And it was easy, because everyone knows there are lots and lots of preexisting classic Thanksgiving songs, and I certainly did NOT recently make all these songs up in collaboration with composer Jack Mitchell! And we certainly have no reason to thank the extremely talented performers listed in the credits at the bottom of this column, because, again, these are snippets of preexisting Thanksgiving songs with which everyone is familiar and which we didn’t entirely write and record this week!
So without further ado, the nine best Thanksgiving songs:
9. “Pardon Me (Lament),” from “Les Turquies”
Mr. President! Pardon me,
Why do you pardon me?
What did I, Butterball, do right?
What did all my friends do wrong?
What Thanksgiving playlist would be complete without this song from the iconic 1980s musical about the lives and struggles of turkeys, famously performed on a 360-degree rotisserie stage? (One last time: This is a real musical that exists, not one I invented just to start this list off with a melodramatic song from a pardoned turkey riddled with regret.)
As best as I can understand, the producers who believed “Cats the Musical" was a good concept looked around for other animals to make into a musical and discovered that turkeys were not trademarked, and then they did not supervise the creative team closely enough, and this musical happened.
And who could forget the resulting travails of Butterball the turkey, offered a pardon by the president while his friends go off to garnish tables everywhere? Or his stirring renunciation of that pardon in this 11 o’clock number? “Why do I get to gobble on while they get gobbled on?” Not a dry eye at the table.
8. “Draw a Hand Turkey!” by The Gobblers
Crayon. Marker. Pencil. Pen.
Get a thing to draw with, then
Draw a hand turkey! …
The thumb is the head. The fingers are the feathers.
“Electric Boogie.” “Wobble.” “Cha-Cha Slide.” No festivity is complete without a song that gives you instructions.
Fortunately, we have this line dance, a fixture at Thanksgiving weddings and bar mitzvahs from time immemorial. You know how it is — you’re at your Thanksgiving wedding and the bride’s uncle shouts, “Get on the dance floor! It’s time to Draw a Hand Turkey!” and then everybody rushes to the floor and grabs a sheet of construction paper and a drawing utensil.
This artist kept trying to follow up the hit with other attempts at dance songs, but everyone knows that “Dye an Easter Egg!" or “Send a Thank-You Card to a Veteran!” are goofy, unsustainable premises for holiday songs that are trying too hard, whereas “Draw a Hand Turkey” is not.
7. “Pumpkin Spice,” by Unknown (Corporate)
It’s in the streets, it’s in the air.
It’s in your sheets, it’s in your hair.
It gives your meats a special flair:
I hear what you are saying. “Pumpkin Spice” is more of a jingle than a song. You’re not wrong! But does that mean “Lexus December to Remember Holiday Sales Event Theme Song” isn’t on your Christmas playlists? Do not answer that question. It is rhetorical and I consider my point proved.
The point is, “Pumpkin Spice” is in the canon. It’s short. It’s catchy. You know it’s pumpkin spice season when you start to hear it on TV. It’s got pumpkin in it, or, to be scrupulously correct, a blend of spices used to give flavor to pumpkin.
The second verse, often omitted in commercial use, does raise an interesting question: “If this is a real jingle, why does it imply that pumpkin spice is in your house coming for you in a threatening way?” Luckily, I don’t need to answer that question, because we all know that it definitely is a real jingle!
6. “It’s Not Christmas Yet!” by Scaly Dave from “This Is Not A Christmas Album”
Every store and every street,
Every reindeer that you meet,
Thanksgiving takes a clear back seat.
But why? There’s pies! They’re delicious!
This rousing protest anthem about the fact that it is not Christmas yet sadly never charted or entered the popular memory, because it was released the same year as Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” But it has retained a cult following among those who are annoyed that we give Turkey Day short shrift.
This was supposed to be the single for Scaly Dave’s “This Is Not a Christmas Album,” but record executives were confused by the concept of an album that was not a Christmas album but also wasn’t a regular album. The remaining 11 songs, all of which were about how much Scaly Dave hated Christmas music and the whole Christmas season, did not help. When the record executives suggested that, technically, it was kind of a Christmas album, just a negative one, Scaly Dave went to a mountain and locked himself inside.
