Wednesday, November 22, 2006

"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.


Anonymous said...

When the song opened I was terrified that Ray Davies had written a sentimental song. I shouldn't have fretted. The melancholy that Holly cites saves it from being a corny holiday tune, to the ambivelent serving of truth that is Davies' forte.

Anonymous said...

I was thinking as I read Holly's comments about the dearth of songs about Thanksgiving. "Thanksgiving Day," could have been an anthem, could have filled the radio airways at that time of year, could have been the bridge to the next Macy's Day Parade commercial. But Ray doesn't roll that way, does he, doesn't write for the masses, never really could.

After reading Holly's post, I "You Tubed" it for a quick relistening and came up with this Conan clip:

About half way through, after he talks about the sad girl going to the Greyhound depot, he somehow hits THE high note...the choir comes tender.

...I looked down at my arm and I had goose pimples.