The year was 1981. I was on the air on Thanksgiving Day, finishing up my show, when the phone rang. On the other end of the call was a very irate lady who wanted to know why I hadn’t played any Thanksgiving songs. I responded, “Ma’am, I’d be happy to play one if you can think of any.” It probably wasn’t the most tactful response, but in my defense I was young, and also an idiot.
Halloween has produced its fair share of songs, and Christmas is responsible for thousands. But Thanksgiving isn’t much of a muse for songwriters. The day’s iconography—turkeys, corn shocks, and Pilgrim hats—doesn’t lend itself to imagery like the trappings of Christmas do. Watching football does not inspire songwriters like happy children’s faces do. The Macy’s parade lacks the thrill of Santa coming down the chimney. Nothing rhymes with “cornucopia.”
I have some suggestions, however.
Even though I am no longer a religious person, I still know my way around the Methodist Hymnal. For Thanksgiving, you could choose “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come” (“Come ye thankful people come / Raise the song of harvest home”) or “For the Beauty of the Earth” (“Lord of all, to thee we raise / This our hymn of grateful praise”) or even the Doxology (“Praise God from whom all blessings flow”). I am guessing that’s the kind of thing my long-ago caller was asking for, unless she wanted “Over the River and Through the Woods to Grandmother’s House We Go,” in which case she should have said so.
One song you hear on Magic 98 is “Thanksgiving” by George Winston. It’s the opening track on Winston’s landmark album December, an instrumental that can paint numerous pictures: a quiet country road with harvest bounty in the adjoining fields, as seen in the fading light of a late November afternoon; the last mile of a long and wearying journey home; or the quiet contemplation of how fortunate you are to have what you have. (Listen to a new 2020 version of “Thanksgiving” here.)
If you want to stretch the boundaries, how about “Thank You (Falletin Me Be Mice Elf Agin)” by Sly and the Family Stone? Part of reaching our fullest potential as human beings involves being true to our true selves, whatever they are. Shouldn’t we be grateful to those who permit us to achieve that potential?
There’s “I Thank You,” recorded in the 60s by soul singers Sam and Dave and in the 70s by ZZ Top. Sometimes, we receive something from another person not because we’ve done anything to earn it, but out of the goodness of that person’s heart. (In a Christian context, it might be called “grace.”) You’d have to be thankful for that, wouldn’t you? As the song says, “You didn’t have to love me like you did, but you did, but you did, and I thank you.”
A lot of rock radio stations play Arlo Guthrie‘s “Alice’s Restaurant” on Thanksgiving Day. It’s only slightly related to the holiday, but it’s become a tradition nevertheless.
Honorable mention Thanksgiving songs: Anything by the Grateful Dead.
It’s an unusual Thanksgiving this year. A lot of us are separated from our families, some for the first time in many years, and we don’t like it much. But if dealing with it in 2020 assures that we’ll be able to be together in 2021, how can anybody say it isn’t worth it?
Happy holiday to one and all . . . and let’s be careful out there.
Read more of Jim Bartlett’s blogs here.
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