The Definitive Guide to the Greatest Thanksgiving Songs of All Time


The Definitive Guide to the Greatest Thanksgiving Songs of All Time


Thanksgiving is, without question, the greatest holiday of the year. It’s a day set aside for the four pillars of American culture: gluttony, football, familial-dysfunction, and hometown-based schadenfreude. And yet, unlike most other holidays—Christmas, Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve—it has no canonized soundtrack; there’s a very shallow well of holiday-appropriate songs for us to pull from on mom’s iPad she hasn’t figured out to use since last Christmas as we sit round the bowl of congealing cranberry sauce and thrice-gnawed fowl bones, swaying together in harmony. Until now.

We asked some of our favorite music writers and internet wise-asses to share their favorite Thanksgiving songs. It wasn’t an easy task, because just like with most best of lists, the concept here doesn’t mean anything, and maybe, just maybe, that’s why it means everything.


“The Ordinary Boys”, Morrissey

Thanksgiving, as I’m fond of saying, is basically Facebook IRL. Many of the people you bump into tonight in whatever hell-forsaken small town you pretend not to be from will resent you for having left, because for the townie hero there is no crueler act of betrayal than not growing decades worth of creeping bone moss in the same patch of earth you were planted.

The lyrics to this Morrissey track, probably my favorite of his ever,  illustrate the type of encounters you make when you go back home perfectly. Ordinary girls, never seeing further than the cold, small streets that trap them.  But you were so different, you had to say no, when those empty fools tried to change you, and claim you for the lair of their ordinary world.”— Luke O’Neil


“Home Sweet Home”, Motley Crue

Faster Pussycat’s “House of Pain”, Motley Crue’s “Home Sweet Home”;  who knew hair metal was so Thanksgiving? My parents have retired from their careers in New York and now live in Florida, and while I’d never reside in that shitbox of a state, whenever I visit them for Thanksgiving I always refer to it as “going home.” And while I go down there a few times a year, mainly to sit by a pool and watch the Tampa Bay Rays, going down for Thanksgiving kinda anchors the entire year. It’s the one trip that’s always memorable. So really, any song that references “going home” always makes me think of Thanksgiving. Other trips to see them are “vacations,” while the family aspect of sitting around a table stuffing our faces and pretending to give a shit about each others lives truly says “family” — Michael Marotta


“Linger”, The Cranberries

I’ve  thought about this a lot, because I absolutely love Thanksgiving music.  It’s a big tradition in my family; we’d usually start busting out the  Thanksgiving CDs around Halloween, when everyone else was still  listening to the “Monster Mash.” It’s just too hard to pick. Almost  everything from Prince’s Thanksgiving album is amazing, but everyone has heard it all so many times that it sort of loses its effect (I’ve heard  “Left U Over” on the radio twice this week already). I might have to  dig a little deeper and say my favorite is something from the Cure’s  Thanksgiving EP. Let’s just say “Pilgrimage,” since I like the guitar  stuff. But OK,  seriously, I pick “Linger” by The Cranberries because of my utter fucking contempt for the reader.” —David Thorpe


“The Ballad of the Green Berets” – Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler

To my family, Thanksgiving means food and airline price gouging, not ritual. People who stop socializing with those they love to point out that they’re part of an event that signifies something—then insist on saying what it is it signifies—are weird. So asking me for the meaning of Thanksgiving or “other things that mean Thanksgiving” is useless, because if you don’t know already, you’re seriously fucked in the head. To me, a Thanksgiving song is something that would appeal to the weird dads of girls I knew or dated in high school—men with bald heads and clubbing in their fingers, who never served a day in the military but had flagpoles in their front yards and insisted you call them “Captain” because they owned a bass boat. To them, the number one thing to be thankful for was NATIONAL DEFENSE, which kept commies away from our shores and—via breeding a strong conservative voter base—elected office. This is the only kind of reasoning that works for the sort of person who insists on a literal ritual of Thanksgiving. (God, after all, is less important than the unit and then The Corps—or JSOC.) Which is why “The Ballad of the Green Berets” makes their faces leak moisture like cold marble put out in the sun. And it’s a gorgeous song. The Green Berets of Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler’s global-power ballad are the ultimate model of American sacrifice. They don’t even need an enemy to kill them. These fearless men jump, then they die. That’s how efficient they are.— Mobutu Sese Seko


“O Tannenbaum”, Vince Guaraldi Trio

Listen, you might not like what I’m about to say, but it’s a cold, hard, 2012 truth. The second you swallow your last bite of pumpkin pie, I’m sorry to break it to you, but the time has come. You cannot stop it. The time has come, and that time is A Charlie Brown Christmas season. Be you Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Baha’i, atheist, I do not care — Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas transcends religious holiday observations and simply represents being the coldest you’ve been since the last time you saw snow (which, actually, might have been last week, but whatever. Beside the point). “O Tannenbaum” begins a record that represents the fluffiest blankets you own, the ones you finally get to retrieve from the boxes in your closet; it’s the ability to consume eggnog again without vomiting out of seasonal inappropriateness. The A Charlie Brown Christmas album doesn’t even need you to watch the actual TV special — all it needs to rock your world is at least four and a half weeks of nonstop loopage and your steadfast, spiritual confidence in the healing powers of being ensconced in adorable jazz chords during the most commercial months of the year. — Devon Maloney


