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Thanksgiving songs
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Best Thanksgiving songs to celebrate the holiday

Nothing says thank you like a song. For Turkey Day, we count down the best songs for showing your gratitude.

Written by
Andrew Frisicano
Time Out editors

This Thanksgiving is going to look a lot different than past years, but one thing remains the same: It deserves a great soundtrack. Sure, you can't find the same kind of soundtrack for Thanksgiving that you might for Christmas or Halloween. Sandwiched between two holidays with a vast archive of dedicated holiday-specific diddies, it seems like somewhat a tuneless affair. We're here to fix that! Here's the secret: The best thanksgiving songs weren't written for the holiday, specifically. Let our song list remind you that it doesn't have to be Thanksgiving to give thanks! Here, you'll find musicians showing appreciation to their friends, lovers and fans, or even, in the case of David Byrne, to themselves. So cue up the speakers, take a gander below, and stuff your face with the season's best pies and worst pumpkin-spice-flavored treats imaginable to the merry sounds of Big Star, Bob Marley, Boyz II Men and more.

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Best Thanksgiving Music

“Thank You Friends” by Big Star

1. “Thank You Friends” by Big Star

With Big Star having suffered the enormous loss of enigmatic frontman Alex Chilton only two years ago, an expression of friendly support for the songsmith’s family, friends, bandmates and fans still feels essential. In remembrance, we present you with the Memphis rocker’s 1978 track “Thank You Friends,” 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! —Rachel Sonis

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

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

Some have pegged “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin),” which landed the cozy No. 1 spot on the soul singles charts for a whopping five weeks, as a portrait of the transition from the ’60s to the ’70s. Others argue that the track is, simply put, a Walt Whitman–style celebration of the self. Whatever the case may be, the song’s instantaneously recognizable slap-bass riff and playful mondegreen of a title help make it one of the most legendary funk tunes of all time. Get down with that wishbone, y’all. —Rachel Sonis

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“Dear Mama” by 2Pac

3. “Dear Mama” by 2Pac

While the majority of rappers these days spit bars exclusively about codeine and strippers, the late 2Pac always kept it real. “Dear Mama” addresses the hip-hop artist’s rough upcoming, throughout which his mother was largely absent due to a drug addiction—yet he acknowledges his mother’s love and greatness despite the fact (“And even as a crack fiend, mama / You always was a black queen, mama”). Like much of ’Pac’s music, the song is written like a lyrical poem, plucking the emotional strings of even the toughest rappers in the game. Eminem has long voiced his support of the track since its release in 1994, while Kendrick Lamar recently cited “Dear Mama” as one of the tracks that inspired him the most as an artist. —Vivienne van Vliet

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“I Want to Thank You” by Alicia Myers

4. “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. —Andrew Frisicano

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“A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” by Vince Guaraldi Trio

5. “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” by Vince Guaraldi Trio

“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. —Rachel Sonis

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“Thank You” by Descendents

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. —Hank Shteamer

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“Roc Boys (And the Winner Is)” by Jay Z

7. “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.—Andrew Frisicano

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“I Thank You” by Sam & Dave

8. “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.—Rachel Sonis

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“I Want to Thank You” by Otis Redding

9. “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. —Rachel Sonis

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“Give Thanks and Praises” by Bob Marley

10. “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. —Rachel Sonis

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