Why Adam Sandler's 'Thanksgiving Song' Is a Holiday Classic - Rolling Stone
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Why Adam Sandler’s ‘Thanksgiving Song’ Is a Holiday Classic

We break down the comedian’s goofy tune verse by verse and see why his ridiculous ditty is the one true Turkey Day anthem

There’s so much to love about Thanksgiving: the piles of food, the expressions of gratitude, that uncle that still tries to get you to pull his finger, the four-day weekend, etc. And yet, this late November feast of gluttony is easily the most underserved among the major U.S. holidays when it comes to one important factor: its songs.

Christmas, of course, has more carols and novelty numbers than you can shake a giant candy cane at. Easter comes complete with “Here Comes Peter Cottontail” and a basket-load of hymns. Valentine’s Day has its love ballads, the Fourth of July has everything from George M. Cohan marches to “America (Fuck Yeah)” from Team America: World Police, and Halloween has the entire Danzig catalog. But a mix of Thanksgiving-specific songs wouldn’t last long enough to get you and your family through the first Obama-related argument of the afternoon, much less the entire dinner.

Let’s face it: There’s only one Thanksgiving song deep enough to rep the multilayered joys of Turkey Day, and that’s Adam Sandler’s “The Thanksgiving Song,” a.k.a. “Happy Thanksgiving.” Sure, the comedian’s “Chanukah Song” gets all the love, but his T-Day tune — which debuted on the November 21, 1992 episode of Saturday Night Live‘s “Weekend Update,” then appeared on his 1993 album, They’re All Gonna Laugh At You! — may be even better. In a weird way, his ditty actually replicates the occasionally dissociative experience of sitting through a family-filled Thanksgiving dinner from start to finish. So to truly appreciate the song’s inherent brilliance, we must examine Sandler’s free-associative lyrics one rhyme at a time…

Love to eat turkey
‘Cause it’s good
Love to eat turkey
Like a good boy should

One of the most important rules of songwriting is to open with a line that your listeners can immediately relate to. And who doesn’t love to eat turkey? Unless, of course, you’re vegetarian or vegan — in which case, you can easily substitute “Tofurkey” without messing up the rhyme scheme. Genius.

Turkey for me
Turkey for you
Let’s eat the turkey
In my big brown shoe

After finding common ground with his listeners in the first verse, Sandler throws a curve with a non sequitur clearly influenced by the Surrealism movement of the Twenties and Thirties. Andre Bréton would surely be proud.

Love to eat the turkey
At the table
I once saw a movie
With Betty Grable

One of the most popular actresses and pinups of the 1940s, Betty Grable famously had a million-dollar insurance policy taken out on her legs by 20th Century Fox. Sandler may here be subtly comparing the flavor of a roast turkey leg to the deliciousness of Grable’s gams. Or he may just watch a lot of TCM, another popular Thanksgiving tradition in many households. Regardless, it’s safe to assume that he once saw a movie starring Betty Grable, and did not actually accompany the star of Four Jills and a Jeep to a moving picture show, despite persistent rumors that Sandler possesses a time machine. (It should also be noted that he could have gone with “Clark Gable” and chose not to. When it comes to referencing old-timey movie stars, the guy who played the lead role in Little Nicky rolls deep.)

Eat that turkey
All night long
Fifty million Elvis fans
Can’t be wrong

It’s no coincidence that Sandler salutes perhaps the greatest of The King’s “greatest hits” compilations, 1959’s 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong: Elvis’ Gold Records — Volume 2. Thanksgiving was a big holiday for Elvis; not only could the man put away some serious grub, but six of his films (1956’s Love Me Tender, 1960’s G.I. Blues, 1961’s Blue Hawaii, 1962’s Girls! Girls! Girls!, 1963’s Fun in Acapulco and 1965’s Harum Scarum) were initially released on Thanksgiving Day in order to cash in on the long weekend. Well-played, sir.

Turkey lurkey doo and
Turkey lurkey dap
I eat that turkey
Then I take a nap

Again finding common ground with his listeners, Sandler invokes the time-honored Thanksgiving tradition of sacking out after dinner in a tryptophan-and-carbohydrate haze. This now-scientifically-debunked myth about tryptophan in turkey being the reason that folks tend to nod off post-feast can be traced back to 1978, when the Better Sleep Council (it’s a real thing, people) was attempting to rebrand everyone’s favorite white meat as a cure for insomnia by riding the holiday’s coattails. Still, we find that the amino acid’s reputation comes in handy this time of year. You are getting sleepy, Uncle Rich…we won’t pull your finger…you are getting sleepy….

