by FSJ Staff
[Editor’s note: We wanted this article to go up on Thanksgiving, but we were busy celebrating with our friends and family. We hope you’ll enjoy this belated Thanksgiving treat: think of it as leftovers.]
The cultural canon has a place for Halloween songs and about a thousand Christmas songs (maybe enough good ones to fill a stocking), but why no room for Thanksgiving songs? It would seem like the themes of graciousness and connectedness would be ripe for song, but short of that one Adam Sandler song, there aren’t many songs to celebrate this particularly North American holiday. With that in mind, our crack staff has put forward a few of our favorite songs to slather over your Turkey Day like too much gravy. Some of the songs say “grace” and some of them are fit for the feast, but they all set the right mood for this autumn tradition.
1. George Winston – “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving”
On this cover of Vince Guaraldi’s original Peanuts song, Winston’s piano provides the main melody and the recording is cleaner and crisper than the original. While trying to stay true to the original ‘s breezy piano sound, Winston gave his playing more dynamic range compared to Guaraldi, quieting his piano to allow snare drums and trumpets to be heard. The crescendoing, rollicking chorus and graceful, lighthearted verse capture the feeling of waiting eagerly for the Thanksgiving feast, and the light, chatty atmosphere of the dinner itself. Let’s just hope your feast does not consist of jelly beans and toast!
– Edward Boice
2. Big Star – “Thank You Friends”
Following a difficult election and generally terrible year, it’s never been more important to take time to cherish those connections that keep us moving forward. Taken from the tumultuous recordings for Big Star’s never-finished third album, “Thank You Friends” is either a bitter send-off or an earnest song of grace. A Gospel-inflected choir adds grace to the song, but the flourish feels like it could either be deeply reverent or caustically sarcastic; though it could be touches of both. This Thanksgiving, let’s all pretend this is a song about love during even the most trying times; about moving forward with our friends and loved ones close by. We need that.
– Josh Templin
3. Rush – “Time Stands Still”
This song brings to mind the more reflective moments at the end of the Thanksgiving celebration. Once the turkey is all gone, the dads and grandpas fall asleep sitting on the couch, and the chaos is over, I feel a sense of pensive peacefulness. “Time Stands Still” is about freezing time and enjoying life before it’s gone. The deft fretwork of Geddy Lee mixes brash and direct New Wave with Rush’s Progressive ear for detail. The song encapsulates the wistful feeling of not wanting time with your family to end, but knowing deep down that eventually it must.
– Zac Godwin
4. Steve Winwood – “John Barleycorn”
5. Bongwater – “Kisses Sweeter than Wine”
As Thanksgiving is a celebration of the harvest, the day is associated with the joyful surfeit and with cornucopia. But, for the aging and the attentive, the day should serve as a memento mori. The harvest brings life, true, but does so through death — only the young, the foolish, or those too deep in their holiday cups fail to see that we all will be reaped. Humanity’s ultimate impotence is evident even in the joyous thanks, for there we tend to admit that the day’s joy lies beyond human power. This ambiguity of the harvest is captured in the English folk song “John Barleycorn” and the variously-rendered “Kisses Sweeter than Wine.”
“John Barleycorn” tells the tale of the planting, growth, and ultimate death of the grain that gives life in the loaf of bread and joy to that life in the cup of spirits. Steve Winwood’s acoustic version of “John Barleycorn” is a good choice for the Thanksgiving Day mix: his voice and light guitar work create a warm sonic background for the slightly cold theme. Winwood’s performance of a song that he once sang as a young man in Traffic emphasizes the song’s focus on the cycle of life.
“Kisses Sweeter than Wine,” born of an Irish folk song, has taken many forms, but Bongwater’s 1991 version captures the true folk spirit of life’s rich ambiguity. Over a plaintive banjo, a married couple lays out their antiphonic tale of love, life, and passing—though not loss. The dramatic monologue at song’s end pushes the song into melodramatic territory, but not at the expense of song’s beautiful expression of thanks for the opportunity just to live.
– C.L. Costello