With the holiday season comes a time for reflection, taking note of what’s important in life and what we’re grateful for. There’s nothing like the power of music to serve as a catalyst for this process, with artists of all genres tapping into a well of gratitude when creating songs.
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Over the decades, artists ranging from The Beatles to Ariana Grande, with several others in between, have chosen to share a narrative of friendship, community, and other compassionate topics through song. Here are 10 songs about gratitude to get you through the holiday season:
1.) “In My Life” – The Beatles
Leave it to The Beatles to deliver a timeless classic that marries sadness with thankfulness. “In My Life” packs a punch in the best way, acknowledging all the people and places that leave a lasting impression on us, even expressing gratitude toward the instances that were “not for better.” The tear-inducing lyrics, coupled with the star power that is The Beatles, make for a memorable song that expresses love.
Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more
2.) “That’s What Friends Are For” – Dionne Warwick featuring Stevie Wonder, Elton John, and Gladys Knight
Before she was delighting the general public with her wholesome social media posts, Dionne Warwick was wowing fans with her powerful pipes and quality songs, continuing this theme with a cover of “That’s What Friends Are For,” originally recorded by Rod Stewart.
“That’s What Friends Are For” is one of her best, the upbeat nature capturing the spirit of friendship, singing of a bond so deep that it will continue on should they ever be apart. It’s the ultimate friendship song that Warwick turned into a philanthropic endeavor by donating a portion of the proceeds from her rendition to AIDS research, raising $3 million for the cause. That’s something to be thankful for, indeed.
Keep smiling, keep shining
Knowing you can always count on me, for sure
That’s what friends are for
For good times and bad times
I’ll be on your side forever more
That’s what friends are for
3.) “Thank You For Being a Friend” – Andrew Gold/Cynthia Fee
“Thank You For Being a Friend” made its way into the hearts of Americans as the theme song to the beloved TV series, The Golden Girls. Originally written and recorded by Andrew Gold in 1978, it was Cynthia Fee’s famous cover of the song that made it a household name.
It’s almost impossible not to start singing along to the lyrics whose sole purpose is to celebrate friendship and camaraderie, its meaning literally spelled out in the title. Though the abbreviated version gets the message across, there are several other stanzas that state how the author would support a friend in need that drives the sweet meaning home. When thinking about songs of thankfulness, “Thank You For Being a Friend” is guaranteed to hit you in your feels.
Thank you for being a friend
Traveled down a road and back again
Your heart is true, you’re a pal and a confidant
I’m not ashamed to say
I hope it always will stay this way
My hat is off, won’t you stand up and take a bow
And if you threw a party
Invited everyone you knew
Well, you would see the biggest gift would be from me
And the card attached would say
Thank you for being a friend
4.) “Thank U, Next” – Ariana Grande
“Thank U, Next” is a pop song with a message. Grande and her co-writers could’ve taken the angsty route in light of her public relationships (and subsequent breakups) with famous figures Big Sean, Pete Davidson, and the late Mac Miller. Instead, they decided to lean into gratitude, the lyrics focusing on the positive lessons that Grande gained from each partnership. “Thank U, Next” is a masterclass on how to craft a global pop hit that is steeped in gratitude, taking the lessons learned into a brighter future.
One taught me love
One taught me patience
And one taught me pain
Now, I’m so amazing
Say I’ve loved and I’ve lost
But that’s not what I see
So, look what I got
Look at what you taught me
And for that, I say
Thank you, next (next)
5.) “I Thank God For My Song” – Sister Rosetta Tharpe
While many of the songs on this list express gratitude to people and experiences, Sister Rosetta Tharpe delivers a gripping tribute to the music with “I Thank God For My Song.” It showcases what Tharpe does best: grabbing the listener’s interest with her incomparable voice and soulful energy that radiates through the speakers.
Her unmatched voice, accentuated by her powerful blend of rock and roll, blues, and gospel, shines through on this track recorded circa 1951. Despite the burdens of life she carries, the godmother of rock and roll finds the light in the darkness through song, projecting a sense of exuberance that’ll put a song in your heart—much like the one that exists in hers.
My song is plain and simple
But I won’t be very long
I’m not much as a singer
But I thank God for my song
With words so sweet and tender
With love and joy untold
I tell you, lord the savior who’s precious to my soul
6.) “We Are Family” – Sister Sledge
At a time of year that celebrates family and friendship, there’s no better song to celebrate these two elements than “We Are Family.” Sister Sledge’s signature hit carries a cheerful spirit that shines through in the lyrics. The song feels like a celebration, and it is—of sisterhood and family ties, and the desire to put those deep bonds on full display. You can’t help but feel good listening to this track and it may just inspire you to “have faith in you and the things you do” as the lyrics imply.
All of the people around us they say
Can they be that close
Just let me state for the record
We’re giving love in a family dose
We are family (hey, y’all)
I got all my sisters with me
We are family
Get up everybody and sing (sing it to me)
7.) “Gratitude” – Earth, Wind & Fire
Earth, Wind & Fire don’t beat around the bush when it comes to the meaning of “Gratitude.” Perhaps the grooviest song about gratitude, the song’s lyrics about opening up one’s heart and finding freedom in peace of mind are nothing short of inspiring. Plus, the band’s smooth harmonies over a funky beat of horns and drums are guaranteed to make you want to move. Everything about this song is feel-good, making it the ideal addition to any uplifting playlist.
We just wanna give gratitude, yeah
Got plenty love we wanna give to you, yeah
Through good music we’re tryin’ to say, yeah, yeah
That the Good Lord’s gonna make a way
Gonna make a way, gonna make a way
8.) “Unanswered Prayers” – Garth Brooks
Garth Brooks strikes a healthy balance between nostalgia and acceptance of reality in one of his biggest hits. “Unanswered Prayers” finds the singer back in his hometown as an adult attending a high school football game at his alma mater when he runs into a former girlfriend who at one point he wanted to marry. In recognizing that it’s better off they both went their separate ways in life, Brooks approaches the reality with gratitude as opposed to resentment for not getting what he once wanted. Its humble spirit still translates more than 30 years after its release, making for one of the legend’s best.
Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers
Remember when you’re talkin’ to the man upstairs
That just because he doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care
Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers
9.) “Cover Me in Sunshine” – P!nk
“Cover Me in Sunshine” is equal parts precious and humble wherein P!nk delivers a message of hope and unity amidst tumultuous times. The song opens with images of smiles on friendly faces and the hope of brighter days ahead while seeking peace as she proposes, “what if there’s a better place?” P!nk’s voice on its own is beautiful, but adding her daughter Willow Sage Hart to the chorus truly drives the song’s compassionate theme home —and may just make you tear up in the process.
Cover me in sunshine
Shower me with good times
Tell me that the world’s been spinning since the beginning
And everything will be alright
Cover me in sunshine
10.) “Thankful” – Celine Dion
Celine Dion has one of the most powerful voices in music, and she lets it soar on “Thankful.” Here, she details all the ways she’s thankful in life, particularly for a special person that lights up her world. With vibrant images of butterflies and pouring rain, Dion brings the power to this tune that exudes joy and light.
But I’m thankful to be here
Thankful to feel clear
Thankful my prayers have been answered
I’m thankful you listened
Thankful to heaven
Thankful for feeling alive again
Thankful that hearts always mend
Photo by David Redfern/Redferns