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Saturday Night Live's Secret Legacy Is Thanksgiving Music

No other show has provided more turkey day hits.
  • Photos: NBC (Primetimer graphic)
    Photos: NBC (Primetimer graphic)

    When it comes to holiday music, the culture would like us to jump directly from “Thriller” to “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” but for decades now, Saturday Night Live has been proving that Thanksgiving also has the potential to be a holiday stacked with hits. If you’re looking for seasonally appropriate tunes while you make stuffing or hide from your family, then treat yourself to this playlist of SNL’s very best turkey day classics.

    1. “The Thanksgiving Song,” Adam Sandler (1992)

    For a while there in the ’90s, Adam Sandler was one of the kings of comedy songs. His 1995 hit “The Chanukah Song” is basically the only Chanukah tune you’ll ever hear on the radio, and he had several multi-platinum albums that contained such juvenile classics as “Ode to My Car” and “At a Medium Pace.” This run began on Weekend Update in 1992, when he pulled out an acoustic guitar and sang “The Thanksgiving Song.” It’s basically a list of random rhymes — “turkey for me, turkey for you / I once ate turkey in a big brown show” — and Sandler’s self-satisfied mugging is not for everyone. Still, it’s a catchy ditty and Sandler can actually sing, which helps.

    Plus, this song has held on. In 1993, Sandler returned to Weekend Update to perform a Bruce Springsteen cover version. A concert performance made the top 40 on several radio charts as late as 1997, which proves there’s an untapped market for Thanksgiving singalongs out there. With all due respect to Paul Simon's performance in a turkey costume, Sandler's cornered the market thus far.

    2. “Basted in Blood,” Ana Gasteyer and Sarah McLachlan (1997)

    A few years after Sandler’s hit, Weekend Update delivered another timeless Thanksgiving jam when Ana Gasteyer, in character as feminist comic Cinder Calhoun, brought Sarah McLachlan out to duet with her on “Basted in Blood.” This was a few months after McLachlan debuted the blockbuster Lilith Fair tour, and the song is a flawless send-up of the earnest folk tunes that people associated with that festival. With righteous indignation and complex harmonies, Cinder and Sarah sing about the “turkey holocaust” that the holiday unleashes every year, comparing everyone who eats a Butterball to a “finger-lickin’ Charles Manson.” (Note: Cinder first protested Thanksgiving in this sketch from 1996, but none of the tunes in that bit reach the brilliance of "Basted in Blood.")

    3. "Direction's to Grandma's House," Fred Armisen, Kristen Wiig, and Chris Martin (2011)

    In a moment of glorious chaos, folk duo Garth and Kat (Armisen and Wiig) turned up on Weekend Update to perform tunes from their Thanksgiving album, beginning with a tone poem called "Directions to Grandma's House." Their soccer mom wigs and matching holiday vests are spectacular, but the true joy is watching the comedians improvise these songs on live TV. Armisen makes up random words, and Wiig mirrors him like an improv comedy queen. When Coldplay singer Chris Martin arrives as backing vocalist Jan Pockabook, you can tell they're all having a blast. 

    4. “Back Home Ballers,” the SNL women (2014)

    A year after they created the masterpiece “(Do It On My) Twin Bed,” the show’s female cast members returned with another sexy girl-group ode to the holidays. This time, they celebrated how going home for Thanksgiving means acting like a lazy slob and mooching off your family. Watching these women strut like divas while they eat bowls of snack mix is like watching an instructional video on how all of us should treat the long weekend. Hopefully, this song will appear on Volume 2 of A New Jack Thanksgiving.

    4. “Hello,” Adele (2015)

    It may not have been a Thanksgiving song when she wrote it, but Adele’s “Hello” was transformed when SNL noted that during the holidays in 2015, no tune was better at smoothing over family tensions. That year, the whole country was talking about her comeback, and as the sketch proves, everyone from your racist aunt to your transphobic grandpa could say hello from the other side. By the time Matthew McConaughey popped up in glorious Adele drag, a Thanksgiving classic was born.

    Mark Blankenship has been writing about arts and culture for twenty years, with bylines in The New York Times, Variety, Vulture, Fortune, and many others. You can hear him on the pop music podcast Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs.

    TOPICS: Saturday Night Live, NBC, Adam Sandler, Adele, Ana Gasteyer, Matthew McConaughey, Thanksgiving