"Thanksgiving Day" / Ray Davies
Christmas songs are a dime a dozen, but I can think of only two pop songs written about Thanksgiving. One of them, of course, is Arlo Guthrie's goofy rambling talk-song "Alice's Restaurant," which will be played non-stop on Sirius Radio tomorrow; the other is this 2005 song by Ray Davies, the presiding genius behind the Kinks. Only time will tell if it will become a holiday classic (given the baffling luck of the Kinks, it may not, anymore than their 1978 single "Father Christmas" ever became a Yuletide staple). Still, I think it deserves to become Turkey Day's official anthem.
Trust an Englishman -- and a North Londoner at that -- to get the point of Thanksgiving. A churchlike organ sounds at the beginning and a gospel choir joins in later, but those feel a bit like overkill on what is basically a loose-jointed soul groove sketching a series of vignettes, linked with the seductively repeated hook "come on over, come on over, come on over...."
First off we see a traditional family, gathering from far and near -- "the gathering of generations." As Ray says, "every year it's the same routine" -- yet far from being boring, on this one day it's reassuring to do the same-old same-old, especially when we learn that the father's thinking wistfully of his dead wife. (And for a moment, the chorus of "all overs" has another, sadder meaning.) Things turn even more bittersweet in later verses, about a spinster wishing for "kisses / All over, all over, all over her American face" or an ex-con sitting in a truck stop.
Ray Davies, of course, would never offer us unblemished happiness; melancholy losers and damaged souls have always been his cast of characters. Yet that's why I love this song -- it doesn't make any false promises. Going home on Thanksgiving Day isn't really going to solve anybody's life, but with a touching sort of optimism we Americans keep trying, year after year. Maybe it takes a Brit to show us how beautiful that is.