Some holidays get all the good songs. Even if you’re sick of “Thriller” and “The Monster Mash,” there are literally hundreds of spooky songs about ghosts and ghouls to choose from on Halloween. If you’re not big on flag-waving, you can still find enough songs about American identity to populate a more pensive Fourth of July playlist. And of course, there’s so much Christmas music out there that if you started listening to it today, it’d probably take you until next Christmas to get through it all.
Thanksgiving, on the other hand, gets the short end of the stick. There’s Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant,” Adam Sandler’s “Thanksgiving Song” and…not much else when it comes to songs that explicitly reference the holiday. That can make putting together a Turkey Day playlist a bit of a challenge, but it also allows for more creativity when it comes to deciding on the perfect record to put on while you celebrate.
What exactly makes an album ideal for Thanksgiving listening? Is it soothing fall vibes, or something to get you feeling festive as you top off your wine glass and go for another round of stuffing? To find out, I polled my coworkers on what they’ll be spinning this year; check out what the InsideHook editors will be listening to this Thanksgiving — and why — below.
Middle Brother, Middle Brother
I’ve thought long and hard about what I need from a record on Thanksgiving, and the answer I keep coming back to is this 2011 album by Deer Tick’s John McCauley, Dawes’s Taylor Goldsmith and Delta Spirit’s Matt Vasquez. When I’m relaxing on the couch after eating and drinking way too much, I want chill vibes, but with enough uptempo moments sprinkled throughout to keep me from fully succumbing to the tryptophan. (No one wants to be the snoring relative who can’t hang.) Middle Brother strikes that delicate balance, and it also has the right amount of weariness to it — perfect for the post-feast comedown. I need a little bit of regret in the music I listen to while I struggle to digest my meal. When McCauley sings “Early in the morning, too hungover to go back to sleep” on “Daydreaming” or “Momma gave a camera to her little star/All she gets is pictures of hotels and bars” on “Mom and Dad,” I too will be wistfully taking stock of my life choices; instead of the usual vices that touring rock bands fall into on the road, I’ll just be pondering my decision to go for a second helping of green bean casserole. — Bonnie Stiernberg
Key Track: “Daydreaming”
Harry Connick, Jr., When Harry Met Sally…
Everyone knows When Harry Met Sally is a quintessential fall movie, but I think people forget about the significance of the soundtrack: It’s Harry Connick, Jr.’s first hit record, the album that introduced him to the public (and won him his first Grammy) and the sonic encapsulation of that specific Thanksgiving time when the leaves have mostly fallen but the Christmas season hasn’t quite descended. Its mix of Connick’s warm-mug-of-coffee vocals (“It Had to Be You,” “I Could Write a Book”) and lively instrumentals (“Winter Wonderland,” “Autumn in New York”) makes it the perfect atmosphere-setting album for a family gathering, whether you put it on while cooking, during dinner or for the post-gorging loafing. — Alex Lauer
Key Track: “I Could Write a Book”
Green Day, Warning
First, let’s be clear — I will have no say in what music I’m listening to on Thursday, as I’ll be at a get-together thrown by a much younger friend (and her young, cool friend group). So I’m going to go with an album that I jokingly mentioned was perfect for the holiday simply because it has a song called “Macy’s Day Parade.” But honestly? I’ve loved Warning for over two decades. It’s Green Day’s best album, and also the band’s quietest and most “mature” release (it also kind of flopped, which was unjustified). It’s somewhat acoustic (though more akin to Billy Bragg acoustic than, say, emo acoustic) and often reflective… if you ignore the one big single “Minority,” which is a tad juvenile and doesn’t age well. Overall, the album and particularly the overlooked single “Waiting” feel like the soundtrack to a late fall day that somehow also reminds you of the end of high school. And “Macy’s Day Parade”? A lovely, Beatle-esque anti-commercialist ballad. Enjoy your turkey feast, you capitalist swine. — Kirk Miller
Key Track: “Macy’s Day Parade”
John Coltrane, A Love Supreme
John Coltrane’s music certainly isn’t seasonal, but there’s something about this record that has always evoked fall and the upcoming festive season (he recorded it in December and those vibes certainly come through for me). It’s the perfect album to welcome people in and help them get into a celebratory mood. Paired with charcuterie and Martini service, you can’t go wrong. — Amanda Gabriele
Key Track: “Pt. II – Resolution”
The 35 Saddest Christmas SongsThe holidays are going to be rough this year. Lean into it with these devastatingly great odes to being blue on Christmas.
The Band, The Last Waltz
In my family, it’s not Thanksgiving until we’ve watched Van Morrison (back before he was a problematic anti-vaxxer), clad in a bedazzled cranberry-colored suit, karate-kicking his way off the stage after absolutely bringing the house down with “Caravan” in The Last Waltz. The Martin Scorsese film chronicling The Band’s star-studded farewell concert at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom has become a classic Thanksgiving movie due to the fact that it was recorded on Thanksgiving Day in 1976 — Rick Danko wishes the crowd a happy Thanksgiving as the Band returns to the stage for their encore — but its accompanying soundtrack album is a classic in its own right. This year, in light of Robbie Robertson’s recent passing, it feels appropriate to dig in to the album version, which is full of great performances that didn’t make it into the movie, like Morrison and Richard Manuel’s killer duet on “Tura Lura Lural (That’s An Irish Lullaby).” — Bonnie Stiernberg
Key Track: “Tura Lura Lural (That’s An Irish Lullaby)”
Nizlopi, Half These Songs Are About You
Ed Sheeran tried his best to release the fall album to end all fall albums with Autumn Variations in September, and you know what? Lots of people will put that on this Thanksgiving. But one of Ed’s formative musical inspirations was an English band called Nizlopi — they only had one chart-topping song, “JCB” in 2005, and they’ve since disbanded, but they released the album it feels like Sheeran is perpetually trying to match but can’t quite achieve, and it’s called Half These Songs Are About You. It’s pop-folk thickened with strong songwriting and peppered with Britishisms, and it’s cinematic in its storytelling. Just hit play, because the record has a faultless flow in its slow-burn opening, livening to an upbeat climax on “Long Distance” and “Love Rage On,” and then calming down and swirling around on “Freedom” and “Wash Away” while you build a fire in the fireplace and pour out a few drams of Scotch with your second helping of pie. — Alex Lauer
Key Track: “Wash Away”
This one’s a recent favorite, and I’m pretty confident it’s going to be going into heavy rotation for me as we get deeper and deeper into cold weather. There’s something about this Icelandic singer’s jazz and bossa nova-influenced vocals that just feels warm and comforting to me, making her Grammy-nominated album Bewitched perfect for cozy season. Laufey’s an incredible talent, one we’ll only be seeing more of as her star continues to grow, and her songs have a timeless elegance to them. Her voice is the perfect soundtrack for a fancy dinner party — or for when you’re trying to feel classy while you loosen that belt and slip into a food coma. — Bonnie Stiernberg
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