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Thanksgiving songs
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The best Thanksgiving songs for you Turkey Day playlist

Nothing says ‘thank you’ like these wholesome Thanksgiving songs

Edited by
Andy Kryza

Let’s be frank up front here: there aren’t that many actual Thanksgiving songs in existence. No one’s out here singing about turkey, gravy and pilgrims, and while there’s probably a couple tunes about colonial genocide, that’d only spoil everyone’s appetite. So if you’re looking to put together a playlist for the big family meal, you’re forced to stick to the more figurative meaning of the holiday rather than the literal or historical implications – that is, showing gratitude. And in that case, there are a lot of bangers to choose from.

On this list of the best Thanksgiving songs, you’ll find rappers celebrating their mamas, rock’n’roll cult figures raising a glass to their friends and funk legends giving it up to themselves. You have pop divas appreciating their exes and reggae icons praising Jah. And if you just really need a song that at least has some tenuous connection to the most gluttonous day of the year, we’ve dug one of those up, too. 

Written by Rachel Sonis, Vivienne van Vliet, Andrew Frisicano, Hank Shteamer, Ro Samarth, Andy Kryza and Matthew Singer


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Best Thanksgiving songs, ranked

‘Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)’ by Sly and the Family Stone
Image: Epic

1. ‘Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)’ by Sly and the Family Stone

As the ‘60s prepared to transition into the ‘70s, Sly Stone and his makeshift family scored a chart-topper with this irresistible ode to self-actualization. It’s also easily the funkiest expression of gratitude ever recorded, with Larry Graham’s iconic slap-and-pop bass line leading a hard-marching beat that could soundtrack an altered-state version of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

‘Thank You Friends’ by Big Star
Image: PVC

2. ‘Thank You Friends’ by Big Star

The late Big Star frontman Alex Chilton may have been a bit enigmatic, but his appreciation of his friends was surprisingly free of mystery. The Memphis rocker’s 1978 track ‘Thank You Friends’ is a gospel-infused tune that speaks of the gratitude Chilton felt for his own near-and-dears. ‘I said, “Thank you again.” I wanna thank you again. Never too late to start,’ Chilton sings as the tune inevitably draws to a close, his quiet brilliance wafting over anyone who’s willing to listen. Right back at you, Alex!

‘Alice’s Restaurant’ by Arlo Guthrie
Image: Reprise

3. ‘Alice’s Restaurant’ by Arlo Guthrie

Songs about gratitude are bountiful. Songs about actual Thanksgiving Day, not so much. The best of the limited crop comes from countercultural icon Arlo ‘Son of Woody’ Guthrie, who penned this hilarious, rambling, shaggy-dog singing poem about an ill-fated post-Thanksgiving dump run, a song that beats out Adam Sandler’s ‘Thanksgiving Song’ in the holiday novelty department simply by virtue of being, well, a good song. The song has the distinction of being both a rare song about the holiday and one of the few movies set during the celebration: Bonnie & Clyde director Arthur Penn cast Guthrie in a surprisingly good film adaptation in 1969, offering up a comedic cousin to Easy Rider featuring hippies, druggies, motorcycles and turkey. 

‘Dear Mama’ by 2Pac
Image: Interscope

4. ‘Dear Mama’ by 2Pac

One of the more affecting tracks in all of hip-hop, Tupac’s fault-and-all appreciation of his own mother – and, by proxy, struggling mothers everywhere – can bring a tear to even the most hardened gangsta’s eye. It’s even more powerful given that the mama in question is well known herself: Afeni Shakur, the late political activist and Black Panther Party member. Few songs in the rap canon – shoot, few songs in any genre – are as emotionally unguarded, and even fewer manage to surmise the complex sociopolitical conditions that can often influence familial bonds.    

‘I Want to Thank You’ by Alicia Myers
Image: MCA

5. ‘I Want to Thank You’ by Alicia Myers

What’s so convincing about the thanks Alicia Myers bestows in her disco-infused 1981 R&B single? There’s certainly something in her voice: audible relief, you could say. And the lyrics: ‘You sent me someone who really loves me / And not just my body,’ she sings, hinting at that darker period right out of frame. 

‘Thank You’ by Descendents
Image: Epitath

6. ‘Thank You’ by Descendents

These California pop-punk champs have written a ton of great love songs, but few hit us as hard as this one. The subject isn’t a girl, as in so many other Descendents tunes, but a band: ‘Thank you for playing the way you play,’ sings frontman Milo Aukerman, expressing a sentiment penned by bassist Karl Alvarez. In a stroke of modest genius, Alvarez never reveals the identity of his musical crush, instead letting the listener fill in the blank.

