As a music fan, it’s easy to overlook Thanksgiving. Halloween is a bag stuffed with creepy goodies like “Thriller,” “Monster Mash,” “Ghostbusters,” and a personal fave, “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” (co-written by Childish Gambino!) Christmas’ selections are too numerous to count - though we can clearly all agree none is greater than Johnny Mathis’s “Sleigh Ride,” correct? (Fight me in the comments below). Turkey Day has undoubtedly suffered a lack of music that could attach us to it emotionally. Instead, we associate it with parade floats and bad NFC football games.
Thing is, we don’t need an entire month’s worth of non-stop Thanksgiving music to root us to the holiday. That’s a good thing since the pickings are slim. There’s a quaint Mary Chapin Carpenter tune that puts you at the dinner table with fellow celebrants and that ridiculous song by Adam Sandler (though, in the era of idiocracy, his "turkey-lurkey-loo" atrocity might be the Thanksgiving anthem we deserve). Fortunately, there’s a selection some of us already know and love that could carry the Thanksgiving music banner: Vince Guaraldi Trio’s “Thanksgiving Theme.”
The song was composed by the late jazz pianist for the 1973 TV special, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. The animated special returns for its annual showing tonight on ABC. If you’ve never seen the special, tune in this evening to see how a dog and a bird create a holiday feast from popcorn, toast and jelly beans (bonus points if any of these culinary masterworks have ever shared table space with yams and giblet gravy at your Thanksgiving dinner).
By the time Guaraldi penned this music, he was an established jazz pianist who brought West Coast cool to the genre with hits like “Cast Your Fate to the Wind.” He was also firmly entrenched in Peanuts lore. The Thanksgiving special was the tenth featuring Charles Schulz’s beloved characters and Guaraldi had scored them all, beginning with the iconic music from 1965’s A Charlie Brown Christmas.
“Thanksgiving Theme” is one of two standouts from the 1973 special, the other being “Little Birdie,” which features Guaraldi’s rarely heard but extravagantly cool vocals. No vocals in "Thanksgiving Theme" to force upon listeners images of holiday bliss. You get to create your own mood from the texture of the music. It’s the sound of stretching freshly washed sheets over the mattress in the guest bedroom just in time for holiday company. It's the sound of the basting brush across the bird’s back, or the smell of freshly baked dinner rolls or taste-testing the stuffing. You can practically see the autumn leaves falling to the trinkle-tinkle of Guaraldi’s playing. It’s a song that stirs all the senses at once, a composition that's up to the task of the sensory overload that is Thanksgiving.
If you’ve somehow missed A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and have never heard the “Thanksgiving Theme,” tune in tonight to celebrate the special’s 45th anniversary. Then, keep the music on repeat throughout your day tomorrow and see if it doesn’t fit the mood of your every move. When you head out to shop Friday morning, there will be plenty of Christmas music filling the airwaves. You need only this song to properly soundtrack this week’s big day. Happy Thanksgiving.
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