Fact: Thanksgiving is the least sexy holiday there is. Everything about the day is a boner-killer/vagina-dryer: Pilgrims, turkeys, overeating, your family. However, rock 'n' roll is literally synonymous with fucking, and if we must address the subject of Thanksgiving, the least we can do is view its themes of gratitude and gorging through the lens of rock songcraft.
What do Al Green, Elvis Presley, DJ /rupture, Sufjan Stevens, and the Feelies all have in common? Songs entitled "Too Much," which otherwise have nothing to do with each other. Presley's "Too Much" is the cuddly 1957 hit with a kinky underbelly, in which Elvis is unable to stop loving the shrew who spends all his money and goes missing when he needs her most. The Feelies' "Too Much" is a typically R.E.M.-meets-Velvet-Undergroundstyled jam from 1988's Only Life, whose cryptic lyrics address the impossibility of knowing everything about anything. Sufjan Stevens's "Too Much," from this year's The Age of Adz, is a gorgeously warped synth ditty woozy with the anxiety of excess significance: "There's too much riding on this, too much, too much love." Stevens's phrasing suggests a comma between the last two words, and the use of Britain's favorite all-purpose nickname: "It's too much, love." Either way, it's gorgeous, and totally his own. How does this fucker do it? Al Green's "Too Much," from 2008's Questlove-produced Lay It Down, gets into territory applicable to the most successful Thanksgivings, with Green's cries of "too much, too much" delivered with a sensual pleasure that reveals that too much is exactly enough. And, seriously, if you can get the balance of booze, food, and digestive enzymes just right, post-Thanksgiving stupors can be borderline narcotic, with overeaters sinking into couches like bloated versions of that scene from Trainspotting. But get the balance wrong and woe is you. Post-gorge stupors gone wrong feel like someone soaked Nerf footballs in chicken stock and shoved them down your throat, then forced you to do Jäger shots and snort an entire bottle of poppers. This feeling is well captured in DJ /rupture's "Too Much," a two-minute interlude from his 2008 release Uproot, the bleating, buzzy beats of which expertly mimic an angry mass of bloat and shame pushing against the confines of whatever pants you thought would most impress your holiday dining companions.
Even among revered boutique bands, Athens, Georgia, post-punk noisemakers Pylon remain underdogs. How come the Vaselines are better known than Pylon? Because the Vaselines- hyping Kurt Cobain was more lovable and attractive than the Pylon-hyping Michael Stipe? Whatever the case, Pylon are overdue for a studious hipster revival, and this gorge-happy track from the band's 1980 debut Gyrate (which was recently given the deluxe reissue treatment by DFA as Gyrate Plus), is as good a place as any to start. Over a characteristically angular beat with jagged guitar, singer Vanessa Briscoe coos and shrieks her encouragement for our cannibalism, with such charm and passion that even vegans will be tempted to take her up on it. Fun fact: During her recent tour, noted woman- eater Corin Tucker covered Pylon's classic "Cool." Follow her lead into Gyrate Plus. This is an order.
What is the sound of one man eating out an entire nation? Otis Redding's "Hawg for You," from 1966's Dictionary of Soul. Over a laid-back blues-rock beat, Redding—a self- described "dirty hawg"—lustfully reiterates his desire to spend the next several weeks "rooting all around your door." By comparison, the Coasters' 1959 doo-wop hit "I'm a Hog for You" sounds perfectly sanitized, until you pay attention to the lyrics: "One little piggy ate a pizza/One piggy ate potato chips/But this little piggy's coming over to your house/He's gonna nibble on your sweet lips." Now that's a cunning linguist.
Is it okay to be scared of the Fall? It's not that I don't like "difficult" music—I've explored acres of allegedly difficult music (Captain Beefheart, Ornette Coleman, Can) almost as a means to extend my avoidance of the Fall. Artists whom I love love the Fall. Friends whom I respect love the Fall. But every time I wade into the Fall's cryptic, clattery waters, I'm quickly reminded of the thousand and one other things I could be doing: flossing the dog's teeth, vacuuming, listening to Captain Beefheart and Ornette Coleman and Can. "Eat Y'self Fitter" is no exception, despite its attractively bizarre call-and-response chorus and entrancing backstory. (According to legend, British DJ and lifelong Fall lover John Peel responded to his first hearing of the song by passing out.) Maybe next year.
In addition to gorging, Thanksgiving is about gratitude, and if you've enjoyed a life that hasn't required you to commune with an Alanis Morissette song, you should be fucking grateful. From the generation of divorcées who screamed along with "You Oughta Know" to the emotionally vulnerable head cases who sought solace in the count-your-blessings anthem "Thank U," millions of people during their weakest moments have received discount therapy from Morissette's songs. If you've somehow escaped this experience, get on your knees and thank God for your good luck. Those who fail to comply will be required to go down on Dave Coulier in a theater.
Speaking of gratitude: Growing up in the FM-radio-soaked 1970s, I took Led Zeppelin for granted and couldn't be bothered to care. Now I consider the formation of Led Zeppelin to be one of the great moments of modern music, alongside Lennon meeting McCartney and D meeting Shocklee. "Thank You" is one of Zep's folkier moments, and it's perfectly fine but lacks the elemental aggression that marks the band's greatest moments. Point and laugh at their "Hobbit blooz" all you want to (and you should want to): The monolithic whomp of Led Zeppelin—vocals as electric guitar, drums mixed as high as vocals—will be here long after we're all corpsey mush.
Recorded in 1972 and released to great success in 1974, William DeVaughn's "Be Thankful for What You Got" has remained in the public consciousness in one form or another ever since. The year 1992 brought the beloved triphop cover of the song by Massive Attack, and too many years to count have seen the song sampled in hiphop. The high-voiced melody of "Diamond in the back, sunroof top/Diggin' the scene with a gangsta lean" has lit up tracks by N.W.A., Ludacris, Ice Cube, and OutKast. But the song is so much more than its most sampled phrase. Its message is its title, and vice versa.
Despite being about neither gorging nor gratitude, Kanye West's "Runaway" qualifies for this list thanks to its 30-plus-minute video, in the middle of which Kanye's half-bird/half-chick love interest goes operatically insane when one of her avian cousins turns up roasted on a banquet table. Who hasn't wanted to greet the arrival of the Thanksgiving turkey—that hideous corpse that presages at least three and a half hours of gorging, watching other people gorge, and making small talk between gorgings—with a room-clearing series of shrieks? Kanye's bird-lady lives the dream, and his toast to the douchebags and assholes doubles as a Thanksgiving salute to our founding fathers.