‘I Thank You’ by Sam & Dave
Image: Stax Records

7. ‘I Thank You’ by Sam & Dave

R&B outfit Sam and Dave brings soul-clap goodness to its 1968 classic ‘I Thank You,’ later memorably covered by ZZ Top. Although the track chronicles a lover’s smothering affection – which many of us might feel fenced in by – Sam and Dave don’t seem to mind one bit. Rather, they just show a great deal of appreciation right back. After all, what kind of love is greater than one that gives, as Sam and Dave put it, “kisses so good that I have to holler for help”? We rest our case.

‘I Want to Thank You’ by Otis Redding
Image: Atco

8. ‘I Want to Thank You’ by Otis Redding

Soul legend Otis Redding made his permanent mark on the music world by frenetically shouting ‘Try a little tenderneness!’ in 1966. On this follow-up, a melancholy farewell to a girl that our narrator has to leave, Redding proves that he practices what he preaches. Coupled with Otis’s soulful swagger, the delicate lyrics become all the more poignant as the song goes along, reaffirming Shakespeare’s notion that parting is truly such sweet sorrow.

‘Give Thanks and Praises’ by Bob Marley
Image: Tuff Gong

9. ‘Give Thanks and Praises’ by Bob Marley

In 1977, Bob Marley coined the phrase ‘Give thanks and praise to the Lord, and I will feel alright’ with his smash hit ‘One Love/People Get Ready,’ only to release ‘Give Thanks and Praises’ just six years later. Marley’s smooth voice and the track’s unbelievably mellow beat create a relaxed and even slightly euphoric vibe, which might make your obligatory post-turkey coma a bit more pleasant.

‘Gratitude’ by Earth, Wind & Fire
Image: Columbia Records

10. ‘Gratitude’ by Earth, Wind & Fire

This track by the soul supergroup is all about free love and flower power. (It was 1975, after all, so who could blame 'em?) Funky and uplifting, ‘Gratitude’ could set anyone’s feet tapping and hips swaying, surely making Thanksgiving less of a lethargic food binge than an upbeat dance celebration. And for that, EW&F, we are eternally grateful.

‘Thank U, Next’
Image: Reprise

11. ‘Thank U, Next’

Talk about taking stock: While fellow pop singer Taylor Swift makes headlines for her scorched-earth reappraisal of tough breakups, Ari scored a left-field hit with this track that flips the script completely. In calling out all her significant exes by name – we see you, Pete Davidson – and listing their best qualities, the singer exudes a surprising wisdom that belies her bubblegum exterior. We may not always be fucking grateful for our exes, but at least we can be grateful for what we learned from them. 

‘Thank You’ by Boyz II Men
Image: Motown

12. ‘Thank You’ by Boyz II Men

While it’s likely aimed at a friend or love, this upbeat number is just vague enough that it doubles as a fan-appreciation anthem. Sit back, and let everyone’s favorite ’90s-era Philly R&B quartet doo-wop, beatbox, scat and harmonize their way into your heart. Consider us charmed, good sirs.

‘Thank You for Sending Me an Angel’ by Talking Heads
Image: Sire

13. ‘Thank You for Sending Me an Angel’ by Talking Heads

It’s no secret that Talking Heads frontman David Byrne is one of pop’s most lovable eccentrics. On the off chance that you need a reminder, the NYC new-wave group’s 1978 track ‘Thank You for Sending Me an Angel’ ought to do the trick. It turns out that it's Byrne’s ode to none other than… himself. A hyper march rhythm and Byrne’s shrill yelps contribute to the track’s jovially narcissistic bent. But hey, we all need some self-lovin’ sometimes, and Thanksgiving just might be the perfect occasion.

‘Thank You’ by Dido
Image: Arista

14. ‘Thank You’ by Dido

English songstress Dido allegedly wrote the 2000 hit single ‘Thank You’ as a tribute to her then-beau, entertainment lawyer Bob Page. Although the couple split a little while later, it’s doubtful that the song did them in. Dido’s languid voice and potent lyrics create a substantial, fully realized pop track, and let’s be honest: That’s something we should all be thankful for.

‘Thanksgiving’ by Vince Guaraldi Trio
Image: Fantasy

15. ‘Thanksgiving’ by Vince Guaraldi Trio

Twinkly jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi’s iconic theme from A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving was a shoo-in here, both for the kids’ enjoyment and for your own sappy nostalgia, too. Originally penned for the 1973 Peanuts special of the same name, this cheery instrumental by jazz musician Vince Guaraldi hits just the right note for your Thanksgiving extravaganza.

‘A Token of Gratitude’ by The Radio Dept
Image: Labrador Records

16. ‘A Token of Gratitude’ by The Radio Dept

Lo-fi Swedes the Radio Dept only drop an album about every four years, so for every release, we give endless thanks. On 2010’s indie album-of-the-year, Clinging to a Scheme, it offers up appreciation to a lover (“Please accept this as a token of my sincere gratitude”) in a characteristically quiet demeanor: whispered vocals over ping-pong sample percussion, muffled guitar lines and feathery synths. Right on, Radio Dept; sometimes the best thanks are the little gestures. 

