I love a good soul song because deep down, you can’t help but feel moved by it. Soul music gets you to sing-a-long, it gets you to tap your toes, and it puts you in a good mood. And that’s why I believe soul music is a great choice for the cocktail hour of a wedding reception.
And the best part is: soul songs range from the 1960s through today. Gospel, jazz, blue-eyed, Motown, neo, funky, retro, and more, are all inspired by soul music. Even different cities have its own soulful sounds, like Memphis, Chicago, Detroit, Philly, and New Orleans. Or go international and try some British soul. It all works; especially at a wedding reception!
The point is, there’s a ton of great soul music out there. And if you want to play some at your wedding – whether it be for cocktail hour, dinner, or even dancing – there is plenty of soul to choose from.
So, with that said, if I was looking for some soulful songs for cocktail hour at a wedding reception, these are twenty soul songs I would consider putting in my playlist (in no particular order):
The Spencer Davis Group – “Gimme Some Lovin'”
Soulful rock at its best. Listen to the bass line from the bass guitar. And that singer? That’s Stevie Winwood.
Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons – “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”
My New Jersey friends would be upset if I didn’t include some Four Seasons on this list! For a more contemporary r&b version, check out Lauryn Hill’s rendition.
The Marvelows – “I Do”
Whenever I do these lists, I want to include a mix of well-known and lesser-known songs. If you are a fan of soul music, you might know this one. If you don’t, this is one of those songs you Shazam.
The Temptations – “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg”
Obviously, I like to save “My Girl” for the end of dinner or for dancing. This is a great song with that Motown soul. Also consider the version by The Rolling Stones if you like a little more rock with your soul.
Sam & Dave – “Soul Man”
Obviously. 😉 Also consider “Hold On, I’m Coming”.
Eddie Floyd – “Knock On Wood”
Infectious from the get-go. David Bowie and Amii Stewart would later cover it.
Smokey Robinson – “Cruisin'”
Other songs include his work with The Miracles, which include numerous hits like “The Track of My Tears”.
Brenda Russell – “A Little Bit of Love”
A little bit of jazzy soul, a little bit of a history lesson for those who like Big Pun’s “Still Not A Player”.
The Isley Brothers – “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak For You)”
Yes. SO MUCH YES!
Sam Cooke – “You Send Me”
Sam Cooke is one of those soul artists that has such a great voice. I also would consider “Twistin’ The Night Away” and “Having A Party” for cocktail and dinner music.
Adele – “Make You Feel My Love”
In the middle of any cocktail hour or dinner playlist I compile, I like to slow the tempo down just for a song or two. This soulful track accomplishes just that. DJs, a little programming tip: Peaks and valleys, peaks and valleys. And make your journey up and down them smooth.
Carla Thomas – “B-A-B-Y”
I just love this playful song by Carla Thomas, the Queen of Memphis Soul.
Brenton Wood – “Oogum Boogum Song”
Here’s another playful soul tune that’s sure to get someone to ask me: “What is the name of this song and who is it by?”
Bill Withers – “Lovely Day”
This is my favorite soul song on the entire playlist. It’s one of my go-to songs for sound check and one of my three staple songs I play at every wedding I perform at.
Booker T & The M.G.’s – “Green Onions”
This Memphis soul song reminds me of my youth, which was essentially defined by the movie, “The Sandlot”. YOU’RE KILLING ME, SMALLS!
Hall & Oates – “Sara Smile”
There are so many great artists, duos, bands, and groups that represent that Philly soul sound. But when I think Philly, I think Hall & Oates.
Stevie Wonder – “For Once In My Life”
I’m confident I could make a cocktail hour playlist full of Stevie Wonder songs and nobody would complain. Here’s one of Stevie’s best.
Otis Redding – “For Your Precious Love”
Random Fact: I own every Otis Redding album on vinyl. One of my all-time favorite artists with an incredible discography.
Al Green – “Here I Am (Come and Take Me)”
Do yourself a favor: buy Al Green’s Greatest Hits album if you haven’t already. Just like the album cover, it’s legit.
Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell – “You’re All I Need To Get By”
There’s a ton of Marvin Gaye’s music that could make this list. But I chose this one because elder guests know it, and your friends will get a little history lesson on who Method Man & Mary J. Blige sampled.
Joss Stone – “L-O-V-E”
I feel like the vocals of Joss Stone are an acquired taste, which I’ve come to appreciate as I grow older. (Seriously, check out the impressive range she demonstrates on “I’ll Take It All” from one of the James Bond 007 video games.) Here, the contemporary English soul singer performs her cover of the Nat “King” Cole classic.
Leon Bridges – “Coming Home”
Looking for a contemporary soul song? Leon Bridges made this soulful song in 2015. It’s really, really good.
Do you a favorite soul song that isn’t on this list? Let me know in the comments below!