Top 5: Sly and the Family Methodist
On Thanksgiving Day 1981, I was filling in on the morning show at KDTH in Dubuque, Iowa. The show was nearly over when a listener called to ask me how come I hadn't played any Thanksgiving songs yet that morning. This was neither an idle nor playful query--the tone of her voice indicated that her gorge had been rising for a couple of hours with every non-Thanksgiving song I played. So maybe it wasn't the most tactful thing I could have said when I replied, "Ma'am, if you can think of one, I'd be happy to play it." She had no ideas--except to hang up on me. I've had 24 years to think about it now--so here are some songs that might have been appropriate in response to her request.
Let's take the serious ones first, before we go all flippant.
Any number of selections from the hymnal of your choice. Despite my irreligious opinions, I still know my way around the Methodist Hymnal. For Thanksgiving, you could choose "Come, Ye Thankful People, Come" or "For the Beauty of the Earth" or "We Gather Together" or even the Doxology. In other words, classic religious hits from my childhood, which take me back to the pew on Sunday mornings, chafing in a tight clip-on necktie and Sunday shoes. I am guessing this is what my caller was asking for, unless maybe she wanted "Over the River and Through the Woods to Grandmother's House We Go," in which case she shoulda said so.
"Thanksgiving"/George Winston. This is the opening track on Winston's landmark album December, an instrumental that can paint numerous pictures, depending on the frame of mind you're in: 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.
"Bless This House"/Perry Como. This doesn't mention being thankful, exactly, but when I worked at the elevator-music station, we'd play it around Thanksgiving and Christmas and the phones would blow out. Even though the recording sounds cheesy (Como abandons his usual amiable cool for an emotional delivery, backed up by a mixed chorus that sounds painfully lame to modern ears), the lyrics are simple and sentimental, and the very concept is largely foreign to our jaded age, there's something moving about it even now. Perhaps it's the song's depiction of a world unambiguously bounded by a few simple verities. After all, that's the world where all those TV ads about family holidays come from, isn't it? The one we're supposed to want to get back to, for just a while?
And now, the ones that stretch the definition of "Thanksgiving song" a little:
"Thank You (Falletin Me Be Mice Elf Agin)"/Sly and the Family Stone. Well, why not? Part of reaching our fullest potential as human beings involves being true to our true selves, whatever they are. Should we not be grateful to someone who permits us to achieve that potential?
"I Thank You"/Sam and Dave, ZZ Top, and others. 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? For example: "You didn't have to love me like you did, but you did, but you did, and I thank you."
Honorable mention Thanksgiving songs: Anything by the Grateful Dead.
I'd like to add just one more thing before I go off to both contemplate my good fortune on this Thanksgiving Day--and to induce a turkey-and-football coma that I expect to last through the weekend: I am, as always, grateful to you for reading this nonsense all the year through. You didn't have to click it but you did, but you did, but you did, and I thank you.