Thanksgiving is on its way and, as far as holidays go, this one is definitely one of the most labor intensive. Planning, cooking, cleaning, travel, and, let’s not forget, delicately skirting social and
political topics that are sure to set off a full-blown family feud. But there’s one thing that makes all that work easier: a great playlist. So we thought we’d suggest some Thanksgiving songs for those times when you need to entertain kids or rock out while basting a turkey.
And yet despite Thanksgiving being one of the biggest holidays on the American calendar, there aren’t a whole lot of Thanksgiving songs out there. It seems singer-songwriters are focusing all their seasonal creative juices on Christmas. But there are, fortunately, lots of songs out there that capture the spirit of the holiday without being explicitly about the holiday... as well as more specifically Thanksgiving songs than you might have expected!
So whether you’re hosting or traveling; joining a big group or keeping it low-key, please enjoy these songs of gratitude, family,
food, love togetherness and, of course, a healthy dose of turkeys! Because every holiday, even the less flashy and commercial ones, deserve a good playlist! “Thanksgiving Song” by Mary Chapin Carpenter
Though the song is found on Mary Chapin Carpenter’s
Come Darkness, Come Light: Twelve Songs of Christmas, this thoughtful, sweet song is most assuredly perfect for Thanksgiving... I mean, it’s right there in the title. It’s all about gathering around a table, from near and far, and setting aside differences to be able to being grateful for food, family, shelter, and love. Classic Thanksgiving sentiment and, let’s be honest: for a lot of people Thanksgiving is just a prelude to Christmas anyway (raise your hand if your tree is up by the time the turkey is on the table) so go ahead and enjoy the whole album after the meal. “The Thanksgiving Song” by Sesame Street and Leon Bridges
This is a parenting site, folks, so we’re absolutely going to be including some fun stuff for the kiddos!
Sesame Street is the gold standard for children’s entertainment and they’re incredibly good at making music that the whole family can enjoy. This Thanksgiving tune featuring Leon Bridges is no exception. There’s a lot to be thankful for on Thanksgiving — family, music — but friends are something to be really thankful for! This song is all about celebrating your friends, whether you just have one or dozens. All your child’s favorite Sesame Street residents, from Elmo and Abby to Rosita, Telly, Big Bird, and more sing together in this Thanksgiving song. “Give Thanks And Praises” by Bob Marley & The Wailers
This song is from
Confrontation, an album released two years after Marley passed away. There’s a distinct religious bent, which you should probably expect in reggae because it's reggae, guys — there’s going to be a health dose of Rastafari in a whole lot of it. (Moreover, “Give Thanks and Praises” was written after he’d been formally baptized into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in 1980.) But even if specific Biblical allusions and Rastafari aren’t your thing, the positive message of giving thanks and love being foundational to the creation of all the world is something anyone can get on board with. “Ten Little Turkeys” by The Learning Station
A Thanksgiving riff on the classic “10 Little Ducks” trope of birds peeling away from the song one by one, this song is perfect for your preschooler. With any luck, your kids won’t think too hard about why the Little Red Hen is warning the turkeys to hide as Thanksgiving is approaching... or connect the dots between the turkeys in the song and the one you’ve been brining for the past couple days.
This song comes from The Learning Station aka Don Monopoli, Laurie Monopoli, and Jan Hrkach, who have backgrounds and degrees in early childhood education, child development and music who strive to make “healthy music for a child’s heart, body, and mind.”
“Thank U” by Alanis Mirossette
Is this a Thanksgiving specific song? No. Do the lyrics make a ton of sense without context? Absolutely not. But the song is actually rich with personal meaning for Morisette. She told
VH1 Storytellers, “I achieved a lot of what society had told me to achieve and I still didn't feel peaceful. I started questioning everything ... everything I had believed in was dissolving in front of me ... I stopped for the first time and I was overcome with a huge sense of compassion for myself first, and then naturally that translated into my feeling and compassion for everyone around me and a huge amount of gratitude that I had never felt before to this extent.”
Huge amount of gratitude? That counts as a Thanksgiving song for sure.
“Thank God I’m A Country Boy” by John Denver
Again, this one is not a strictly speaking a “Thanksgiving song,” but it definitely gives that “country Thanksgiving” vibe, especially if you’re heading home to the country to celebrate the day with family and friends back home.
Also it’s an absolute banger, so you’d be a fool not to include it in any number of playlists.
