RSS
Adam Sandler's 'Thanksgiving Song': Explaining the 20-year-old tune's pop-culture references
Millennials can be forgiven for wondering, "Who is Cheryl Tiegs anyway?"
 
Yes kids, there was a pre-Grown Ups era when Adam Sandler was funny.
Yes kids, there was a pre-Grown Ups era when Adam Sandler was funny. (Mark Mainz/Getty Images)

Twenty years ago, Adam Sandler recorded a live performance of his holiday tune "The Thanksgiving Song."

Okay, technically the world was introduced to the simple guitar-accompanied ditty in 1992, on an an episode of Saturday Night Live. But it's that Los Angeles performance — conversational breaks, screams from the audience, and all — that you're likely to hear on repeat this Thanksgiving as you devour one too many slices of pecan pie.

Twenty years is a long time. And if you take a close listen, several of Sandler's lyrics might make you go, "Huh?"

To save you the time of going to Google, we've identified and defined a few of Sandler's references so you can get the full experience of this Thanksgiving masterpiece.

"I once saw a movie with Betty Grable" (1:24)
Betty Grable was the Hollywood "it" girl in the 1940s. A triple threat of blonde hair, blue eyes, and talent, Grable was one of the industry's biggest box-office draws and highest-paid actresses. And thanks to that cheeky pin-up photo featuring her in a bathing suit and giving a flirtatious look over her shoulder, she was worshipped the world over by soldiers and civilians alike — a notoriety that encouraged her to insure her legs for a cool $1 million. The movie Sandler saw could have been any number of Gable's hits, including Mother Wore Tights, Coney Island, and Sweet Rosie O'Grady.

"Fifty million Elvis fans can't be wrong" (1:30)
This is the complete title of Elvis Presley's ninth album, released in November 1959. It's the second of two volumes comprising two years' worth of hits, including "I Need Your Love" and "My Wish Came True." The album title may refer to the 1920s hit song "Fifty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong." Fifty million also happens to be the number of sales Presley totaled in 1959 — not too shabby. Since then, musicians from Elvis Costello to Rod Stewart to Bon Jovi have paid homage to either the album title or the cover art, which features 14 Elvises wearing gold lame suits.

"Jimmie Walker used to say dyn-o-mite" (1:56)
Jimmie Walker is an American comedian and actor who made a name for himself by popularizing the catchphrase "dyn-o-mite" on the 1970s series Good Times, on which he played J.J. Evans. While Walker used the phrase as the title of his comedy album, and later his memoir, he claims he can't break it out in public anymore because it was retired at the Smithsonian Institute, where it joins Archie Bunker's chair, J.J.'s hat, and other memorabilia from creator Norman Lear's shows.

"Can't believe the Mets traded Darryl Strawberry" (2:09)
It's easy to understand Sandler's lament over Darryl Strawberry's 1990 trade to the Dodgers. The right fielder had been with the Mets for seven years, during which the team was — brace yourselves — one of the premiere teams in the National League. But Sandler is wrong in blaming the Mets for the loss. Strawberry wasn't traded, he left. He signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers as a free agent, inking a pretty lucrative, five-year $22.3 million contract. At the time Strawberry did express his regrets for leaving his team. "My heart has always been with the New York Mets. But it just didn't happen that way. I had to move on and make my career someplace else."

"Can't believe Tyson gave that girl V.D." (2:17)
In 1991, the former heavyweight champion of the world was arrested for allegedly raping 18-year-old Desiree Washington, a budding Rhode Island pageant queen. A year later, Washington filed a civil suit against Tyson that claimed he gave her a sexually transmitted disease. Tyson ended up serving three years in jail for the rape, and the lawsuit was settled out of court.

"I'll never take down my Cheryl Tiegs poster" (2:41)
This is the one that first stumped me. Who on Earth is Cheryl Tiegs? Why, she's the first American supermodel, of course. The blonde-haired, green-eyed Minnesotan was huge in the '70s, thanks to her scantily clad Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue covers. But the poster Sandler is probably referring to is her 1978 "Pink Bikini" shot, which epitomizes the breezy, beautiful, California girl every boy of a certain age lusted after. Sandler would have been 12 when the poster first came out, which seems about right.

"Sammy Davis Jr. only had one eye" (3:06)
Sammy Davis Jr. died in 1990, which is why the entertainer might have been fresh in Sandler's thoughts when he penned this song. And while it's true that Davis had only one eye, he was born with two perfectly good ones. In 1954, just as the Rat Packer was about to launch his meteoric rise to fame, he got into a horrendous car accident that broke his jaw and irreparably damaged his left eye.

Though understandably depressed at first, Davis quickly returned to what he loved most — performing — just two months later. On stage, Davis sported a silk patch over his left eye and entertained a packed house that included the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Judy Garland, and Frank Sinatra. At one point during the show, Davis turned to his blind side and collided with a microphone stand. The "thud" caused the audience to gasp and go quiet, waiting to see how he would react. But the entertainer didn't miss a beat, joking, "Sorry, Frank, didn't see you come in, baby."

Watch the original Saturday Night Live recording:

 
Lauren Hansen is the multimedia editor at TheWeek.com. A graduate of Kenyon College and Northwestern University, she started her career in arts publishing and has since worked at media outlets including the BBC and Frontline.

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week