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21 Grateful Songs for Your Thanksgiving Playlist

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When you’re doling out Thanksgiving Day dinner tasks and putting the final touches on the food, the table settings, and generally making everything pretty, don’t forget something that can really set your gathering apart: the music.

Sure, Christmas gets all the street cred when it comes to holiday songs, but Thanksgiving has its own built-in theme, and that wins. There are plenty of songs about thanks and gratitude, and all of the things we humans have to be grateful for: family, friends, pets, homes, you name it. It all pretty much boils down to love, too, and if there’s one thing that most songs are written about, it’s love, right? I’m always open to broad interpretations of a theme, both for the sake of creative flexibility, and also because it tends to make the list, and therefore your gathering, better.

When I assembled this playlist, I went with some obvious choices. I can’t help it. I’m a Led Zeppelin fan, and also Dido, so it’s just convenient that each has a song called “Thank You” that has been meaningful to me at different times in my life, for different reasons. And I can’t forget Boyz II Men’s “Thank You,” which, if nothing else, will make you thankful for the MotownPhilly sound.

I didn’t go entirely with gratitude as a central theme. I couldn’t resist “Sweet Potato Pie,” performed by James Taylor and Ray Charles, because, well pie is important, and for Thanksgiving pies, I am grateful. My friends have been so, so important to me this year that a few songs celebrating those relationships — most notably TLC’s “What About Your Friends?” made it onto my list, and were a real priority. I’ve concluded in compiling this list that there should be more friend songs, so I hope musicians everywhere will get on this.

You could also compile a fine Thanksgiving playlist from songs that are important to your family or friend group, or to you specifically. And if you’re not at a party or a dinner that allows you to play music? Bring it with you in the car and listen on the way. Do whatever it takes to keep that thankful song or 20 front and center on Thanksgiving, especially if you plan to be in the thick of holiday shopping.

Here are the 21 songs on my gratitude playlist. Which ones are on yours? 

  • 21 Grateful Songs for Your Thanksgiving Playlist 1 of 22
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  • "Thank You," Dido 2 of 22
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    "I want to thank you / for giving me the best days of my life" is one of the sweetest lyrics I've ever heard, and "Thank You" is one of the most beautiful songs. I'd love for Dido to release some new music soon, but for now, some very holiday-appropriate listens to this song (among her many other gems) will do. 

    Image credit: Amazon

  • "Thanksgiving Song," Mary Chapin Carpenter 3 of 22
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    Mary Chapin Carpenter wraps Thanksgiving up in this verse: 

    "Grateful for each hand we hold / Gathered round this table. / From far and near we travel home, / Blessed that we are able." 

    Pretty, right? "Thanksgiving Song" is on her holiday album, Twelve Songs of Christmas

    Image credit: Amazon

  • "Family Affair," Sly & the Family Stone 4 of 22
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    Biological or chosen, Thanksgiving is a family-centered holiday, a "Family Affair," if you will. Sly will keep you moving through the day. 

    Image credit: Amazon

  • "You’re My Best Friend," Queen 5 of 22
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    Family or not, it doesn't matter. Besides every day, Thanksgiving is a perfect day to tell best friends how important they are. "You're My Best Friend" is the sweetest Queen song, and great for a group hug at picture time. 

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  • "Kind and Generous," Natalie Merchant 6 of 22
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    "You've been so kind and generous ... for your kindness I'm in debt to you / For your selflessness, my admiration / For everything you've done, you know I'm bound, I'm bound to thank you for it." 

    Natalie Merchant sings what I've always thought was the most gracious lyric ever in "Kind and Generous." This song holds up. If you're thankful for someone, shoot them the MP3. 

    Image credit: Amazon

  • "Shelter from the Storm," Bob Dylan 7 of 22
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    "Shelter from the Storm" is just what I get from the people and places most important to me. This is my favorite Dylan tune, and it's pretty Thanksgiving appropriate, I think. 

    Image credit: Amazon

  • "November Blue," Avett Brothers 8 of 22
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    Love The Avett Brothers, love this ode to love in the last month before the long winter: "November shadow shade November change / November spells sweet memory / The season blue remains."

    Image credit: YouTube

  • "Thankful," Kelly Clarkson 9 of 22
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    Unbelievable that this song is more than ten years old.

