The 13 Greatest Country Songs for Thanksgiving

Carve up the turkey to tunes by Dolly Parton, Kris Kristofferson, Blake Shelton, Keith Urban and more grateful crooners

Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton, “Coat of Many Colors” (1971)

 

Parton has no shortage of poignant songs, but this true story, which she wrote on one of Porter Wagoner’s dry cleaning receipts, is her most touching. The tune reveals that her family was so poor that her mom had to sew her a coat made out of multihued rags — just like Joseph’s coat in the Bible. Parton sings that even though the other children make fun of her “coat of many colors,” she sees the love in every stitch and knows she is richer than any of her schoolmates because she is clothed in her mother’s love.

 

Sawyer Brown

Sawyer Brown, “Thank God for You” (1993)

 

Long before Luke Bryan started shaking it for the country girls, Mark Miller — Eighties country’s Energizer Bunny — was two-stepping in equally tight jeans. He cavorts through this ditty’s video as he thanks “Mama for the cookin’/Daddy for the whoopin’/The devil for the trouble that I get into/I thank the bank for the money/Thank God for you.” But who do we thank for Miller’s slick dance moves?

 

Garth Brooks

Garth Brooks, “Unanswered Prayers” (1990)

 

This song, Brooks’ fourth career chart-topper, tells of a man returning to his high school and running into his old flame — the one he thought he “wanted for all time,” until, that is, he met his now-wife, the real love of his life. He’s filled with gratitude for the many times that God has given him what he needed, not what he thought he wanted. This song has now become the emotional high point of Brooks’ concerts, with the crowd singing every word back to the country icon.

 

Pat Green

Pat Green, “Lucky” (2004)

 

Sure, it’s fine to want to win a million dollars on a game show or date a supermodel or party in the Hollywood Hills, according to Pat Green in this 2004 charmer, but those are just temporary pleasures. He knows the real victory is living “beneath this red, white and big blue sky/With your job, your car, your family, your friends/The love of a girl that you know will never end.” That, he sings, is what it means to be lucky.

 

Oak Ridge Boys

Oak Ridge Boys, “Thank God for Kids” (1985)

 

Nothing screams country quite as much as being thankful for little rug rats. To be sure, this Oaks hit is as treacly as a tune sung by four hirsute middle-aged men can be. But the song has a point: Even when they’re spilling “Kool-Aid on the couch,” the wee ones have a way of worming their way into our hearts — especially knowing that in the blink of an eye, they’ll be grownups and we’ll be longing for those early days.

Blake Shelton

Blake Shelton, “God Gave Me You” (2011)

 

On the face of it, this tune sounds like a straight-ahead love song, but the video for this 2011 hit expands the meaning far beyond the romantic. God puts people in our lives in all sorts of forms, according to Shelton, whether they be children, friends, unexpected saviors, or — in the case of this Voice coach, his then-fiancée Miranda Lambert — to show we are never alone.

Merle Haggard

Merle Haggard, “Thanking the Good Lord” (1987)

 

In this grateful cut, the Hag thanks God for the good woman sent his way, but the country legend has a few more requests as long as he’s got the Almighty’s ear: “Let the power that made you help me to prosper and be fair in all things that I do,” he asks in the tune, which blends the Bakersfield sound with a poignant prayer.

 

Kelly Clarkson

Kelly Clarkson, “Thankful” (2011)

 

Kelly Clarkson is country by proxy, but that counts. On this R&B-inflected mid-tempo clap-along, she is thankful for not only everything that her man has brought her, but also everything he’s taken away — including the heartache and pain. She sounds a little co-dependent, but it’s probably safe to say her man has a cure for that, too.

 

Kris Kristofferson

Kris Kristofferson, “Thank You for a Life” (2006)

 

This Kristofferson classic is like a thank-you note set to music. Is it to God or to his wife or both? Who cares? What matters is that in this extremely spare, Don Was-produced track, a leathery voiced Kristofferson looks back at his life with deep appreciation, not only for the gifts he’s been given, but for the perspective. How else to take the lines, “Thank you for a life that I’d call happy/Overlooking all that we’ve been through”?

John Denver

John Denver, “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” (1974)

 

You city slickers can take your diamonds, jewels and limousines. Just give Denver a fiddle so that when his farm chores are done, he can play all the live-long day. Denver came down from his “Rocky Mountain High” to take this knee-slapping tune to the top of not only the country chart, but the pop chart as well.

 

Keith Urban

Keith Urban, “But for the Grace of God” (2000)

 

Urban scored his first Number One with this tune, co-written with Charlotte Caffey and Jane Wiedlin of the Go Go’s. In the mid-tempo ballad, Urban looks at those around him — the fighting couple, the man with all the material wealth but no friends— and realizes that the grace of God is the only thing that separates him from those in spiritual poverty around him. He told Rolling Stone Country earlier this year that he initially thought the song didn’t suit him, but he couldn’t find anyone else to cut it — for which he should be very grateful.

Travis Tritt

Travis Tritt, “It’s a Great Day to be Alive” (2000)

 

Other artists had recorded this paean to simple joys before Tritt got his hands on it, but it was his devil-may-care delivery that sent his version soaring to Number Two on the charts. The protagonist of the song needs some rice, a little hot soup and the ability to grow a Fu Man Chu mustache, and after that, his needs are pretty well taken care of. There are hints at some deeper loneliness in the Darrell Scott-penned tune, but Tritt focuses on the sunny side— and that he has a working microwave.

Martina McBride

Martina McBride, “Blessed” (2001)

 

Written by Brett James, Troy Verges and Hillary Lindsey, and delivered flawlessly by McBride, this uptempo tune is awash in gratitude from the smallest of joys, such as the feeling of the sun’s warmth, to the largest, including the love of a good partner and healthy, laughing children. Remarkably, the track never seems overly sentimental, perhaps because it serves up its blessings with humility and grace and in the face of everyday life. It’s a gentle reminder to thank God for gifts that are “so much more than I deserve.”

 

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