Why Doesn’t Our Greatest Holiday Get Better Songs?

Slate's Culture Blog
Nov. 20 2012 10:53 AM

Why Are Our Thanksgiving Songs All Turkeys?

Nicole Westbrook
Nicole Westbrook croons into a drumstick in the video for "It's Thanksgiving."

Still from YouTube.

The latest worst. song. ever. has entered the zeitgeist. In “It’s Thanksgiving,” 12-year-old Nicole Westbrook warbles into a glistening turkey leg, and—attempting a vague facsimile of rap—insists that we “can’t be hateful, gotta be grateful; gotta be grateful, can’t be hateful.” The real crime here is not the exploitation of an underage, undertalented tween. (Westbrook is a protégé of Patrice Wilson, the diabolical producer who previously inflicted Rebecca Black on an ill-prepared America.) It’s that, with so few Thanksgiving-themed songs out there to choose from, this abomination automatically enters the canon.

Seth Stevenson Seth Stevenson

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

The ongoing dearth of good Thanksgiving-themed pop bewilders me. We’ve been gifted with enough catchy jingle bell rock to overflow our stockings many seasons over. Yet somehow Thanksgiving-lovers always get the short end of the wishbone. Why hasn’t this rich cultural tradition inspired any moments of musical genius? Where, I ask, is the Turkey Day equivalent of “2000 Miles”? Or even “Christmas in Hollis”?

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Thanksgiving is not a religious holiday, which means a Thanksgiving song can appeal to a broader, nondenominational audience. (Though I grant the international charts might be tougher to conquer.) And, like Christmas, Thanksgiving boasts a bounty of established thematic elements—any lyricist worth her gravy should have no trouble throwing together a few on-topic verses. Note, for example, that “pumpkin pie” rhymes with “wonder why.” That’s evocative! You’re halfway there!

Westbrook and Wilson are not the first poptrepreneurs to spot this unfilled market niche.  Most famously, Adam Sandler made a naked bid to rule the late-November airwaves with “The Thanksgiving Song.” Given couplets like “Love to eat the turkey at the table; I once saw a movie with Betty Grable,” I deem this skimpy stuffing. Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Thanksgiving Song” is even worse: a treacly tryptophan snore.

The leftovers struggle to even qualify as Thanksgiving numbers. There are songs that hint at the theme but don’t directly address it (the Beastie Boys’ “Gratitude”); songs that don’t even have lyrics (Thelonious Monk’s “Stuffy Turkey”); and songs that are barely songs at all (Johnny Cash speak-singing an epic heartland soliloquy).

In the end the blame must fall upon our songwriters. You can’t tell me I haven’t tried. I was in a terrible band in college and, one fall semester, having identified this gaping void, I tried my hand at composing a Thanksgiving song of my own. As I recall, “Plymouth Rock” was played but once—on the stage of a subterranean campus bar. It was not well received.

Until the Thanksgiving hit of our dreams comes along, our best option just might be The National’s new cover of a weird, jumbled ditty from the animated show Bob’s Burgers. It’s a comic dirge—not a sincere, joyous ode to the greatest holiday ever invented. But it’ll do for now. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I hope you’ll join me when I sing, “Kill, kill, kill. Kill the turkey.”