Fun fact, this song was not actually written by John Denver but John Martin Sommers (Denver
happily credits Sommers as the songwriter in a 1974 live recording). Makes sense Denver didn’t write this song himself: despite his association with country roads and the Rocky Mountain wilds, Denver actually grew up on Air Force bases in Roswell, New Mexico, Montgomery, Alabama, and Fort Worth, Texas. “Gobble Gobble Turkey Wobble” by Koo Koo Kanga Roo
Koo Koo Kanga Roo has been described as “Beasty Boys meet
Sesame Street” and... pretty much exactly that, yeah. The musical comedy duo, Bryan Atchison and Neil Olstad, have performed all over the country for adults and kids and have a popular YouTube channel. Their songs will absolutely get stuck in your head and “Gobble Gobble Turkey Wobble” is no exception. It’s fun and, best of all, like a lot of their songs, there are dances and audience participation involved. Your kids (and or child guests) will burn all that pumpkin pie/candied sweet potatoes/canned cranberry sauce energy in no time dancing along to this bop. “Thankful” by Kelly Clarkson
While “Thankful” is a love song, not really a Thanksgiving song, there’s really nothing in the lyrics that indicate it
has to be a love song. It’s all about being thankful for the people who are at our side and have our backs. “That I'm thankful/For the blessings and the lessons/That I've learned with you by my side/That I'm thankful/For the love that you/Keep bringing in my lifeIn my life.” Who’s to say that can’t be about the people you’ve gathered with?
And surely our first American Idol is right up there with mom and apple pie in terms of all-American imagery we could reasonably associate with Thanksgiving, right?
“Thanksgiving Prayer” by Johnny Cash
Whatever your opinions of country music, there’s a pretty good chance that you dig Johnny Cash. What’s not to love? And when the man in black sings about being grateful for his blessings, you believe it because you know this dude has been through some stuff.
The song was written by Josef Anderson for a Thanksgiving episode of the (also sort of iconic)
. Both Johnny and his wife, June Carter Cash, were featured in the episode (they played recurring parts on the show) and, frankly, if you get Johnny Cash on your TV show and you don’t make him sing something you’ve failed. Good job not failing, Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman Dr. Quinn producers. “Grateful” by Rita Ora
After nearly two years of lockdowns and more, I think we can all appreciate a song about coming through difficult times and realizing that, awful as it all was, we’re stronger as a result of our struggles. Songwriter Diane Warren, who composed the song for the
Beyond the Lights soundtrack, was actually nominated for multiple awards for the power ballad. Rita Ora performed the song at the 87th Annual Academy Awards in 2015. Though the song was nominated for an Oscar, it lost to John Legend and Common’s “Glory,” written for Selma.
strictly a Thanksgiving song but it definitely fits the feel of the day, especially after a difficult couple of years. “If You’re Thankful and You Know It” by The Kiboomers
You don’t need to know this song to know, basically, exactly as it goes. Sung to the tune of (you guessed it) “If You’re Happy And You Know It,” this is a great way to get babies, toddlers, and preschoolers into the Thanksgiving spirit because they already know how it goes. The only thing that’s changed is “happy” to “thankful.” So, really, this is doing double duty, both in entertaining kids and it getting them to start to understand what it means to be “thankful.”
Bonus: get this on video and keep sharing it every year. It’ll be adorable, and your child will become increasingly embarrassed and annoyed. That good-natured teasing among family members is part of what makes the holiday fun.
“What A Wonderful World”
This is another one for the “not really a Thanksgiving song so much as a Thanksgiving vibe” pile. But, really, is there ever a bad time for this classic song? And will you ever hear it and not tear up? “What A Wonderful World” is a song about the beauty of our lives, both as it actually exists and what we know is possible underneath all the struggles. It’s wistful, reverential, joyful, and full of gratitude. It feels like what would happen if you were asked to put words and music to a contented sigh. Armstrong's gravelly but warm voice is always welcome at our table.
“Kind and Generous” by Natalie Merchant
This song is just lovely and sweet and perfect for Thanksgiving. (I mean, she says “Thank you” about 30 times in this song so...)
1998 episode of , singer-songwriter Natalie Merchant said of “Kind and Generous,” “I'm proud of the song because I always wanted to write a song that had an extremely universal, simple sentiment. And just gratitude, that's all this song is about and really I feel like I accomplished my mission: simple, to the point. And everyone knows what I'm talking about the first time they hear the song, and they can sing along.” VH1 Storytellers
Mission accomplished, Natalie.
