woman / ‘Cause you the one I chose / In other words, fuck them other hoes.” Plus, with his own first cousin, producer Jazze Pha, on board to sing the hook, “4 Eva” is a wedding-appropriate family affair; hell, I’m pretty sure that I just talked myself into including it on any future reception playlists of my own.
3. Floetry: “Say Yes”
(from Floetic, 2002)
With its lyrical requests to “let me undress you” and suggestive moans from Floetry “Songstress” Marsha Ambrosius, this next song isn’t wedding-appropriate so much as it is wedding night-appropriate. But as we’ve already established, sex is an integral part of marriage, and fortunately not just in the exploitative sense. A warmly erotic neo-soul slow-burner, “Say Yes” gets that point across by using the language of the marriage proposal to ask a partner to confirm their love in the really old-fashioned way: “Since it’s gonna be made tonight, tonight / All you gotta do is say yes.”
4. Gang of Four: “Contract”
(from Entertainment!, 1979)
Lest we start getting too sentimental, though, here’s Marxist post-punk extraordinaires Gang of Four to puncture our bourgeois fantasies of marital bliss and sexual pleasures alike. A searing excoriation of institutionalized romance in all its forms, “Contract” sneers over idealized “scenes like you read of in magazines,” brands marriage as a mere “contract in our mutual interest,” and ends with a rousing chorus–sing along, kids!–of the repeated phrase, “our bodies make us worry.” It’s pretty dour stuff, to be sure, but the wiry punk-funk groove laid down by drummer Hugo Burnham, bassist Dave Allen, and guitarist Andy Gill makes it a whole lot more palatable. Why hasn’t anyone sampled this yet?
5. Prince: “Let’s Pretend We’re Married”
(from 1999, 1982)
So far, our selections have been pretty clearly pro- or anti-marriage. Leave it to Prince, then, to blur those binary categories and give us this electro-tinged ode to…well, fucking, but using marriage as a metaphor. To be honest, having been married myself in the past, I can’t help but think Prince’s image of wedlock is a little, um, optimistic: it’s not that there isn’t any sex within marriage, it’s just that most married couples are too damn exhausted to “go all night” and not stop “until the morning light,” as he puts it. But hey, I guess that’s a goal to shoot for if I ever make it to Marriage #2.
6. The Jimi Hendrix Experience: “51st Anniversary”
(1967 B-side, available on Are You Experienced)
Originally released as the B-side to his second single “Purple Haze,” “51st Anniversary” found Jimi Hendrix considering the prospect of married life. Unsurprisingly, from a man whose body of work up to that point included a murder ballad about a man gunning down his cheating woman and an anthem about refusing to be tied down to a single place, he was skeptical. The lyrics begin with an idealized portrait of a couple who have been married for 50 years and “can’t wait for their 51st to roll around”–but, as Jimi warns, “that was the good side, baby; here come the bad side.” Turns out that another couple, at just their 10-year anniversary, are miserable, with “a thousand kids” running around hungry while the husband wastes his life at the bar; another husband and wife, married for 30 years, are “tired of each other” and the woman has “got another lover.” Perhaps understandably, he concludes his tale with a simple plea: “I ain’t ready… Let me live a little longer.”
7. Joni Mitchell: “My Old Man”
(from Blue, 1971)
Of course, long-term relationships need not always be a form of stultifying spiritual death. Take, for example, Joni Mitchell‘s “My Old Man,” a touching ballad most likely written for her former flame, Graham Nash: “He’s my sunshine in the morning / He’s my fireworks at the end of the day / He’s the warmest chord I ever heard / Play that warm chord, play it, stay, baby.” To be fair, Joni is careful to note that the relationship she describes isn’t marital in the traditional sense: “We don’t need no piece of paper from the city hall / Keeping us tied and true.” And, since she and Nash were no longer an item when she recorded the song, there’s a deep sense of melancholy that bubbles up to the surface in the bridge: “But when he’s gone / Me and them lonesome blues collide / The bed’s too big / The frying pan’s too wide.” You know what, on second thought, this song is sad as hell. Forget what I said before; relationships really are spiritual death.
8. The Rolling Stones: “Dear Doctor”
(from Beggars Banquet, 1968)
On a lighter note, this comical faux-country ballad from the Rolling Stones‘ 1968 album Beggars Banquet tells the story of a young groom awaiting his wedding day with dread and “soaking up drink like a sponge,” all because the “gal” he’s to marry is “a bow-legged sow.” I won’t give away the twist, but suffice to say that there’s a happy ending in it for everybody–including good ol’ Cousin Lou in Virginia.
