Here's Your Thanksgiving Playlist

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Quickly, someone reunite the participants from charity-rock supergroup Band-Aid, get them in the studio and force them to bleat out a song for these troubled times: "Do They Know It's Thanksgiving?"

Kmart (owned by Sears ( SHLD)), Toys R Us, Macy's ( M), Kohl's ( KSS), JC Penney ( JCP) and Staples ( SPLS) are among the retailers opening their doors for Black Friday-style sales this Thanksgiving. The Adobe Digital Index 2013 Online Shopping Forecast predicts record growth for online sales on Thanksgiving this year, up 21% to $1.1 billion, exceeding the 17% growth predicted for Black Friday itself.

Even on the 40th anniversary of its first airing in 1973, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving is going to have the football yanked out from under it by the National Football league when it airs on ABC ( DIS) on Thanksgiving night. The pigskin-headed Peanuts frontman has been scheduled at the same time as a Pittsburgh Steelers-Baltimore Ravens game on NBC ( CMCSA), which should steal a whole lot of popcorn and buttered toast off of the animated special's plate.

Isn't there anybody who can tell us what Thanksgiving is all about?

Don't start huffing about Plymouth Rock quite yet. The Pilgrims of Plymouth Plantation and the Wampanoeg tribe didn't have their first Thanksgiving celebration until 1621, by which time 16th Century Spanish settlers and the first settlers of the Commonwealth of Virginia had already beaten them to it. And don't drone on about the holiday's longstanding tradition that should somehow supersede the winter holidays, either. Abraham Lincoln only made it a holiday 150 years ago in an attempt to settle tensions between the North and South. Since the South had already seceded, it didn't have much use for Lincoln's little holiday until about 1870.

We rarely even celebrate it on the day Lincoln dictated. While he wanted it on the final Thursday of November, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt changed it to the fourth Thursday of November back in 1939 to boost the economy a bit -- which is kind of odd considering all the wailing that occurs when someone even suggests shopping on that date today.

In fact, when you extract all of the Christmas spending from the equation, Thanksgiving only brings in $7.8 billion, according to market research group IBISWorld. We say "only," because the Christmas holiday that everybody is in such a rush to get to brings in a whopping $69 billion.

It's the reason you're hearing Christmas songs on traditional radio stations as early as Oct. 5. When putting on Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree increases your market share by an average of 91% -- as an Arbitron survey conducted in 2009 says it did for stations that switched to the all-holiday format -- why wouldn't you get into the spirit a little early?

Maybe if Thanksgiving had that kind of advance press, especially with it becoming the new de-facto kickoff of holiday shopping season, it would get just a little more respect. Sadly, it lacks the songbook of its contemporaries. You have to go way deeper than Hall and Oates' version of "Jingle Bell Rock" before you find a Christmas song on par with Adam Sandler's "Turkey Song" and get to the bottom of the barrel just below the Singing Dogs' "Jingle Bells," lift it up and scrape the ground beneath for a holiday tune as grating as Nicole Westbrook's "It's Thanksgiving."

It has to be tough to be a holiday that outearns Halloween by roughly $200 million each year, but can't inspire a song on par with "Monster Mash," Michael Jackson's "Thriller" or even Type O Negative's "Black No. 1." In the interest of helping to even the odds, earn Thanksgiving some of those sweet holiday airtime ad dollars and give the holiday a pregame worthy of its place on both the Gregorian and retail calendars, we've assembled a playlist of songs suited to the occasion. They don't all mention the holiday by name, but they're some of the greatest songs to ever express thanks and gratitude for things bestowed on the person scrawling their lyrics:

The Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)
Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth

On a day that's ostensibly centered around family gatherings and giving thanks, it's tough to come up with a song more suited to that ideal than Pete Rock's 1992 tribute to his friend Troy "'Trouble' T.Roy" Dixon of Heavy D. & The Boyz, who died two years earlier.

Over a sample of jazz saxophone great Tom Scott's cover of Jefferson Airplane's "Today," Rock spins the story of the single mother who raised him when his father left, the uncle who stepped in to fill the role his father vacated and his recently lost friend who provided him similar support in the earliest days of his career. It's a deeply earnest display of gratitude from a man still audibly raw from his loss. He's grateful for those who kept him on the right track, he's grateful for his success and he's incredibly thankful for those who maintained a presence in his life -- if only until they were taken all too soon.

