Many of the couples that hire us to DJ their weddings in the New York City area choose us because we see eye-to-eye with them in their insistence on lowering the cookie-cutter factor and a boosting the uniqueness of their celebration. Therefore, we know that a couple’s first dance does not always have to be a schmaltzy, obnoxiously positive, or familiar song. Many couples we’ve worked with over the years have chosen subtle and obscure songs that manage to capture the joy of the moment of a first dance, but in a more unexpected way.
A song subtle in its hopeful lyrics and melody but straightforwardly beautiful all the way is Nick Drake’s “Northern Sky” from his 1970 album Bryter Layter. Now, because Drake has an image as an artist whose songs are usually melancholy acoustic tunes with wispy vocals, some might think any song of his would be silly for a first dance, even if a couple is trying to choose a tune that’s a bit more offbeat. At least the song needs to be somewhat optimistic, right?
Well, “Northern Sky” is a definite exception to the moodiness that pervades many of Drake’s songs. While the song still has a haunting quality, it’s actually not hard at all to hear its positive feel. No, it’s not going to hit you over the head with life-affirmingness like a Celine Dion hit, and no, it’s not as cuddly and coffee-house ready as a song by a contemporary acoustic artist like Jack Johnson. That said, “Northern Sky” is a strikingly pretty-sounding acoustic guitar-and-piano tune, with insightful lyrics about a person becoming open to the small wonders of life (“I never saw moons knew the meaning of the sea / I never held emotion in the palm of my hand”) after meeting someone whose presence brings warmth to his bleak environment (“Now you’re here / bright in my northern sky”). While most wedding planning websites with first dance songs ideas rarely feature one offbeat song like “Northern Sky,” we’ve found, at least in the New York City area, there’s plenty of couples who crave a song like this – one that has more of a complex meaning to its happiness – for a first dance.
A memorable cover version of “Northern Sky” was released in 1991 by a little-known English band called Faith Over Reason, whose sound echoed that of female-fronted jangle-pop groups like The Sundays or Sixpence None the Richer. While still subtle, Faith Over Reason’s version of the song, from their collection Eyes Wide Smile, sounds a bit more more hopeful than Drake’s original, due to a touch of electric and slide guitars, but mostly to the innocent exuberance of singer Moira Lambert’s vocals. It almost sounds that by the end of the song she’s breaking into a smile.
Though Drake was likely referring to his cold northern skies of England in his lyrics, as a first dance this song gets an added dose of meaning for couples getting married in the New York City area (especially those those getting married in the fall and winter) because of the cold northern skies here. This might sound like a too-small detail, but we’ve found if a couple is having trouble deciding between first dance choices, sometimes it’s little sentimental things like this in a song that help them make up their minds.
Nick Drake – Northern Sky
Faith Over Reason – Northern Sky