9. Georgia Satellites: “Keep Your Hands to Yourself”
(from Georgia Satellites, 1986)
Another light-hearted cut from Atlanta Southern rockers the Georgia Satellites, “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” is about the frustrations of dating a woman who wants to wait until marriage–or, if men are your preference, Jermaine Stewart. The song’s title is the favored retort of some especially virtuous young lady, who insists to Satellites lead singer Dan Baird that there will be “no hug-ee or kiss-ee until you make me your wife.” Watch the music video, though, and it’s clear that she didn’t follow her own advice, as the song ends with Baird being yanked offstage mid-guitar solo for a shotgun wedding with a visibly pregnant bride. Another failure for abstinence-only sex education, I suppose.
10. R. Kelly: “Marry the Pussy”
(from Black Panties, 2013)
On the opposite side of the spectrum in more ways than one is this batshit insane love song by a master of the art, Robert Sylvester Kelly. If you can’t tell from the title, “Marry the Pussy” is an unapologetically carnal marriage song, with an awe-inspiringly dumb refrain: “This is a sex proposal.” It’s the kind of savant-ish, quasi-intentional musical comedy Kelly has been specializing in for at least the last decade, and it is pretty amusing–at least until you remember that the guy literally objectifying his woman by reducing her to a sex organ is almost certainly (sorry, “allegedly”) a repeat sexual predator. Then it gets less amusing, and becomes more serial-killer-level creepy. Let’s move on, shall we?
11. Phil Collins: “Doesn’t Anybody Stay Together Anymore?”
(from No Jacket Required, 1985)
Having been thrice married and thrice divorced, Phil Collins is basically an expert on matters of the heart. And “Doesn’t Anybody Stay Together Anymore?,” from his 1985 solo smash No Jacket Required, is his grand reflection on the state of marriage in the late-20th-century West; it’s basically “Hey Ya!” without the fun video, any of the soul, or a memorable tune. Written while Collins was still “happily married” to his second wife, Jill Tavelman, the song nevertheless reflected on the dissolutions of other marriages around him, including his manager’s, several friends’, and his own from first wife Andrea Bertorelli in 1980: “I thought, ‘What’s going on? Doesn’t anybody stay together any more?'” he told Playboy in 1986. The answer, of course, was no–or, at the very least, not if the “anybody” in question is Phil Collins. Collins and Tavelman would split in 1996, and his third marriage, to Orianne Cevey, ended after seven years. Poor Phil; guess he’ll just have to content himself with the £115 million in his Swiss bank account, am I right?
12. Kanye West: “Hell of a Life”
(from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, 2010)
Meanwhile, here’s a vision of married life from Kanye West that is suitably dark and twisted–and, what the hell, maybe kind of beautiful in its own way, too. Over a sinister-sounding slowed-down fuzz bass sample from the Mojo Men’s 1966 garage-rock nugget “She’s My Baby,” West raps about how he “fell in love with a porn star / Got married in the bathroom / Honeymooned on the dance floor / And got divorced by the end of the night / That’s one Hell of a life.” It’s a mockery of domestic bliss from a man who knows he’s going off the rails: as an Autotuned Kanye croons on the hook to the tune of Black Sabbath‘s “Iron Man,” “Have you lost your mind? / Tell me when you think we crossed the line.” But West’s libertine fantasy is also, in its own way, kinda progressive; in the life he imagines with his porn-star “wife,” they’ll “have a big-ass crib and a long yard / We’ll have a mansion and some fly maids / Nothin’ to hide, we both screwed the bridesmaids.” And, in any case, it’s not for us to judge: as Kanye asks of any would-be moralists, “How could you say they live they life wrong / When you never fuck with the lights on?”
13. The Flying Burrito Brothers: “Hot Burrito #2”
(from The Gilded Palace of Sin, 1969)
Chief Flying Burrito Brother Gram Parsons was never anybody’s idea of a traditional husband; he lived so faithfully to the outlaw-country ideals he helped to mold, even his corpse ultimately couldn’t be trusted to stay in one place for long. But on “Hot Burrito #2”–so named because it was the second of two songs co-written on the spur of the moment with Burritos bassist Chris Ethridge–he does paint a kind of domestic portrait, albeit one with a marked undercurrent of tension: “When I come home, carryin’ my shoes / I’ve been waiting to tell you some news / And you want me home all night / And you don’t want another fight / But you better love.” So yeah, maybe things don’t look all that rosy between Gram and whichever groupie-turned-housewife he’s singing to; but at the very least, the song’s gospel-tinged chorus makes for a more-than-decent wedding vow: “You better love me…Jesus Christ!”