“Cold Turkey”, John Lennon

On a literal level, take the title to refer to the frigid mound of leftover bird turning slimy under Saran wrap in your fridge. On a more figurative level—uh, the one on which the song was meant to be taken—you can also take it as a quick-but-painful method to detox from all the simple carbs. — Arielle Castillo


“I And Love And You”, The Avett Brothers,

HEAR ME OUT, naysayer of new Americana/roots rock: this song rips at heartstrings you didn’t even know existed, and if there’s any time to find a nostalgic soundtrack for swiping the booze from your parents liquor cabinet, its Thanksgiving. The title track from The Avett Brothers’ 2009 mainstream debut is a symphonic ballad that speaks to themes of homecoming and reconciliation. The chorus itself–“Brooklyn, Brooklyn take me in/Are you aware the shape I’m in?”–is enough to send you into an emotional vortex if you have any connection to the borough whatsoever. Even if you don’t, the resounding notes of the strings and piano may appeal to the older members of your family if you’re fighting over what to play while you go nuts on pie and stuffed bird. Either way, Thanksgiving: it’s about food and drunk crying and reminding why you call that place home in the first place, and “I And Love And You” gets you feeling thankful for something you didn’t even know you had. — Hilary Hughes


“I Really Mean It”, Cam’ron

There’s nothing about this track that makes me explicitly thankful for things, but sometimes it’s the ineffable that helps foreground the obvious. But basically, this song is better than anything else to ever exist besides the large, sweeping things like democracy and and haircuts and indoor plumbing and all that shit. This song makes me thankful that I am a music critic because I want to find more songs like it always and also one time in college at like 5am on a Thanksgiving I bumped this song going from my friend’s grandma’s to my own house and it inspired me to not fall asleep before I got home. Also also, this song basically makes me want to righteously punch through a wall whenever I hear it so I guess I am thankful for the potential super-strength it gives me. Also also also, I am thankful that Jim Jones (probably) never actually killed that guy he threatened during that interlude in this track. Also also also also, I am thankful that I have seen Cam’ron do this song live. The end. — Drew Millard


“Helpless”, Neil Young and The Band

Easy: Neil Young performing “Helpless” with The Band in The Last Waltz (Thanksgiving, 1976). Best rendition of the song, ever. They supposedly had to edit out a giant M&M-sized gob of coke from under his nose in post-production. Young’s wasted during the performance. Alternately: Julian Casablancas’ cover of “I Wish It Were Christmas Today.” I endorse this as a Semite. — Foster Kamer


“Sovereignty”, Japandroids

Due to various extenuating circumstances, I’ve only attended one of my family’s Thanksgiving celebrations since 2007, meaning I usually spend the week before emailing friends in whatever city I’m holed up in to find out who’s doing what and where and with whom and by the way, can I bring over a bottle of wine and mooch on some holiday vibes so that I’m not stuck taking a bunch of ketamine, ordering Taco Bell, and passing out in a pile of my own sick? (Mild exaggeration; I never throw up Taco Bell.) The hospitality of my friends helps blunt the feeling of missing Chicago when my mom inevitably calls me from home and passes the phone around the room, which is why my Thanksgiving track is “Sovereignty” by Japandroids; it’s a song about being far from home with someone you love, singing the songs you love, and not being too concerned about everyone you’ve left behind. Thanksgiving is a holiday about that kind of love, whether you’re with one person or a lot of people, and this song revels in the exuberance of not being alone. — Jeremy Gordon


“Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”, Sly and the Family Stone

A high point of gratitude before everything went to shit. — Evie Nagy


“Every Day Should Be A Holiday”, The Dandy Warhols

So, we’re pretty sure Portland’s most effortlessly cool/bored psych/drone/pop outfit (that’s a compliment) wasn’t referencing Thanksgiving in this ode to good times, good hangs and good lays. In fact, we suspect Jeff Spicoli would have embraced the “tasty waves, cool buzz” mentality of the song, had he been a ’90s kid. But the Dandys’ wistful longing for slackerdom very neatly sums up the Thanksgiving way—that is, if your holiday consists of no work, ridiculously rich food, copious amounts of booze, cheesy parades and football. — Annie Zaleski


“The Thanksgiving Filter”, Drive By Truckers

Don’t get me wrong, I love my family, holidays and all the surrounding cheer just as much as the next girl, but the Drive By Truckers took a holiday and turned it on it’s head in the most endearing way possible. Not only is the track soothing and mellow while the lyrics tear down the golden curtain that we love to put up around all of our holiday scariness, but it also has sweet guitar solos. I love this song because it is both honest and thankful, the way a real holiday should be. — Caitlin White