With Thanksgiving just around the corner, many of you are probably finalizing plans to join your family on that lovely day of turkey. And as joyful as such a family gathering may be, it almost always comes with a great deal of stress. It’s actually a rule of nature; like gravity or how peanut butter just tastes better with chocolate.
Music can be both therapeutic and an excellent social lubricant for such times—not to mention, the right song can help remind us what the holiday is actually about. While Thanksgiving involves a great feast (and forgetting about that whole we-stole-land-from-the-Indians thing), there is more to this autumnal celebration than just food. I know, I was surprised too.
Thanksgiving is truly about taking the time to reflect upon the gifts in our lives, being grateful for our loved ones, and openly expressing thanks for each and every one of them. Oh, and pie—lots and lots of pie.
Here are just a few songs to help you and your family survive this first leg of the holiday season (No pun intended…well, maybe just a little).
“I’ve Got Plenty To Be Thankful For” by Irving Berlin, performed by Bing Crosby
This song was featured in the 1942 film, Holiday Inn (starring Bing Crosby, Marjorie Reynolds, and dancing legend Fred Astaire). The movie also included a number of other holiday tunes we know and love today, including “Easter Parade” and “White Christmas“. As for paying homage to the true sentiment of Thanksgiving, the lyrics for this tune say it all.
I’ve got plenty to be thankful for
No private car, no caviar
No carpet on my floor
Still I’ve got plenty to be thankful for
I’ve got eyes to see with
Ears to hear with
Arms to hug with
Lips to kiss with
Someone to adore
“Thanksgiving Theme” (Charlie Brown Holiday Music) by the Vince Guaraldi Trio
VInce Guaraldi was an American pianist and acclaimed jazz musician who was also known for his beautiful work scoring the animated TV specials that were based on the beloved Peanuts comic strip by Charles Schultz.
The music he brought to the world of Charlie Brown was graceful, tender, upbeat, and subtly moving all at the same time. Though the “Thanksgiving Theme” was first released in the mid-1960s, it has proven to be a timeless piece of music.
So add this one to your Thanksgiving playlist this season. What’s a holiday without Snoopy? Not a very good one.
“Thanksgiving” by Loudon Wainwright III
Wainwright’s song beautifully captures the experience of a modern Thanksgiving better than any other song out there. It paints a wonderfully vivid and nuanced picture of a family sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner together, and all of the complex emotions that come with it. The family here is one with a long history and its own set of dynamics, but the story is still a universal one.
I look around and recognize
A sister and a brother
We rarely see our parents now
We hardly see each other
On this auspicious occasion
This special family dinner
If I argue with a loved one, Lord
Please make me… the winner
This is actually a monologue set to music, but it has become a Thanksgiving song staple over the years. Clocking in at over 18 minutes, it tells the true story of of events that began on Thanksgiving day in 1965.
It is by far the most notable work of Arlo Guthrie (son of folk music legend Woody Guthrie), and is, in fact, a song of protest: it uses satire to illustrate the puzzling irony and web of bureaucracy that clouds our government. Considering the prevailing feelings of unrest across the country and the globe, this still feels somewhat topical.
Walk right in it’s around the back
Just a half a mile from the railroad track
You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant
Now it all started two Thanksgivings ago, was on – two years ago on
Thanksgiving, when my friend and I went up to visit Alice at the
restaurant, but Alice doesn’t live in the restaurant, she livesin the
church nearby the restaurant, in the bell-tower, with her husband Ray and
Fasha the dog. And livin’ in the bell tower like that, they got a lot of
room downstairs where the pews used to be in. Havin’ all that room,
seein’ as how they took out all the pews, they decided that they didn’t
have to take out their garbage for a long time.
Thanksgiving isn’t just about the food. Lest we forget, it is actually about something more: giving thanks. Reggae legend and socially conscious musician Bob Marley expresses this beautifully in his song, “Give Thanks and Praise“. Respect.
Give thanks and praises to the Most High
Give thanks and praises so High
He will not deceive us my brethren
He will only lead us again
Oh take that veil from off of your eyes
Look into the future of realize
“Home” by Michael Buble
This song was released in 2005 on the album, In Time and was written by Buble, Alan Chang, and Amy Foster-Gillies. It was based on Buble’s experience of loneliness while touring and apart from his then-fiance, Debbie Timuss. I realize that any song of the Buble variety fits into the often looked-down upon genre of adult contemporary by the “cool” crowd, but this song is actually quite lovely.
Another sunny place
I’m lucky, I know
But I wanna go home
Mmmm, I’ve got to go home
Don’t look for any sentiments of gratitude or personal reflection here. Sandler debuted this comedic song in a 1992 episode of Saturday Night Live. While this love letter to the deliciousness that is turkey never quite reached the level of popularity of Sandler’s other holiday ditty, “The Chanukah Song“, this one is still great listening for Thanksgiving. Yes, the jokes are random and the tune is elementary, but it’s good for a laugh. Consider it a pressure release valve for any family tension you may feel building.
Turkey for me
Turkey for you
Let’s eat the turkey
In my big brown shoe
Love to eat the turkey
At the table
I once saw a movie
With Betty Grable
Eat that turkey
All night long
Fifty million Elvis fans
Can’t be wrong
Turkey lurkey doo and
Turkey lurkey dap
I eat that turkey
Then I take a nap
“Long Way Home” by Tom Waits
This song is simply beautiful. And at some point in our lives, we have each felt exactly like the narrator in “Long Way Home”. Probably no more so than when heading home for the holidays.
You know I love you baby
More than the whole wide world
You are my woman
I know you are my pearl
Let’s go out past the party lights
Where we can finally be alone
Come with me and we can take the long way home
Come with me, together we can take the long way home
Come with me, together we can take the long way home
“Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” performed by Sufjan Stevens
Sufjan Stevens is such a wonderfully eclectic musician that the fact that he covered an 18th century Christian hymn is hardly surprising. This sparsely arranged version (originally penned by Robert Robinson, with music by John Wyeth ) was included on Stevens’s album Songs for Christmas, but it works just as well for Thanksgiving. It was also featured on the critically acclaimed TV show, Friday Night Lights. Whatever your beliefs may be, this song is an undeniably beautiful piece that touches on the sentiments of grace and gratitude.
Come, Thou Fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy, never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it
Mount of Thy unchanging love
“Stuffy Turkey” by Thelonious Monk
This song comes to us from jazz great—and one seriously hepcat—Thelonious Monk. It’s great music to dine by, not to mention the title is undeniably awesome.