“Thank You For Being A Friend” by Andrew Gold
Some people think this song is
just the theme song for The Golden Girls, but no! There’s a whole song behind the bit everyone knows. Now, if it had just been the theme song for the literal greatest sitcom that ever was or ever will be that in and of itself would be an accomplishment but, seriously, even when it’s not being sung by Cynthia Fee ahead of the show, it absolutely slaps. Original singer and songwriter Andrew Gold said the song was “ just a little throwaway thing” that took him just about an hour to write.
Even if this song weren’t explicitly about togetherness and gratitude, it would be a perfect Thanksgiving day song because there’s a very real possibility you could start a table-wide sing-along with this one...
“Do The Turkey Gobble Wobble” by Sesame Street
Yes, we have a second
Sesame Street Thanksgiving song on this list because, well, we’re not going to apologize for how much we love Sesame Street and neither should any of you. In this cute, funny little song, Abby and Elmo sing about all the things they’re thankful for on Thanksgiving. They’re joined by a turkey who is also happy to express gratitude... for things like worms, and tube socks, and his pet dinosaur. Silly, cute, and delightfully sprinkled with jokes and your kids’ favorite puppets, this is perfect for the holiday. (Also, we suspect older kids who think they’re too old for Sesame Street will giggle over this one.) “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” by Arlo Guthrie
Silly, poignant, and so historically significant it was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress in 2017, “Alice’s Restaurant” tells a Thanksgiving story so wild it can barely be believed (which is, in fact, the definition of “
massacree”). It’s a spoken-word, deadpan satirical protest against the draft and it’s absolutely brilliant... and almost 20 minutes long.
Here’s the thing: there’s some content in this song that isn’t exactly kid friendly, but we’re pretty sure it’s a punishable offense to put together a list of Thanksgiving songs and not include it. A statute on par with, say, dumping garbage off a cliff onto another pile of garbage. (If you know you know.) But it’s definitely worth a listen either after kiddos go to bed or, perhaps, while wearing headphones as you whip up some mashed potatoes or something.
“Thank God For Hometowns.”
Since Thanksgiving is so often a time to head back to the places we grew up, we think this is a great addition to any Thanksgiving playlist. The song is all about how even after you leave, even after you maybe really
wanted to leave, these are places where you can always rediscover yourself and learn more about who you are. Even the people we didn’t really know all that well we’re still connected to, and they leave an impression on us. The love that nurtured us in our hometown follows no matter where we go, and we can all be grateful for that. “Kill The Turkey”
One of our favorite things about
Bob’s Burgers is Linda’s impromptu singing. She’ll find any excuse to sing and Thanksgiving really gets her going. This song is brief, less than a minute long, but we have absolutely no doubt that it will be one of your kids favorites (and, yes, you will be singing along all day and probably well into Christmas). In typical Linda fashion, the song is chaotic and yet sublime--an enthusiastic, stream of consciousness ode to all the foods and feelings of togetherness she's looking forward to for the holiday, culminating with a call to, that's right, kill the turkey. “In My Life”
Thanksgiving tables are known for being contentious at times. Whose stuffing is the best? Should we really have five different pies on the table? Which cousin is a vegan this year? OMG, Uncle Bill is on his third Manhattan, which means he’s about to start talking politics...
But one thing everyone can agree on – The Beatles are great. “In My Life” is a song about taking stock, prioritizing, but being grateful of everything that brought you to where you are today. So even if you question the life choices that brought you to this particular table, you can all sit for at least a moment of unity in your appreciation for John, Paul, Ringo, and George...
“I’ve Got Plenty To Be Thankful For”
This classic is just as much about what the narrator doesn’t have as what he does. OK, maybe he doesn’t have a yacht or money or a rug on his floor, but he’s got eyes (to see with), ears (to hear with), arms (to hug with), lips (to kiss with) and someone to adore. And, really, who could ask for anything more? (OK, a yatch would also be nice, but one thing at a time...)
It's just a matter of time before a lot of us break out classic Bing Crosby Christmas music, so this is a great way to get your Bing on a little earlier than usual!
Enjoy your dinner, everybody!
This article was originally published on
November 2, 2021