As Thanksgiving barrels toward us like a crazed cousin, it’s only fitting that we pause to reflect on the many things that have brought us joy since we last sat around the festive table, self-consciously linking hands and trying desperately to think of something original to claim we appreciate.
To that end, let me commence by thanking the universe for including me in a species that thrives on beer. My gratitude extends as well to the Atlantic Ocean for not inundating my native West Virginia, thereby enabling me to escape those rustic environs in dry clothing. Thanks also to Irving Berlin for discovering blue skies and to Willie Nelson for singing so blissfully about them.
Finally, I offer Australia a jaunty tip of the hat for keeping the world’s most poisonous serpents contained within its seabound borders, leaving only copperheads and rattlesnakes to terrify me here in Tennessee. All in all, it’s been a very good year.
And it’s our good luck that songwriters have always been reliably grateful and eloquent. So if you can’t come up with anything show-stopping when it’s your turn at the table, here are 12 songs of thanks you can sing or quote from.
“The House That Built Me”
(recorded by Miranda Lambert; written by Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin)
Fortunate is the wanderer whose childhood home still stands and holds indelible memories. “I thought if I could touch this place or feel it/the brokenness inside me might start healing.”
“The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.”
(Donna Fargo; Donna Fargo)
Young love is the frothiest wellspring of joy. So why not bathe in it? “Shine on me sunshine, walk with me world/it’s a skippidy do dah day/I’m the happiest girl in the whole U. S. A.”
“Thank God I’m a Country Boy”
(John Denver; John Martin Sommers)
What this song lacks in rural authenticity — which is pretty much everything — it compensates for with sheer ebullience. “Well I got me a fine wife, I got me an old fiddle/when the sun’s comin’ up I got cakes on the griddle/Life ain’t nothin’ but a funny, funny riddle/thank God I’m a country boy.”
“Thank You World”
(The Statler Brothers; Lew DeWitt, Don Reid)
Here we have a hymn to belonging, an appreciation of being part of a greater whole — in this case one in a vocal quartet. “It makes me grateful just to know, to know that I can be/unique and fill a spot beside the other three/Without a place here in this world, I know that I’d be lost/Thank you, world, for letting me contribute to the cause.”
(Waylon Jennings; Sammy Johns)
Not as flag-waving as the title might suggest, it praises America even as it acknowledges its warts. “And my brothers are all black and white, yellow too/and the red man is right to expect a little from you/Promise and then follow through, America.”
“Thank God for Kids”
(The Oak Ridge Boys; Eddy Raven)
“There’s so much we learn from children,” a cynic once noted, “yet we keep having them.” But there’s no cynicism here, only gratefulness. “Thank god for kids there’s magic for a while/a special kind of sunshine in a smile/Do you ever stop to think or wonder why/the nearest thing to Heaven is a child.”
“Give Mother My Crown”
(Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs; Walter Bailes)
The sacrificing mother looms above all other figures in country music — as she should, whether it’s Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried,” Dallas Frazier’s “The Son of Hickory Holler’s Tramp” or Bobbie Gentry’s “Fancy.” Here, the mother is “raising her children on a widow’s small pay/washing and ironing since Dad passed away.” The chorus is a killer: “I want to go to Heaven when this life is o’er/I want to be with Jesus on Eternity’s shore/But if I’ve a crown coming when rewards go around/please blessed Jesus give mother my crown.”
(Ricky Skaggs; Jim Rushing)
In this thank you note, the gratitude is a bit more down to earth than in “Give Mother My Crown.” But it comes through just as sincere, and it’s extended to both parents. “So thanks again for the love in the cradle and all of the changes that kept me dry/and thanks again for the love at our table and pattin’ my bottom when I told you a lie/for takin’ me fishin’ and flyin’ my kites and tuckin’ me in, yes, night after night/To my beautiful lifelong friends, hey Mom and Daddy thanks again.
“I Love the Way You Love Me”
(John Michael Montgomery; Chuck Cannon, Victoria Shaw)
There are the general “thank yous” for love, and then there are the erotic bills of particulars, e. g., “I like the feel of your name on my lips/and I like the sound of your sweet gentle kiss/the way that your fingers run through my hair/and how your scent lingers even when you’re not there.” We would quote more but steam has obscured the lyrics.
“It’s Not Love (But It’s Not Bad)”
(Merle Haggard; Hank Cochran, Glenn Martin)
Adult, pragmatic love had to surface in this list sooner or later — and here it comes: “She was always there each time I needed you/holding on to me like I held on to you/We still don’t have what you and I once had/No, it’s not love, but it’s not bad.”
“Thank God and Greyhound”
(Roy Clark; Larry Kingston, Ed Nix)
One can take only so many romantic setbacks before wondering if pairing up was a good idea in the first place. This guy’s had enough. “Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone/That load on my mind got lighter when you got on/That shiny old bus is a beautiful sight/with the black smoke a-rolling up around the taillights/It may sound kinda cruel, but I’ve been silent too long/Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone.”
“Thank God for the Radio”
(The Kendalls; Max D. Barnes, Robert Jones)
Country music abounds with such tributes to radio as this one. It’s been a pretty sure way of getting your song played on radio. But there’s a secondary, less calculating benefit: “Thank God for the radio when I’m on the road/when I’m far from home and feelin’ blue/Thank God for the radio, playin’ all night long/playin’ all the songs that mean so much to me and you.”
And here’s a thanks to you from me/for tuning in to CMT.