The national anthem of Thanksgiving is Arlo Guthrie’s still-hilarious musical monologue “Alice’s Restaurant.” But if you already know the story of the red VW microbus and the 27 8-by-10 color glossy photographs backwards and forwards, you may want some other selections to get you in the mood. For your dining pleasure, we offer a full sideboard of songs about the traditional Thanksgiving meal.
An early Pulp track, recorded for British DJ John Peel in a 1981 Peel Session, this song is all jittery energy, perfect for sustaining you while you're brining and roasting your turkey. (You are brining your turkey, aren't you?)
Amazingly, James Brown had more than one hit single about mashed potatoes. What was timely in the early Sixties — the Mashed Potato was a dance craze, similar to the Twist — now just sounds like an awesome tribute to the power of spud. The 1960 single "(Do the) Mashed Potatoes" was credited to Nat Kendrick and the Swans; when Brown's label boss didn't want to release the single, Brown recorded it secretly and credited it to his drummer. Two years later, clearly still needing to work out some mashed-potato issues, Brown cut this single under his own name.
Kelis's 2014 record Food had a full menu of delicious song titles: "Jerk Ribs," "Breakfast," "Cobbler." Some of them were placeholder titles that stuck around, inspired by the food she was eating in the studio with producer Dave Sitek (TV on the Radio). Others had hazier origins. "We never even had biscuits and gravy," she told us. "I don't know where that came from." Either way, the song is delicious.
One more advantage to having the Roots as your studio band: Even a goofy novelty song about stuffing a turkey with random items ends up sounding funky.
Like most of their output between “Green Onions” and “Hip Hug-Her,” this laid-back 1966 instrumental groove from the Stax-Volt house band made little commercial impact, but its 164 seconds go down easy, just like a second helping of yams.
One of the best, most eccentric cuts from the Smile sessions found Brian Wilson declaring his love for fresh vegetables. Around this time, he also opened a health-food store in West Hollywood called the Radiant Radish. Rolling Stone visited the store and tried to buy a bottle of vitamin B-12, but Wilson wouldn't sell any to writer Tom Nolan without a call from his doctor.
The JB's, James Brown's backing band, kept their cooking at a steady 325 degrees, even as musicians shuttled in and out of the group. Credit not just Brown and his high standards, but the leadership of trombonist Fred Wesley, who had such a commitment to the groove that when the JB's recorded a single called "Givin' Up Food for Funk," it seemed plausible. But on Thanksgiving, this 1972 hit should help you to enjoy both food and funk in abundance.
Songs about cranberries are in short supply, so we'll have to go with a song by the Cranberries, the Irish alt-rock band. Their angsty 1994 hit "Zombie" reminds you to be thankful for your Thanksgiving feast. Even if you're eating flavorless green-bean casserole and mashed potatoes that taste like library paste, you could be a member of the walking dead, interested only in eating brains.
If you’ve got the kind of family that opts for multiple desserts, you’ll probably want servings of James Taylor’s “Sweet Potato Pie,” Don McLean’s “American Pie” and even Warrant’s “Cherry Pie.” (Opt for the latter, and you’ll also take care of any cravings for cheese.) But none of them taste as good as the opening track of Physical Graffiti, a studio jam that tells you it’s time to get up from the table.
For the long days after Thanksgiving, when there's nothing but leftovers in the fridge, we present John Lennon's raw 1969 single about detoxing. Just be glad that when you overdosed, it was on tryptophan.