Thanksgiving Playlist

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Dear Readers,

Listen up – this November, we’re celebrating Thanksgiving like a rockstar. Sure, there’ll still be ironic jokes about Native Americans and immigration, plenty of uncomfortable arguments about the outcome of a head-spinning presidential election, the challenges of family dynamics, and a neverending pile of dishes, but I’ve got a little secret weapon to stay cool as a cucumber through it all – the power of the playlist.

Perhaps connecting with the spirit of Thanksgiving in its highest sense is about honoring the sacredness of the simple things, those so closely linked to the intimacy of human experience, yet so often overlooked in our daily grind. The simple act of opening one’s home to share a meal, a table, and a touching conversation – perhaps with the person you least expected – demonstrate to me the profundity of the simple pleasure of human connection.

And what greater connection than food and some killer music? Inspired by the incredible careers of both of the legendary musicians gracing our cover, I’ve made a little Thanksgiving playlist to help us all tune in to a stunning gratitude for the beautiful life so many of us have the great fortune of experiencing. Without further ado…

 

Track 1: Coat of Many Colors
by Dolly Parton

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One of Dolly’s most tender songs, it tells of a coat her mother stitched together for her out of rags. As she sewed, she told Dolly the biblical story of Joseph and his Coat of Many Colors but Dolly’s excitement was tested by the taunts of fellow schoolmates. Not to be deterred, her depth of understanding is revealed at the end of this anthem telling of true wealth.
But they didn’t understand it, and I tried to make them see
One is only poor, if they choose to be
Now I know we had no money, but I was rich as I could be
In my coat of many colors my momma made for me

Track 2: We are Family
by Sister Sledge

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Escape any chance of family tension at the Thanksgiving table with the smooth grooves of the classic 70s R&B anthem We are Family. The ultimate family-friendly song to pump up the love and good vibes, We are Family practically commands you to have some faith and plenty of fun:

We are family, I’ve got all my sisters with me / We are family, get up everybody & sing!

 

Track 3: A Thanksgiving Prayer
by Johnny Cash

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Singing the song with a somber depth like only he can, Johnny Cash’s tune guarantees the goosebumps. Sung on TV’s Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, Cash counts his blessings for:

I´m grateful for the laughter of children, the sun & the wind & the rain / I thank you for all that you gave me for teaching me what love can do; and Thanksgiving day for the rest of my life I´m thanking the Lord He made you

 

Track 4: Shelter from the Storm
by Bob Dylan

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In a world of steel-eyed death
and men who are fighting to be warm
Come in, she said I’ll give ya
Shelter from the storm

Debates on whether the female figure Dylan speaks of is an actual woman or a metaphor for religion may continue, but ultimately, the song speaks of giving, caring, & connection – and of course, taking nothing for granted.

 

Track 5: What a Wonderful World 
by Louis Armstrong

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The dark sacred night.
And I think to myself,
What a wonderful world.

It has since become a standard, performed by the Celine Dions, Sarah Brightmans and Lesley Garretts of the world, and its success may be down to the same effects of age that prevented Louis Armstrong from playing a note. Its creators, producer Bob Thiele and songwriter George David Weiss, hoped that Armstrong’s grandfatherly image would help convey the song’s message – and the message was political. Unlike that of many black artists, Armstrong’s appeal extended irrespective of race, and the hope was that a 66-year-old on the airwaves extolling the virtues of goodwill would wield some heft – the world is wonderful, and so are we all.

Track 6: Bridge Over Troubled Water
by Simon Garfunkel

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When you’re down and out
When you’re on the street
When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you
I’ll take your part, oh, when darkness comes
And pain is all around
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

At the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2010, on the 40th anniversary of the release of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” Garfunkel revealed how much he still loves to perform the song.

“Well, here we are, years later, I’m still singing it from town to town, and it’s completely alive and fresh to me,” he said. “There is nothing dated, or any feeling of the past. I love doing it. Thank the Lord the feeling — the goose bumps — constantly checks in every time I do it.”

No wonder he loves such a beautiful song offering hope, faith and friendship in an uncertain world.

 

 

Track 7: Move On Up 
by Curtis Mayfield 

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So hush now child, and don’t you cry
Your folks might understand you, by and by
Move on up, and keep on wishing
Remember your dream is your only scheme
So keep on pushing

Mayfield would never again sing the praises of optimism with such an exhilarating lack of complexity or dark undertow, a mood given flight by the gleaming, heady brass. Be sure to check out the instrumental coda on the album version, allowing Mayfield’s white-hot studio band space to get discursive on the song’s simple, sublime chord changes, all over an irresistible, rib-rattling break from ex-Rotary Connection drummer Donald Simmons and conga genius Master Henry Gibson.

 

Track 8: My Favorite Things 
by Julie Andrews

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Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things

Even though this song from the classic play The Sound Of Music takes place during a summer storm, “My Favorite Things” is considered to be a holiday classic. Why? The message behind “My Favorite Things” is one can turn to their happy memories and possessions in darker times, which is a common ideal as we approach the end of the year.

Track 9: You’ve Got a Friend in Me  
by Randy Newman

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You’ve got a friend in me
You’ve got a friend in me
If you’ve got troubles, I’ve got ’em too
There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you
We stick together and can see it through
Cause you’ve got a friend in me
You’ve got a friend in me
Originally written as the theme song for the 1995 Disney/Pixar animated film Toy Story, it has since become the theme song for its sequels, Toy Story 2 (1999) and Toy Story 3 (2010), making it the franchise’s main theme. As the name of the song implies, the song sings about how one can always rely on someone through even the roughest of time, thus, finding a friend in that someone. It initially seems to be about Andy being that friend to Woody, but as the film progresses, it becomes clear that Buzz is that friend.

 

Track 10: Born in the USA  
by Bruce Springsteen

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Born down in a dead man’s town
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
You end up like a dog that’s been beat too much
Till you spend half your life just covering up nowBorn in the U.S.A.
I was born in the U.S.A.
I was born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A., now

In 1984, Bruce Springsteen released Born in the U.S.A. The album became an immediate success, and it eventually became one of the most successful recordings of all time, selling more than 10 million copies. This success of both the album and its eponymous single is frequently attributed to a belief that the song is a pro-American anthem. In reality, it’s anything but.

Despite what many have inferred from the title of both the album and its titular track, it is not a celebration of American Exceptionalism, but rather, an indictment of the government, the military-industrial-complex, and the way in which we treat those who have risked their lives in battle.

You end up like a dog that’s been beat too much; [until] you spend half your life just covering up,” Springsteen growls in the first verse.

“Born in the U.S.A. I was born in the U.S.A.,” he continues into the chorus.

From there, Springsteen continues his narrative of a man sent to fight a war he didn’t believe in—Vietnam—and about the conflict involved with being sent “off to a foreign land to go and kill the yellow man.” That line, focused on “the yellow man,” is almost certainly meant as a reference to the oft-nebulous enemy U.S. soldiers were being sent off to fight, and the typically racist nature of the conflict, itself.

The character, broke and desperate after being turned away from hiring managers at the local refinery, reaches to his local V.A. branch, only to be turned away yet again.

Later, the song paints a portrait of the protagonist’s post-war, post-job future, similar to that faced by so many other veterans of the Vietnam war, finding himself “Down in the shadow of penitentiary, out by the gas fires of the refinery” a decade after returning from service.

Ironically, the song has long been appropriated by politicians on both sides of party lines as a pro-American anthem, but this tale of a broken system and of a government that sees its citizens as disposable cogs in a war machine is anything but.

 

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