14. Terry Reid: “Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace”
(from Terry Reid, 1969; available on Superlungs)
Anyone who’s ever watched a soap opera knows all about “speak now or forever hold your peace”: the part of the Christian marriage liturgy where any objections to the new couple’s union are given one last chance to be made public. This song by cult English blues/folk-rock hero Terry Reid (later covered by American power-poppers Cheap Trick on their 1977 debut) is about that moment: the speaker, most likely a groom with cold feet as he finds himself “all tied up,” sees his “chance for a better life” and wavers on the precipice, deciding whether or not to take it. In the end, we never do find out whether Reid’s character “speaks now” or “forever holds his peace”–though, given how the song’s tense choogle lets go at the end like a musical sigh of resignation, the latter seems more likely. But with his impassioned vocal delivery, Reid sure makes us live in that moment of nervous indecision.
15. Young Jeezy featuring Jay-Z and André 3000: “I Do”
(from TM:103 – Hustlerz Ambition, 2011)
In some circles, Jeezy’s “I Do” has been compared unflatteringly to “Int’l Players Anthem,” the track that opened this mix. And in some ways, it’s easy to see why: there are certainly similarities in the two songs’ marriage-as-hustling conceit, use of lush soul samples, and presence of OutKast‘s André 3000. But there can never be enough 3 Stacks guest verses, and Jay-Z also cooks up some clever cake/”cake” metaphors as he slyly references both his 2008 wedding to Beyoncé and his ongoing love affair with the rap and, by proxy, dope games. Besides, no song where Young Jeezy compares himself to the Tooth Fairy can be a complete waste of time.
16. Elvis Costello and the Attractions: “The Long Honeymoon”
(from Imperial Bedroom, 1982)
Like much of Elvis Costello‘s early-’80s output, Imperial Bedroom can be a lyrically harrowing listen. Take, for example, the moody, jazz-inflected “Long Honeymoon,” a novelistic study of a wife and new mother who realizes with growing certainty that her husband is having an affair with her best friend. Costello’s narrator floats impassively over the scene; the closest thing to solace he has to offer is the admonition, “there’s no money-back guarantee on future happiness,” which sounds like the contents of a wedding card from Debbie Downer. The singer, for his part, wrote in 1994 that at the time he’d imagined Imperial Bedroom to be his “most optimistic album to date”; if that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about where Elvis Costello’s head was at in 1982, then I don’t know what will.
17. John Lennon: “(Just Like) Starting Over”
(from Double Fantasy, 1980)
But here we are, getting negative again. Let’s lighten things up with a glowing endorsement of domestic bliss from one of its unlikeliest ambassadors, John Lennon. Anyone who has even a passing familiarity with Lennon’s tragically truncated life is aware of its late-’70s coda, when the infamously tortured ex-Beatle found purpose and solace in his private roles as a partner for wife Yoko Ono and a father for son Sean. There has, of course, been debate over just how idyllic the Lennons’ family life really was; but considering his early years with Ono were marred by domestic abuse and a mutual heroin addiction, idylatry is a relative concept. Lennon certainly sounds happy on “(Just Like) Starting Over,” the opening track to his and Ono’s 1980 album Double Fantasy: crooning about rekindled romance over a nostalgic rock-‘n’-roll backing inspired, as he announces in a previously-unreleased spoken introduction on the 2010 “Stipped Down” remix, by “Gene and Eddie and Elvis and Buddy.” It’s basically the definition of dad rock; as I noted in my Lennon retrospective from several years ago, “Starting Over” is ripe for resurrection in a Viagra commercial. But it’s exactly this kind of sweet, homey, more than a little corny charm that marriage is all about.
18. Zapp: “Spend My Whole Life”
(from Zapp III, 1983)
Speaking of sweet, homey, and more than a little corny, here’s “Spend My Whole Life” by Roger Troutman and Zapp: a syrupy R&B ballad that definitely played at every wedding reception in 1983. And for good reason, as it’s basically the wedding song’s platonic ideal; Roger and co-writer Larry Troutman are so hung up on the idea of spending their whole lives with a woman, they ultimately decide that mortality is insufficient, and nothing short of eternity will do: “If I live forever / I will still need some more time / To let you know just what I feel / That time here forever ain’t quite enough.” Geez, Roger and Larry, you think you could give the lady some space?
19. Cab Calloway and His Orchestra: “Don’t Falter at the Altar”
(recorded 1947, available on Are You Hep to the Jive?)
And now, at last, it’s time to “take that great big step” and bring this Dance Mix to a close. And to play us off, here’s Cab Calloway and his Orchestra with a toe-tapping argument against cold feet: “Don’t falter at the altar, ’cause you have no cause to fear / Your father didn’t falter, son, that’s why you’re here.” So remember: if anyone out there reading this is planning on getting married, don’t let us scare you; just take Mr. Calloway’s advice, take a deep breath, and hope for the best. Sharing your life with someone you love is an admirable thing, and it may just be the best decision you ever make. And hey, if things don’t work out, there’s no shame in getting a divorce. Just ask Phil Collins.