“Thank You” by Led Zeppelin (1969)
The surprise with which many observers approached “Raising Sand,” Robert Plant’s recent, sparkling collaboration with bluegrass siren Alison Krauss, conveniently ignored the genuinely tender side that Led Zeppelin managed to demonstrate at least once an album. The best of the bunch was “Thank You,” an oasis of serenity amidst the bluesy, heavy-riffage boastfulness of “II.” Plant took Jimi Hendrix’s imagery from the previous year’s “If 6 Was 9” and turned it from an acid-soaked view of apocalypse to a lover’s promise that surpasses even the one the Beach Boys made in “God Only Knows.” Jimmy Page throws in one of the most lyrical guitar solos of his career, while John Bonham pounds away like he’s battling an earthquake. Some things, you can’t change.
“Thank You (Faletinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” by Sly and The Family Stone (1970)
Sly Stone’s searing funk missive is the most bitter song on this list. It’d probably be the most bitter song on any list. There’s a very real gratitude being expressed here, but it drips with rancor, as the demands — musical, business, political and otherwise — that besieged him on all sides finally take him to the breaking point. With Larry Graham’s popping bass anchoring a nasty one-chord groove (one hot enough to form the basis of Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” almost 20 years later), Sly stands up in sarcastic defiance and thanks the people who suck for revealing their true faces. For him, the pain that comes from such clarity is briefly outweighed by the relief. But only briefly.
“Thank You Friends” by Big Star (1978)
There’s certainly an irony to the fact that by the time Big Star sang, “Wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you,” the imploding band had lost two of its four founding members and seemed at any rate to be an Alex Chilton solo project in all but name by then. But if there’s any poison behind lines like “I’m so grateful for all the things you helped me do” and “Without my friends, I got chaos,” it’s washed away by the sloppily relaxed garage-pop backing them and a vocal by Chilton that sounds damn near sunny. It’s the humility that comes with acknowledging his own shortcomings, though, that reveals the sincerity of his appreciation.
“I Thank You” by Sam & Dave (1968)
“I Thank You” kicks off with a demand to get up and move with the spirit, a demand almost gospel in its fervor. So it’s no surprise that the song captures the singers’ gratitude for something that seems bigger than they are, opening with pure jubilant disbelief: “You didn’t have to love me like you did / But you did, but you did,” they sing, unable to believe their luck, “and I thank you.” Which isn’t to say that more earthly matters don’t come into play, as they finally understand “what the fellas are talking about when they say that they been turned out.” They’re grateful for that, too.
“Thank You” by Dido (1999)
It starts with a simple litany of little things: cold tea, a hangover, unpaid bills, a missed bus, miserable weather. Dido, it would seem, is having a lousy day. Nothing could be further from the truth, though, as a photo, a phone call and a towel proffered at precisely the right moment all preserve her sanity and transform her day. Still, even as Dido offers up her appreciation, there’s still a sense that those little things have a way of sticking around and adding up, which provides a fragile, bittersweet kick to “Thank You” even before Eminem converted it into a refrain for his disturbed-fan song “Stan.” Come to think of it, that’s probably why he used it in the first place.
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