"Playing background music helps make guests feel welcome, especially those who are first to arrive," says Ann David, co-owner of David Reinhard Events, a party-planning company in New York City. Try one of these playlists compiled by Chris Nashawaty, a senior writer for Entertainment Weekly magazine.
For Cocktails and Conversation
- Live, by Erykah Badu (Universal, $14, amazon.com). Smooth, silky R & B from one of the finest female singers around.
- Mezzanine, by Massive Attack (Virgin, $17, amazon.com). Electronic chill-out music from London.
- Me and Mr. Johnson, by Eric Clapton (Reprise, $19, amazon.com). One of the greatest blues guitarists of the second half of the 20th century pays tribute to Robert Johnson, the greatest blues guitarist of the first half.
- Beleza Tropical, various artists (Luaka Bop/Warner Bros., $15, amazon.com). A compilation of sunshiny Brazilian pop songs selected by Talking Heads frontman David Byrne.
- True Love Waits: Christopher O'Riley Plays Radiohead (Odyssey, $13, amazon.com). Elegant solo piano pieces that may sound strangely familiar.
For Sit-Down Dining
- Feels Like Home, by Norah Jones (Blue Note, $19, amazon.com). A guaranteed crowd-pleaser―musical comfort food.
- North, by Elvis Costello (Deutsche Grammaphon/Universal, $19, amazon.com). Lush orchestral jazz from a onetime punk-rock bad boy.
- Our Man in Paris, by Dexter Gordon (Blue Note, $12, amazon.com). If you like Miles Davis's jazz classic Kind of Blue, try this recording from a legend of the tenor sax.
- Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook (Verve, $34, amazon.com). The ultimate in sophisticated dinner music.
- Talkie Walkie, by AIR (Astralwerks, $19, amazon.com). A cool collection of lilting electronic lullabies from France.
To Get the Pary Started
- Dancemania Vol. 1, by Tito Puente and His Orchestra (RCA, $11, amazon.com). In Puente's greatest album, he captures the caffeinated, mambo-crazy sound of Cuba before la revolucion.
- What's the 411?, by Mary J. Blige (MCA/Uptown, $10, amazon.com). Dance beats and sultry slow jams from the queen of hip-hop soul.
- Old School Jams: Volume 4, various artists (SPG, $17.50, amazon.com). The perfect ’80s mix for when you don't have time to make your own.
- James Brown 20 All Time Greatest Hits! (Polygram, $14, amazon.com). This is a party, right? Time to call in the hardest-working man in show business.