Thanksgiving is a special night
Jimmy Walker used to say Dy-no-mite

Sandler humbly acknowledges the fleeting nature of fame with this touching shout-out to Jimmy “J.J.” Walker, a popular actor and comedian of the 1970s, whose star had faded considerably by the 1990s. We’re still waiting for the Good Times‘ actor’s career resurgence, which should be happening any minute now.

Turkey with gravy and cranberry
Can’t believe the Mets traded Darryl Strawberry

The New York Mets never actually traded their All-Star slugger; Strawberry left the team as a free agent following the 1990 season. Therefore, this couplet may be meant as a “fly on the wall” snippet of a conversation involving a father or uncle whose opinions on sports are rarely grounded in reality. Lord knows we’ve been there.

Turkey for you and Turkey for me
Can’t believe Tyson gave that girl V.D.

Another “fly on the wall” conversational snippet, referring to beauty queen Desiree Washington’s charge that she had contracted a venereal disease from Mike Tyson when she was raped by the former heavyweight champ. As Tyson’s rape trial was all over the headlines in November 1992, Sandler was surely aware that it would be a hot topic at dinner tables across the country that Thanksgiving.

White meat, dark meat
You just can’t lose
I fell off my moped
And I got a bruise

An important public safety message from Sandler, who knows first-hand the dangers of operating a vehicle — or other heavy machinery — immediately after ingesting “thirds” at the dinner table. (See that nap verse above.)

Turkey in the oven
And the buns in the toaster
I’ll never take down
My Cheryl Tiegs poster

The Kate Upton of the Seventies, Cheryl Tiegs was the first model to appear multiple times on the cover of Sports Illustrated‘s swimsuit issue, and her posters adorned the walls of many an adolescent boy back in the day. The reference to Thanksgiving “buns” is more than likely what triggered Sandler’s nostalgic Tiegs reverie.

Wrap the turkey up
In aluminum foil
My brother likes to masturbate
With baby oil

Finally, someone has the guts to come out and admit to the world that yes, this popular item used to soften the skin of infants has more than one usage. (No word on what Sandler’s brother thinks about this bit, or whether it’s won him an endorsement deal with or lifetime’s supply of Johnson & Johnson.) It’s a judgment-free “acknowledgment of the more sexually adventurous members of Sandler’s audience. Or, as the pioneering African-American comedian Mantan Moreland once famously proclaimed (in a line later sampled for the Beastie Boys’ “B-Boys makin’ with the Freak-Freak”), “Shit, if it’s gonna be that kind of party, I’m gonna stick my dick in the mashed potatoes!”

Turkey and sweet potato pie
Sammy Davis Jr.
Only had one eye

The legendary entertainer and Rat Pack member Sammy Davis, Jr. was actually born with two eyes, though he lost one in a horrific 1954 car crash that nearly claimed his life. Despite his injuries, the man behind “The Candyman” made an impressive comeback — which Sandler clearly believes should serve as an inspiring lesson for us all.

Turkey for the girls and
Turkey for the boys
My favorite kind of pants
Are corduroys

An interesting and perhaps even daring admission of fashion preference from Sandler, given that cords were very much out of favor among American men in the early/mid-Nineties. When folks say that the Billy Madison star is not a retro-couture maverick, we kindly sing them this line in our best manchild voice.

Gobble gobble goo and
Gobble gobble gickel
I wish turkey
Only cost a nickel

Adam Sandler

Of course, a turkey dinner costs much more than a nickel these days, and there are many people living below the poverty line who cannot afford to put a Thanksgiving meal on their table. With this concluding couplet, Sandler asks us to remember the less fortunate during this and every holiday season, and reminds us to be thankful for the many blessings that we have received over the course of the year.

Okay, so maybe we’re guilty of reading between the lines a tad too much, or perhaps we’re just a little pumpkin pie-drunk. But it’s still high time that Sandler’s song is crowned with a wreath of candied yams and made the official anthem of Thanksgiving. After all, a holiday whose actual origins are as hazy as a freshman dorm room and which comes with more than its share of intrinsic silliness (we stuff our faces, fight with our families, then doze off watching football) deserves an official carol with an equal level of good cheer and abject ridiculousness. Never mind the fact that, hey, when it comes right down to it, what else does this annual day of gratitude have, music-wise; it’s a gleeful, silly, all-inclusive ode that, minus the masturbation verse, remains a sing-along favorite — one of the few things our family can agree on come Turkey Day. For that alone, we’re most thankful, Mr. Sandler.


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