Three for Thanksgiving

November 25, 2010

On the “Weekend Update” segment of this past weekend’s Saturday Night Love, cast member Jay Pharaoh (who’s African-American) lamented the lack of Thanksgiving songs for black people. Update anchor Seth Meyers, somehow forgetting about “We Gather Together,” said that white people don’t have Thanksgiving songs, either. Pharaoh said, “Sure you do,” and sang, “Thank you for being a friend…” Myers interrupted: “You mean the Golden Girls theme?”

Meyers is too young to know that “Thank You For Being a Friend” was a pop hit in 1978 by singer-songwriter Andrew Gold long before it was a TV theme song, but that’s not the point. The point is that there aren’t many songs (outside of the church hymnal, I mean) about being thankful.

Here are three great songs that make the cut in my book. (What would be on your list?)

“Days,” like so many Ray Davies-penned Kinks songs from the ’60s, is wistful, bittersweet, and wise beyond years. I chose a later performance of the song because it sounds more authentic coming from an older, more world-weary singer who knows from whence he speaks.

Alex Chilton, as lead singer of a Memphis group called The Box Tops, was only 16 when he had a monster smash hit called “The Letter.” Although the Box Tops had a few more hits, the experience was artistically unsatisfying for Chilton, who wasn’t permitted to record his own songs or play his own instruments on record.

That would change, however, after he formed a real Memphis rock band in the early ’70s called Big Star. They released two relatively obscure albums before breaking up. A third followed shortly thereafter.

Years later, their music attracted a large underground audience (of which I am part). Paul Westerberg and his band the Replacements—themselves toiling in obscurity—recorded a quasi-famous tribute to Chilton in the ’80s called, appropriately enough, “Alex Chilton.” (I heard it on Atlanta radio’s Dave-FM, so it must be at least quasi-famous.)

Although most people have never actually heard Big Star, they have likely heard a song by them: the song that the kids sang at the beginning of That ’70s Show was this Big Star song.

Sadly, Chilton died last year at 59. Read the Times obit here. Here is a Big Star song he wrote about gratitude. I’m grateful that his music blessed my life. (The video includes some nice archival footage of the band.)

Finally, here’s a famous song by a famous singer. It’s been a favorite since I heard it back in ’98. The keyboard riff, reminiscent of the Who’s “Baba O’Reilly,” is as hypnotic as her vocal melody. The album from which it comes, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, is a desert island disc for me.

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