‘Thank God for Sinners’ by Ty Segall
Image: Drag City

17. ‘Thank God for Sinners’ by Ty Segall

Which sinners do we have to thank for inspiring the psych stylings of contemporary garage rock king Ty Segall? He gives us some pointers with two dedications in the liner notes to his 2012 album, Twins: Neil Young and San Francisco. Sounds about right. So keep those names in mind while celebrating sin with this fuzzed out, sun-drenched tune this Thanksgiving, and don’t worry – you have another month to get off the naughty list anyway.

‘Thank U’ by Alanis Morissette
Image: Reprise

18. ‘Thank U’ by Alanis Morissette

Upon her return from a six-week ‘goddess trip’ to India with her mother and friends in 1996, Canadian pop-rocker Alanis Morissette wrote this Grammy-nominated single. A reflection of the gratitude she felt during her journey, the track conveys dreaminess and extreme vulnerability; the blend of thoughtful chord progressions and Morissette’s grungy, emotive voice makes for a synth-laden treat.

‘Thank You for Being You’ by The Pastels
Image: Domino

19. ‘Thank You for Being You’ by The Pastels

Ready-made for a teen-melodrama soundtrack, this 1993 hit by Glasgow new-wave rockers the Pastels is a love poem for the modern age. The timid guitar strumming and  frontman Stephen McRobbie’s soothing mewl result in a dreamy anthem for an adolescent love affair: ‘It may be wintertime, but baby, it’s super fine / Baby, you know you are getting close to my heart,’ sings McRobbie. Listen closely, and you can hear a thousand girls swooning.

‘Thank You (feat Apani B)’ by Nujabes
Image: Hydeout Productions

20. ‘Thank You (feat Apani B)’ by Nujabes

A hip-hop mainstay in his home city of Tokyo during his time, producer Nujabes garnered a Western cult following in the aughts after American fans caught wind of his impeccably smooth, jazz-infused beats-smithery on the Samurai Champloo soundtrack. Queens MC Apani B takes this moment on his excellent second record, Modal Soul, to throw the fans some affection – ‘I thank you all for showing love to me’ – a groovy motivator to launch someone into the ‘saying grace’ spirit.

‘Thank You for Being a Friend’ by Andrew Gold
Image: Asylum

21. ‘Thank You for Being a Friend’ by Andrew Gold

If you were around in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Miami’s quirkiest broads, the Golden Girls, were no doubt a fixture on your TV screen. The celebrated sitcom’s theme song – Andrew Gold’s ‘Thank You for Being a Friend,’ as sung by Cynthia Fee – is just as memorable as Blanche, Rose, Dorothy and Sophia are. Whether the song inspires you to love your friends that much more or merely makes you want to embark on a Golden Girls marathon, it’s bound to get stuck in your head. Fortunately, no one ever seems to mind.

‘Thank You’ by Led Zeppelin
Image: Reprise

22. ‘Thank You’ by Led Zeppelin

Because every Thanksgiving dinner deserves some Tolkien-esque imagery of mountains crumbling into the sea over soaring guitars to backdrop the customary expressions of appreciation. This is one of Zep’s very best, proof positive that you wield the Hammer of the Gods and still master the art of tenderness and gratitude. 

‘Roc Boys (And the Winner Is)’ by Jay Z
Image: Roc-A-Fella

23. ‘Roc Boys (And the Winner Is)’ by Jay Z

With the opening line ‘First of all I wanna thank my connect,’ Jay Z launches into an award acceptance speech for an accolade of his own creation, shouting out to anyone who’s helped him as a hustler, drug dealer and MC. As usual, he’s talking about rapping and drug dealing all at once, with another layer added by the fact that the track comes from his concept album American Gangster. Whether you want to find yourself on his list of crooked cops, drug mules and rival gangsters with bad aim is another matter.

‘Grateful’ by John Bucchino

24. ‘Grateful’ by John Bucchino

One of cabaret’s precious gems, John Bucchino pulls the heartstrings just right with this slow ballad. Combining an expression of gratitude for a life well spent with a lyrical piano melody, he proves here that he can melt even the coldest of hearts. Keep this sentiment in mind, even as you're locked into ‘Pass the gravy’ mode.

‘Gratitude’ by Beastie Boys
Image: Capitol Records

25. ‘Gratitude’ by Beastie Boys

A dense, fuzzed-out dose of punk defiance plunked in the middle of the jazz and hip-hop experimentation of the transcendent Check Your Head, ‘Gratitude’ isn’t exactly the B-Boys at their most gracious or zen (that honor probably goes to MCA’s famous verse on Ill Communication’s ‘Sure Shot.’) But as a pick-me-up once the tryptophan starts to do its thing, it’s bracing: ‘When you've got so much to say it's called gratitude… and that's right,’ Ad-Rock snarls. Now pass the pie. 


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