For how much we gorge ourselves every year at Thanksgiving, there’s really nothing for our ears to feast upon. Or as Phil Hartman says to kick off “Thanksgiving Song Auditions,” one of my favorite SNL skits from the 1990s, “There are over 200 Christmas songs listed in the Library of Congress, yet not a single song listed about Thanksgiving.”
Obviously, Hartman’s fellow cast member, Adam Sandler, attempted to change this in 1992, basically taking the same dorm-room-guitar-hero approach to the holiday and his “Thanksgiving Song” as he’d do a couple of years later with his slightly more famous Hanukkah anthem.
But how much of “The Thanksgiving Song” is actually about Thanksgiving? The shortest answer: Not much. Here, for example, is the first verse:
Turkey for me
Turkey for you
Let’s eat the turkey
In my big brown shoe
Love to eat the turkey
At the table
I once saw a movie
With Betty Grable
The song’s entire premise is that Sandler doesn’t have much to say about Thanksgiving, so he has to counter every reference to eating turkey with something nonsensical. Similarly, when SNL “Weekend Update” anchor Kevin Nealon introduced the segment, he promised it would be the start of a tradition where other cast members would debut new Thanksgiving songs each year. The joke, of course, is that it will never happen — because writing a full Thanksgiving song is incredibly difficult, especially if you’re just going to talk turkey.
So difficult, in fact, not even Johnny Cash could pull it off. He performed his Thanksgiving tune, “Thanksgiving Prayer,” on Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, but — and no offense to the Man in Black — it’s a snoozer. The same goes for Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Thanksgiving Song.” Being grateful is nice and all, but it’s hard to turn such sweet sentiment into a banger.
And so, we’re back at food — namely, Shirley Caesar’s “Hold My Mule,” a 20-second hook of which at least perfectly captures what’s on everyone’s mind during Thanksgiving (provided you eat both meat and veggies). “I’ve got beans, greens, potatoes, tomatoes, lambs, rams, hogs, dogs, chicken, turkeys, you name it,” the 12-time Grammy winner sings. (Snoop would later sample it for the anthem to his #UNameItChallenge.)
Ultimately, though, it’s become better known as a meme than the official song of Thanksgiving:
Traveling down a YouTube wormhole in search of a Thanksgiving song is even more desperate. Behold plenty of cheesy, decidedly un-vegan children’s songs about devouring all that turkey flesh, and a flock of angry, horny kids rapping about the holiday:
Which is to say that I had better luck finding commiserators on Twitter who shared my curiosity:
Tweets like these brought me to Ben & the Peanut Butter Problem, who’s been responding to dozens upon dozens of them with a link to his very funny, 1980s-inflected, dance-ready jam “Stuff Your Face!” It was written in 2015, and yet, it’s still scored only about 132 views. Still, it’s like the “We Didn’t Start the Fire” of the pathetic Thanksgiving genre, complete with mentions of tryptophan, Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, the Macy’s Day Parade, Grandpa’s arthritic hands and canned goods.
The 40-year-old songsmith behind Ben & the Peanut Butter Problem, Ben Fogg, a teacher from Portland, Maine, writes over email that he wrote his own Thanksgiving song to honor Sandler. More generally, holiday music is kinda his thing: He’s also written a Ben Folds-worthy Halloween tune, a Christmas rap and a song for Mother’s Day. “I thought to myself, Maybe I can write a stupid holiday song that catches on, and plays year after year,” he explains.
As for why he believes so few have tackled Thanksgiving, he says, “I’m assuming that’s because music artists and producers don’t feel that there’s much money to be made with Thanksgiving music. I also think that kids don’t get as excited about Thanksgiving as they do with Christmas and Halloween. Still, it only takes one hit song before other artists follow suit.”
That hit, however, may finally be upon us. Rapper YBN Cordae’s album, The Lost Boy (which was recently nominated for a Best Rap Album Grammy), includes the track “Thanksgiving,” a poignant mix of the feelings of young love with the warmth of coming home. A quick lyric check:
Mac and cheese up in the oven, grandma finished cookin’
Thanksgiving ’round the corner, need banana pudding
Brought you home to Mama even though you said I shouldn’t
Might not make it to Christmas
A complete holiday playlist it does not make, but it’s at least a suitable appetizer.