Worldwide icon-chevron-right North America icon-chevron-right United States icon-chevron-right Washington DC icon-chevron-right The 20 best Thanksgiving songs

The 20 best Thanksgiving songs

Nothing says muchas gracias like a song. For Turkey Day, we count down our 20 favorite thank-you tunes. Plus, you can hear them with our Spotify Thanksgiving playlist.
“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 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 winter time, 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 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” 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.
“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 for Loving Me” by Bon Jovi Every good playlist needs an over-the-top love ballad. For this very reason, “Thank You for Loving Me,” driven by a powerhouse Jon Bon Jovi vocal turn, belongs on our playlist. Bonus points for the the track’s romantic video: Footage of guitarist Richie Sambora and Bon Jovi idly sitting by Rome’s Trevi Fountain proves that you don’t have to be a Jersey girl to swoon for these pop-metal pretty boys.
“Thanks for the Memory” by Ella Fitzgerald If ever there was a breakup song to leave you feeling blissfully nostalgic, Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition of the 1938 Bob Hope and Shirley Ross chestnut “Thanks for the Memory” would be it. Melancholy yet hopeful, with just a bit of Ella’s patented wistful charm, “Thanks for the Memory” is the perfect soundtrack for all your fall-nostalgia needs.
“Thank You for the Music” by ABBA We’re all thankful for our family, friends, significant others, pets, etc., and yet, Swedish pop icons ABBA suggest that we shouldn’t forget to express our gratitude for something that's arguably just as substantial: the music. This finale-style number is as bittersweet as it is uplifting, praising the very thing that brought us all here in the first place. As ABBA so rightfully muses, “What would life be? / Without a song or a dance, what are we?” You’ll hear no argument from us.
“Thank You” by Boyz II Men While it’s likely aimed at a friend or love, this upbeat number is just vague enough that to double as a fan-appreciation anthem. Sit back, and let everyone’s favorite ’90s-era Philly R&B quartet doo-wop, beat-box, scat and harmonize their way into your heart. Consider us charmed, good sirs.
“Thank You” by Jay-Z This clever, hard-hitting track by the Brooklyn rap legend addresses the notion that none of his accomplishments would have been possible without the avid support of his beloved fans. However, Jay doesn’t stay entirely humble throughout the song, rapping “Please don’t bow in my presence / How am I a legend? / I just got ten No. 1 albums / Maybe now 11.” But with the former Shawn Carter’s grand collection of musical trophies—a total of 14 Grammys and the No. 10 spot on Billboard’s list of the most successful artists of the 2000s—his chutzpah seems fairly justifiable, don’t you think?
“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.
“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.
“Thankful” by Jonny Lang and MIchael McDonald Discussing his fifth studio album, Turn Around, blues-rocker Jonny Lang said that his intentions were to focus on self-reflection and realization, aims that resulted, appropriately enough, in a bona fide gospel record. “Thankful,” the seventh track, is especially enchanting. Given that it features soul king Michael McDonald’s smooth baritone alongside Lang’s unique raspy voice, we’re betting it’ll put you in a gracious mood too.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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
“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.
“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 penultimate note on our Thanksgiving extravaganza.
“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!
By Rachel Sonis |

We all know that Thanksgiving tends to be more like an eating contest than anything else. Between stuffing your face with turkey, gravy and pumpkin-spice everything and slyly trying to unbutton your pants under the dining-room table, giving thanks for your loved ones somehow seems to be the last thing on people’s minds. But we have a solution! A lovingly selected playlist that will make you feel, well, thankful during this year’s food-stuffathon. The tunes below give thanks to the artists’ friends, lovers, fans and, in the case of David Byrne, even to themselves. Whatever the case may be, our mission is to bring back the true spirit of Thanksgiving and maybe even shake off those nine million calories you just consumed in the process.

RECOMMENDED: DC Thanksgiving guide

Listen to Time Out’s 20 best Thanksgiving songs playlist on Spotify


Listen to Time Out’s 20 best Thanksgiving songs playlist on Spotify

More to explore