There are countless Christmas songs, but what about Thanksgiving? For a holiday that essentially revolves around gathering friends and family and feasting on delicious food, why aren’t there scores of songs to match? For what is essentially an indulgent dinner party in the middle of the afternoon, you’re going to need a playlist for entertaining and selective hearing when your relatives try to bring up politics. From deep funk cuts to snazzy jazz numbers, the best Thanksgiving songs focus on food and gratitude.
Listen to the best Thanksgiving songs on Spotify, and scroll down for our best Thanksgiving songs of all time.
20: Ohio Players: ‘Jive Turkey’
With the caveat that “jive turkey” is pejorative slang, you can still flip the meaning on one day of the year, thanks to Ohio Players’ slinky, horn-fuelled groove that will have everyone dancing long after the gravy has gone cold.
19: Mary J Blige: ‘Family Affair’
This classic Mary J Blige track works on two fronts: it celebrates bringing the family together and also acts as a handy icebreaker, as everyone gets to go around the table and explain what they think a “dancerie” is.
18: Steely Dan: ‘Black Friday’
Steely Dan’s organ-powered R&B number may have been written long before the retail apocalypse known as Black Friday, but the lyrics sound surprisingly relevant, as Donald Fagen sings: “When Black Friday comes, I collect everything I’m owed/And before my friends find out, I’ll be on the road”.
17: Beck: ‘Nicotine And Gravy’
Turkey and stuffing, pie and ice cream, nicotine and gravy… Thanksgiving is full of winning combinations. This jazz-infused psychedelic pop cut is for later in the evening, after the tryptophan kicks in and Beck’s woozy vocals start to sound just right.
16: Bob Marley & the Wailers: ‘Give Thanks And Praises’
A later Bob Marley classic, the reggae icon was a beacon of gratitude and positivity on this 1983 single, something all Thanksgiving songs could use more of.
15: The JB’s: ‘Pass The Peas’
‘Pass the Peas’ comes from the essential funk instrumental album Food For Thought, from James Brown’s backing band, the JB’s. It’s also been sampled by Eric B & Rakim and De La Soul, appealing to generations around the table.
14: Edwin Starr: ‘Easin’ In’
As you survey the Thanksgiving feast that lays before you, take Edwin Starr’s advice: ease in slowly and let the funk roll over you on this slick 1974 cut from the Blaxploitation film Hell Up in Harlem.
13: Little Eva: ‘Let’s Turkey Trot’
Were all dance crazes named after comfort food? Whatever the case, this Northern soul favourite was a smash hit for Little Eva in 1962, and it still slaps.
12: The Beach Boys: ‘Vega-Tables’
Leave it to The Beach Boys to make getting your greens in sound like harmonious celebration. Initially intended for the 1967 Smile project, it was released a year later on Smiley Smile, with Paul McCartney famously chomping on celery in the background.
11: Louis Armstrong: ‘All That Meat And No Potatoes’
Innuendos aside, this duet with Pops and Velma Middleton is essential for any Thanksgiving songs playlist. Delivered with a side of sass and then some, when Armstrong sings, “I look into the pot/I’m fit to fight,” it’s clear he also understands the importance of a solid side dish.
10: Natalie Cole: ‘Be Thankful’
Those who think Natalie Cole can only be counted on for sophisticated standards haven’t heard her 1977 album Thankful, featuring the funky-gospel single ‘Be Thankful’, on which she schools everyone on being grateful, with a few impressive vocal runs in between.
9: Adam Sandler: ‘The Thanksgiving Song’
And now for something completely different… Adam Sandler, patron saint of 90s holiday novelty songs (also see ‘The Hanukkah Song’), graced the nation with his homage to Thanksgiving. With his childlike delivery, he waxed poetic about his love of turkey through nonsensical, rhyming lyrics on SNL’s Weekend Update, setting the bar for all Thanksgiving songs that followed.
8: The Beach Boys: ‘Do You Like Worms?’
Another song originally planned for The Beach Boys’ Smile album, ‘Do You Like Worms?’ has abrupt style shifts, animal noises and the recurring refrain, “Rock, rock, roll, Plymouth rock roll over.” Brian Wilson later expanded it into a delightfully weird tale of about the recolonisation of the American continent on the 2004 album Brian Wilson Presents Smile.
7: Jay & The Techniques: ‘Apple, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie’
Keeping in line with the food theme (an easy win for Thanksgiving songs), this zippy number only features one Technique member, Jay Proctor, but has some star-powered back-up courtesy of songwriting duo Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson.
6: Mel Tormé: ‘Comin’ Home Baby!’
5: Bing Crosby: ‘I’ve Got Plenty To Be Thankful For’
For the Thanksgiving traditionalists, this Bing Crosby song comes from the 1942 Irving Berlin musical film, Holiday Inn. Who needs butter on the table, when nothing’s smoother than Crosby’s voice?
4: Dee Dee Sharp: ‘Mashed Potato Time’
With all that carb-loading, you’re going to need to move around a bit. Grab a partner and do the mashed potato to the tune of Dee Dee Sharp. While The Contours first kicked off the dance craze on their Motown hit ‘Do You Love Me’, it picked up steam with Dee Dee.
3: James Brown: ‘(Do The) Mashed Potatoes’
Speaking of food prep, James Brown’s take on the dance trend is, naturally, funkier. Having incorporated the mashed potato into his stage shows, he wanted to capitalise on the craze with an instrumental track that was, for contractual reasons, originally credited to an outfit led by his drummer, Nat Kendricks And The Swans. Soul Brother No.1 got so whipped up about potatoes, he would record another spuds-focused single, ‘Mashed Potatoes USA’, under his own name.
2: Earth, Wind And Fire: ‘Gratitude’
As you might have noticed, the majority of our favourite Thanksgiving songs are funk and soul cuts – and with good reason. Nothing puts the family faster to sleep than pie and acoustic folk. Let’s give thanks to the divine talents of Maurice White and Philip Bailey’s vocal interplay, and Verdine White’s funky bassline, on this cut from Earth, Wind And Fire’s 1975 live album, Gratitude.
1: Vince Guaraldi Trio: ‘Thanksgiving Theme’
After dominating the Christmas music market with their soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas, The Vince Guaraldi Trio made a move on Thanksgiving songs with the equally comforting ‘Thanksgiving Theme’ from A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.
Looking for more? Discover the best Christmas songs ever.