Christmastime brings with it an infinite catalog of joyful carols to soundtrack the season. The Fourth of July boasts a proud number of triumphant patriotic songs. Even Halloween has “Monster Mash.” Now, quick: name your favorite Thanksgiving carol.
Yes, when it comes to songs to score our annual bountiful buffets, it’s slim pickings. So what’s a music-minded Thanksgiving enthusiast to do? A quick dig through the canon of Thanksgiving music surfaced these notable songs of the season. Here’s a rundown of which are worth a listen and which are turkeys.
1. ‘It’s Thanksgiving’ by Nicole Westbrook: FAIL
It’s the dance floor-ready ode to Turkey Day that you never wanted. From the auditory assailants behind Rebecca Black’s reviled viral sensation, “Friday,” comes “It’s Thanksgiving.” The song, from 12-year-old aspiring starlet Nicole Westbrook, was written and produced by “Friday” mastermind Patrice Wilson. Like “Friday,” the lyrics are embarrassingly blunt. The chorus features a roll call of all the holidays leading up to Thanksgiving followed by a musical recitation of the dinner menu—“Turkey, hey! / Mashed potatoes, hey!” By the time the turkey-leg microphone is whipped out, we’re ready to cancel dinner.
2. ‘The Thanksgiving Song’ by Adam Sandler: WIN
It’s not packed with quite as much wit as his endearingly un-P.C. ode to Hanukkah, but Adam Sandler’s homage to Thanksgiving is as close to a classic song about Turkey Day as we have. (Which, really, says a lot about the difficulty of translating the holiday to music—it’s been centuries since the Pilgrims and Indians first broke bread, and the only truly identifiable song about it was a ’90s comedy bit by a Saturday Night Live star?)
3. ‘Turkey Lurkey Time’ from ‘Promises, Promises’: WIN
Technically, the show-stopping Act I finale “Turkey Lurkey Time” from the 1968 Broadway production of Promises, Promises is set at an office Christmas party. But it’s a show tune about turkey, for the love of Patti LuPone, and musical-theater nerds have been co-opting it, justifiably, as a Thanksgiving tune for decades. Burt Bacharach and Hal David penned the bouncy number, but it’s the dizzying, exhaustingly frenetic original choreography by Michael Bennett that’s turned a song about dinner into a Broadway classic. Trying to recreate the dance after dinner proves to be an excellent way to burn off that extra slice of pumpkin pie, natch.
4. ‘Thanksgiving Song’ by Mary Chapin Carpenter: FAIL
Like aural tryptophan, Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Thanksgiving release is a bland buffet of syrupy lyrics and flat melodies. If you wake up from your Chapin-induced slumber long enough, you’ll hear overly earnest, whispered lines like “Grateful for each hand we hold / Gathered round this table / From far and near we travel home / Blessed that we are able.” Not exactly the rousing anthem needed for your post-gorging pick-me-up.
5. ‘Macy’s Day Parade’ by Green Day: FAIL
Credit Green Day with seizing on one of Thanksgiving’s most celebrated traditions as a song subject. But why so blue, Billie Joe? The raucous energy elicited by the Thanksgiving Day parade is completely absent from the moody song and accompanying clip, in which lead singer Armstrong strolls through some urban wasteland while warbling lyrics decrying the consumerism of the day after Thanksgiving (a “red light special at the mausoleum” and the “economy-sized dreams of hope” get shout-outs). All of the buoyancy of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is turned into a drab funeral march.
6. ‘The Thanksgiving Filter’ by Drive-By Truckers: WIN
Initially, the mere mention of Thanksgiving conjures warm feelings of family and gratitude and Pilgrims and Indians and merriment. But then the reality hits: Thanksgiving dinner is one woefully dysfunctional tradition. In their 2010 deep cut, the Drive-By Truckers astutely capture the lunacy of the family gathering. “Grandmother’s wheelchair is sitting in the corner,” the song begins. “We all sure love her but the little ones avoid her.” That wit permeates the entire song. “My aunt’s praising Palin and my niece loves Obama,” goes another choice line. “My uncle came to dinner wearing his pajamas.”
7. ‘Thanksgiving Theme’ by Vince Guaraldi Trio: WIN
The theme from the Peanuts Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special may not instantly raise the hairs on your skin the way the joyfully haunting orchestrations to A Charlie Brown Christmas do. But as far as background music to score your family’s Thanksgiving day noshing, you certainly could do worse than the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s warm, jaunty melodies.
8. ‘We Gather Together’ by Theodore Baker: WIN/FAIL
It’s as corny as the creamed yellow side dish sitting on the Thanksgiving table, and singing it surfaces traumatic memories of being forced to perform it in front of your parents at Mrs. Donnelly’s preschool class when you were 4 years old. But “We Gather Together” is more than 400 years old, and its simple message—we are blessed to be here enjoying this meal together—is pure enough to defy snark. Almost.