Isn't that what Thanksgiving was founded on -- expressing thanks for being alive and thanking those who got you through? Somebody pass Pete Rock and C.L. a little extra this year.

No Surrender
Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band

A testament to a friendship forged over music, No Surrender was only included on Springsteen's 1984 album at the behest of E Street guitarist and longtime Springsteen collaborator Steven Van Zandt.

Around that time, Van Zandt made it known that he was leaving Springsteen and Co. and going his own way. The impact on that revelation on Springsteen was felt throughout Born In The U.S.A. on tracks like Bobby Jean even Darlington County -- both differently, but clearly, telling similar songs of close, longtime friendship and partnership and its sudden end.

But neither of those tracks came to encapsulate Springsteen's gratitude and nostalgia as broadly as No Surrender, especially when Springsteen turned the uptempo, fleshed-out rocker into a slow, spare, guitar-and-harmonica arrangement on his ensuing tours. Though he mourns the end of a chapter, Springsteen is nothing but thankful for the memories that comfort him: "I want to sleep beneath/Peaceful skies in my lover's bed/With a wide open country in my eyes/And these romantic dreams in my head."

Sometimes the folks you're most thankful for just can't be at the table with you.

The Kinks

There are a couple of ways to approach the topic of people you're grateful for who aren't around anymore. You can let yourself feel the pain that's still incredibly new and raw and give that void in your life some space and respect, or you can attempt to go forward with the knowledge that the person you lost made you better for having known them. The Kinks' Ray Davies chose the latter when penning this 1968 single, thanking the person he's singing to for coming into his life and coming to peace with his or her departure.

The song was actually about Kinks' founding member Pete Quaife, who was leaving the band, but it became a bittersweet little ballad about being grateful for whatever time you have with somebody. Though Kirsty MacColl and Elvis Costello eventually contributed their own versions, the Davies brothers' original is still the most potent.

We Are Family
Sister Sledge

Man, does composer Nile Rodgers know how to make a dance song for all people. With loads of string and horn layers over a bumping bassline, Rodgers gave then 16-year-old Kathy Sledge just the right vehicle to lift her and her actual sisters to disco immortality.

What this song means to the listener, however, depends largely on how they first heard it. If you were in a city and caught it around its debut in 1979, it might take you back to that first little tribe of folks you hit the clubs with. If you were in Pittsburgh specifically, you may remember Willie Stargell using that description of his teammates to propel baseball's Pirates to a World Series title. Maybe it was while watching Gene Hackman in reluctant drag in 1996's The Birdcage or while taking in some equally shy blue-collar British strippers in The Full Monty.

Any of those scenarios would provide the context that our editor Carlton Wilkinson was looking for when he recommended this song for the list. We Are Family is a celebration of unity, camaraderie and, above all, family -- in whatever form it takes.

Count Your Blessings (Instead Of Sheep)
Diana Krall

This regularly falls into the Christmas category after being written by Irving Berlin specifically for the 1954 film White Christmas. Even the Canadian jazz singer Diana Krall's deep, haunting version we're including here is off of a 2005 album entitles Christmas Songs.

But there's nothing Christmas specific about this Berlin number, which suggests calming a worried mind with the thoughts of all the positive aspects of your life. The second verse seems particularly suited to troubled economic times: "When my bankroll is getting small/I think of when I had none at all/And I fall asleep/Counting my blessings."

Both Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney do stunning renditions of the song in said film and were tough to leave off of this list, but Krall's deep, haunted take subtly implies that remembering all of the positive aspects of one's life isn't always the simplest task -- especially during a time when you're inclined toward sadness.

You're My Best Friend

It's a pretty simple love song with a great bit of Wurlitzer organ in the back, but it's pure joy. Bassist John Deacon wrote it for his wife in 1976 and singer Freddy Mercury's soft lilt lands its singular message: My life is better with you in it.

"Whatever this world can give to me/It's you, you're all I see."

Of course, it's been used to great comedic effect in the years since -- especially as the background to Simon Pegg playing video games with a chained zombie Nick Frost in Shaun Of The Dead -- but that somehow only makes it all the more pleasant. If there's someone beside you who improves you life in some way -- despite an unending desire to gnaw on your brain -- it's worth telling him or her about it.