In 2005, Constantine Maroulis performed “It’s Not Christmas Yet!” on “American Idol.”
5. “Uncle John’s Had One Too Many Cocktails,” by the Uncle John Singers
Uncle John’s had one too many cocktails,
And now he wants to tell us about Q.
He also has opinions about Epstein,
And I am pretty sure none of it’s true.
Every holiday gets the novelty song it deserves, and this is Thanksgiving’s novelty song. Just be grateful I did not choose the Chipmunk version, the unexpectedly wrenching Johnny Cash cover, or the Kidz Bop version where Uncle John had one too many “candies.” That is definitely something I could have done, though, because this song (a real song) has been covered lots of times!
4. “Terminal B,” from the musical “Princess of LaGuardia”
My whole family’s gathered together,
Eating and watching TV,
Making memories to share,
Only I am not there,
'Cause I’m stuck here in Terminal B.
Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s concept for a Disney musical with a princess stuck in an airport over the Thanksgiving holiday never came to fruition, but this demo track was made.
“I’m sorry," Disney asked, “What’s the idea for the musical?”
“She’s a princess,” the duo explained, “and she’s stuck in an airport, over Thanksgiving.”
“What is she the princess of?”
“Do airports have princesses?"
“We feel very strongly about this project! Her animal sidekick is going to be a meowing piece of luggage that might or might not have a cat in it."
I cannot understand why this was not made.
3. “Uncle John’s Had Three Too Many Cocktails,” by the Uncle John Singers
Uncle John’s had three too many cocktails,
He’s shouting [unintelligible noises].
Uncle John is back! Bolstered by the success of “Uncle John’s Had One Too Many Cocktails,” the makers of this novelty song decided to return to the well, with mixed results. The audience of “Uncle John” expected maybe some kind of twist on the premise, but the band felt adamant that what people really wanted was more of the same. Given that the song’s premise was pretty clear and the first time through really let you know what the joke was, going through it a second time just reminds you of all the flaws with the concept!
Whenever this comes on in a Yankee Candle store everyone sighs audibly. But I like how there aren’t as many lyrics in this one! Hypothetically, if you had co-written all these songs in one week, you might be running out of lyrics around now!
2. “1-800 Butterball (Counter Space Oddity),” by David Buoy
1-800 Butterball, it’s John.
Is it too late to turn the oven on?
I always liked this very real song, and I was mad when Michael Bublé covered it. It’s not his vibe at all, and all his ad-libs made it worse. Fortunately, this is the original Buoy version.
Nothing evokes Thanksgiving like the frantic voices of people dialing the Butterball hotline to ask whether they are going to be able to survive the holiday. I love when the chorus hits, like a cylinder of cranberry sauce melting in your mouth.
And it’s groovy. I like how it sounds like they’re going to space for some reason.
1. “Gourds,” from the musical “Gourds”
Give me a pile of gourds.
Round, beautiful gourds.
GOURDS! YES! I want gourds on every surface. I want gourds coating my entire stoop, making it totally impassable. This song really expresses my feelings: Give me 20 pumpkins! I will take them!
Of course, it goes without saying there has been much debate about this song: “Why are pumpkins in this song twice?” “Shouldn’t ‘Gourds’ be part of the Halloween canon, too?" “What was the musical ‘Gourds’ even about?” “Is ‘Gourds’ technically a Thanksgiving song at all? Isn’t it just a song about gourds?”
But what makes anything a Thanksgiving song? As this list demonstrates, Thanksgiving with its bountiful subject matter is the best possible time of year to write songs about; that is why there are definitely at least nine Thanksgiving songs, everyone knows about them, and they all exist.
So I am grateful I get to listen to the Songs of Thanksgiving again right now, about turkey and travel and family and knife-wielding spice blends! AND GOURDS! I hope you will do the same! Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
Music and lyrics by Alexandra Petri and Jack Mitchell. Music production by Jack Mitchell. Guitar and vocal engineering by Conor Keelan. Vocals by Eric Gersen, Gaby Hornig, Jack Mitchell, Kyle Sherman, Jamie Linn Watson and Nimene Sierra Wureh.