    "Thankful for the blessing / and the lessons that I've learned with you by my side / That I'm thankful so thankful for the love that you keep bringing in my life in my life."

    Image credit: Amazon

  • "We Are Family," Sister Sledge 10 of 22
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    "We are family. I got all my sisters and me." This Sister Sledge song works for wedding receptions and any kind of family party. I recommend cranking it up when it's time to do the Thanksgiving dishes. 

    Image credit: Amazon

  • "Making Pies," Patty Griffin 11 of 22
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    "Making Pies" is a deceptively sad song, but I'll take anything thematic to get a little bit of Patty Griffin into everyone's life and playlists. Just listen

    Image credit: YouTube

  • "Charlie Brown Thanksgiving," Vince Guaraldi Trio 12 of 22
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    What would the Charlie Brown holiday marathon of shows be without Vince Guaraldi's music for accompaniment? Thankfully we don't have to worry about that. The "Thanksgiving Theme" is perfect pre-dinner music. 

    Image credit: Amazon

  • "Thank You for Being a Friend," Andrew Gold 13 of 22
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    Who doesn't know the Golden Girls' theme song, written and originally performed by Andrew Gold? There were no four ladies more thankful for each other than these four Florida housemates, even if they argued nonstop.

    "And if you threw a party, invited every one you knew / you would see the biggest gift would be from me / and the card attached would say /'Thank you for being a friend.'"

    That's gratitude, for sure. 

    Image credit: YouTube

  • "Who Says You Can’t Go Home?" Bon Jovi and Jennifer Nettles 14 of 22
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    "Been all around the world and as a matter of fact / There's no place left that I wanna go / Who says you can't go home?" 

    I love both of these vocalists, and they sound even better together on "Who Says You Can't Go Home?" This is a perfect song for people in the mood to head back to where they come from for a big holiday. 

    Image credit: Amazon

  • "The Thanksgiving Song," Adam Sandler 15 of 22
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    "Turkey for me / Turkey for you / Let's eat turkey / in my big brown shoe." 

    "The Thanksgiving Song" is Adam Sandler's stream-of-consciousness ode to the typical main course. (Perhaps unintentionally) a lot of fun for kids, too. 

    Image credit: YouTube

  • "Sweet Potato Pie," James Taylor and Ray Charles 16 of 22
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    "I guess I'm just a lucky guy / And I'm prepared to tell you why / It's strictly on account of my / Sweet Potato Pie." 

    James Taylor and Ray Charles were talking about a lady, it's clear, but feel free to transfer this to the dessert. I'm not one to tell. 

    Image credit: Amazon

  • "Gratitude," Earth, Wind, and Fire 17 of 22
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    "We just wanna give gratitude." Earth, Wind, and Fire's perfect Thanksgiving song keeps it short and sweet. 

    Image credit: Amazon

  • "Thank You," Boyz II Men 18 of 22
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    "Cause even though when times got rough / You never turned away / You were right there / And I thank you." 

    Boyz II Men pretty much sum up Thanksgiving for my closest people this year. Thanks, Boyz II Men. 

    Image credit: Amazon

  • "What About Your Friends," TLC 19 of 22
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    TLC's energy, harmonies, and rhymes are irreplaceable -- and so are their outfits in this video for "What About Your Friends?" This song has a perfect gratitude message for the most loyal friends in your life. 

    Image credit: YouTube

  • "Thank You," Led Zeppelin 20 of 22
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    One of Led Zeppelin's most beautiful songs, "Thank You" is also its most grateful by far. 

    Image credit: Amazon

  • "All You Need Is Love," The Beatles 21 of 22
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    Turkey and mashed potatoes and pie don't hurt, but love will take you far, this is true. I love the string section in this "All You Need is Love" official Beatles video

    Image credit: Amazon

  • "What a Wonderful World," Louis Armstrong 22 of 22
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    There is a reason why "What a Wonderful World" is played at so many weddings and other meaningful events when it's time to be reminded that in spite of all the trouble, the good stuff makes everything pretty great. Love Louis Armstrong's spoken word intro on this clip. "Love, baby, love. That's the secret. Yeah." I'm sure Pops would add his wish for a beautiful Thanksgiving for everyone. 

    Image credit: Amazon

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