Thank You (Falletinme Be Mice Elf Agin)
Sly and The Family Stone

Better people have tried to pick Sly Stone's brain and failed miserably at doing so. It's been suggested that this song is about casting off '60s airs in favor of '70s self-absorbtion, but that may be a bit of a stretch.

Considering that the song consists of little but the refrain and some trademark slap bass, it's pretty easy to take this one at face value. Any morning you can look at yourself in the mirror is a pretty good start, so why not pat yourself on the back for getting there? If not, at least thank the folks who put up with your madness as you weaved along the road to self-discovery. They may have "let" you be yourself, but a hands-off approach was probably the most comfortable path for everyone involved.

Time After Time
Cyndi Lauper

"Everyone knows this song. It's amazing." -- Aubrey Plaza, NBC's Parks and Recreation

If you're wondering if the person you're sitting next to at the Thanksgiving table is a human being or a soulless ghoul, put this on. If it doesn't elicit some sort of reaction, back away slowly and remember your zombie training.

One of the most earnest displays of sentiment and gratitude ever put to song, the Lauper's Time After Time shows almost none of its nearly 30 years even if the guitar and synth parts seem a bit dated. Remarkably open to interpretation, the subject of the song could just as easily be a parent, child, friend or lover, but the enduring constant that ties them all together lies in the refrain: "If you're lost you can look and you will find me/Time after time/If you fall I will catch you, I'll be waiting/Time after time."

There are listeners who can't get through that part without dabbing away some tears, and some of the world's greatest musicians are among them. Jazz legend Miles Davis did an instrumental version a year after its release. R&B singer Patti LaBelle absolutely tears the cover off of her version of the song. Jazz duo Tuck and Patti's 2004 version nearly eclipses Lauper's own. This song hits deep and lingers long -- dredging up some of the best and most powerful emotions that can be felt about another person.

The song never directly thanks or expresses gratitude to anyone, but its implication is stronger than just about any of the other tracks listed here.

Through The Wire
Kanye West

Kanye wasn't always the massively confident, ego-flashing fame monster who just got married in a baseball stadium to his female equivalent. At one point, he was just a record producer lucky to be alive.

In October 2002, after producing recording sessions with the Black Eyed Peas and other acts in Los Angeles, West was cut off by another vehicle, swerved into an oncoming lane and collided head-on with another car. He had his jaw wired to the rest of his face and had reconstructive surgery that left him permanently scarred.

Two weeks afterward, he wrote the rhymes and spit the verses of what would become his breakout hit -- and he did so with his jaw still wired to his head. The Kanye West in this song is a scared, desperate man who realizes that time is running out for him to become a star, but that the deadline is increasingly out of his hands. It's someone who just saw his life pass before his eyes, just realized that anything could be taken away from him at any moment and just used that newfound mortality to discover that he has the tools and support system to make his life whatever he wants. Instead of ending it all in "the same hospital where Biggie Smalls died," he used it as a launching point.

There are detractors who may wonder if he should be more humble, but in West's view life was way too short for that kind of humility. Just the opportunity to live your dreams and stumble along the way is worth being thankful for.

Some Nights

Two years ago, Nate Ruess was still a relative unknown. His previous project, The Format, disintegrated and took a deal with Elektra Records with it. His new act, Fun., had exactly one unheralded album to its credit and was mired in opening-act and Downtown New York club hell.

That all changed after the band released its second album Some Nights in 2012. It's been roughly a year since Ruess and company sang the title track during the band's first appearance on Saturday Night Live and things have gotten a bit crazy since: A chart-topping duet with Pink, an arena tour, a spot on Eminem's new album.

This song makes it clear that just about none of this was on his mind when the band was writing the album two years ago. The lyrics reveal a man more than a decade into his music career who's wondering if he's ever going to make it and if the voices telling him that he's selling out may be onto something: "So this is it. I sold my/soul for this?/Washed my hands of that for this? I miss my mom and dad for this?" But those folks back home clearly aren't a better option, with Ruess apologizing to his mom back in Arizona for leaving, but noting that "Who the expletive wants to die alone all dried up in the desert sun?"

It's a lot of internal conflict and self-deprecation over a nice little Paul Simon-style drum beat and it reaches one big conclusion with some help from his sister, her less-than-ideal boyfriend and Ruess' nephew: Even life's darkest corners hold some inherent value. They help define who you are and set the stage for greater things. It may be reluctant, but there's gratitude to be found for the absolute worst life throws at you as well.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post,, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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