Crush Your Awkward Thanksgiving Dinner With This 16-Song Playlist

Put some B-52s on your holiday playlist.
Put some B-52s on your holiday playlist. Pieter M. Van Hattem
This is likely the first time some of us are having Thanksgiving dinner with family in a year or more. As if this holiday wasn't already fraught with tensions galore, add in a whole heaping helping of fresh political discourse, economic woes, and socio-cultural upheaval to complicate the festivities. But before you slam Uncle Ron face-first into the candied yams, be sure to have this playlist handy. It may seem like a disjointed mess sort of like America's response to COVID, zing! — but these 16 songs are tailored to ensure maximum communal joy and bonding. If it doesn't help, just wolf down extra pumpkin pie.

Sam Fender, 'Seventeen Going Under'

This irredeemably catchy tune is about reconciling with youth, especially some of the anger and more undefinable emotions. It seems like the perfect track to set the mood for grappling with what was as we try and move forward. If nothing else, the sax part will be a big hit across the entire dinner table.
The B-52s, 'Rock Lobster'

There's nothing resembling proof, but no one remembers this song having existed unless it's playing on a stereo. Is it undeniably stupid? Yes. Is it also hugely catchy in a weird way? Also yes. It's the sort of track to suck the air right out of the room — so play it before anyone launches into a political diatribe.
Grouplove, 'Ways To Go'

Sort of like the Fender pick, there's something slightly nostalgic about this tune. Except that it's a clear reminder that whatever you're seeking — peace, happiness, a quiet holiday dinner — often takes time and a little effort. And if Thanksgiving's a bust, hopefully it reminds folks that Christmas is around the corner.
Woods, 'Moving To The Left'

This folk-rock ditty is perhaps the least offensive offering on this entire playlist. It's that perfect mix of new and old alike, and something the whole family can enjoy (as opposed to awkward silence). Plus, it just might remind everyone that things are always moving and changing, and that's mostly a good thing.
clipping., 'Stab Him in the Throat'

Do not play this song, which samples from and references Rick and Morty, in a crowded room full of family. Instead, let it be a kind of palette cleansers of sorts, to be listened to in a bathroom or while outside. That way, you can go back to your family ready to embrace them without committing battery.
Helena Deland, 'Baby'

Similar to the Woods selection, this folk ballad can do a lot to even out tempers and provide some level of (albeit temporary) peace. But unlike its folksy counterpart, this sensuous song will leave you devastated emotionally. That, and it'll clear up any pesky tension by making almost everyone vigorously swoon.
Shakira, 'She Wolf'

If, for whatever reasons, The B-52s don't somehow work, there's always "She Wolf." It not only will prevent anyone from being mad (how could you at a dance song that's about she-wolves?), but it's even more catchy. It may also just make folks laugh, and that's always better than more screaming about Trump.
Bodega, 'How Did This Happen?'

This is the selection most likely to start a fight. But if you can get through all the weird post-punk angst and noise, it's basically a song about how all of us live in this ever-demanding hellscape that we're often unable to control or influence. And that's a greater uniting force than all the canned cranberries in the world.
U2/Green Day, 'The Saints Are Coming'

Family dinners are about compromise. And that's what this song is: the arena rock of old faves U2 mixed with the edgy-but-not-too-pointed vibes of Green Day. It's a song anyone can share in, and the sort of fair that makes us all feel the power of great music. Because rock 'n' roll can heal even familial divides, folks.
Watsky, 'Welcome to the Family'

This rap ballad is all about overcoming shame and sharing one's "demons" with those around you. And, sure, in the case of Thanksgiving, some of these demons may be aunts or cousins, but there's a catharsis in airing stuff out. Maybe you'll even end up tricking everyone into a big singalong toward the finale? 
José Feliciano, 'Feliz Navidad'

Yes, despite what some folks say, Thanksgiving is still too early for Christmas music. But if your dinner needs a Hail Mary or whatnot, why not spin perhaps the greatest Xmas tune ever recorded? It's less about the yuletide joy and more about the celebration of love. Thanks for saving two holidays, Mr. Feliciano.
Bill Orcutt, 'Odds Against Tomorrow'

Bill Orcutt makes truly weird guitar music, stuff that's angular and wholly improvised. He also makes gorgeous guitar music like this piece, which resonates with a kind of nebulous hope. Is that hope for a better day? Maybe. But it's also the hope you can make it to dessert without anyone breaking down.
BRNDA, 'Year of the Hot Dog'

I get that more angular, East Coast-adjacent punk isn't a huge hit on Turkey Day. But this truly weird song talks about food in such a bizarre, abstract way, that it just might make everyone come together and celebrate lumpy mashed potatoes and burnt Brussels sprouts. Plus, like the song says, "I love salt!"
Freak Nasty, 'Da' Dip'

In any other context, this '90s club jam would fill an entire dancefloor. But on Thanksgiving, it just might 1) break up any lingering tensions, 2) give everyone a laugh, and 3) illicit some genuine, impromptu dance moves. You couldn't ask for better odds on this day, the holiday version of Russian roulette.
John Mellencamp, 'Jack & Diane'

Some people see this Mellencamp classic as an ode to young love (either those lost or couples still burning bright). However, it's just as much a song about whitewashing the past, of trying to remember things in such a way that we can tell a grand story of our lives. If that's not a valuable lesson this season, then what is?

Minnie Riperton, 'Lovin' You'

Holiday dinners are a reminder of the awkward side of maintaining family ties. This song, however, is like an antidote of sorts, and a reminder that love can also make us possible of some amazing things (like gorgeous harmonies). Even those without the actual vocal range would be wise to remember this lesson.
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Chris Coplan has been a professional writer since the 2010s, having started his professional career at Consequence of Sound. Since then, he's also been published with TIME, Complex, and other outlets. He lives in Central Phoenix with his fiancee, a dumb but lovable dog, and two bossy cats.
Contact: Chris Coplan