Clips & Pix: Arlo Guthrie/Alice’s Restaurant Massacree

I can’t believe it’s taken me more than four years to dedicate a post to one of the most hilarious songs I can think of: Alice’s Restaurant Massacree, better known as Alice’s Restaurant, by folk singer-songwriter Arlo Guthrie. And what better time to do so than on the eve of Thanksgiving.

Alice’s Restaurant, the title track of Guthrie’s debut album from October 1967, is a largely spoken satirical protest song against the Vietnam War draft. It’s based on a true though exaggerated story that started on Thanksgiving 1965 when Guthrie and his friend Ray Brock were arrested by the local police of Stockbridge, Mass. for illegally dumping trash. Guthrie’s resulting criminal record from the incident later contributed to his rejection by the draft board.

At 18 minutes and 34 seconds, Alice’s Restaurant can easily compete with some Pink Floyd tunes, except it’s much more upbeat. Because of its length, the track is rarely heard on the radio, except on Thanksgiving when many stations play it in its entirety. This includes Q104.3, the New York classic rock station I mentioned in a recent previous post, which trigged this piece.

Perhaps not surprisingly given Guthrie’s cinematic story-telling, Alice’s Restaurant also inspired a 1969 comedy film with the same name, starring Guthrie as himself. It was directed by Arthur Penn who among others is known as director of the 1967 classic biographical crime picture Bonnie and Clyde.

Commenting on what became his signature tune, Guthrie said, “I never expected it to be so popular,” as quoted by Songfacts. “An 18-minute song doesn’t get airplay. You can’t expect that. So the fact that it became a hit was absurd on the face of it. It wasn’t part of the calculation.” Well, whether intentional or not, I’m sure it helped Guthrie pay some bills.

Last but not least, to all folks who celebrate it, Happy Thanksgiving and be safe!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

16 thoughts on “Clips & Pix: Arlo Guthrie/Alice’s Restaurant Massacree”

    1. This wonderful tune certainly deserves more than one post, so no worries here! 🙂

      What I had not fully appreciated is how many radio stations actually play the song on Thanksgiving.

      Obviously, I was aware of Q104.3. They always play the tune at noon on Thanksgiving Day. In fact, that’s the only time they interrupt their mighty countdown of the “Top 1,043 Classic Rock Songs of All Time,” to which I’m currently listening in the background.

      While Arlo Guthrie certainly isn’t obscure, I don’t believe he had much chart success. But I suppose “Alice’s Restaurant” and his cover of “City of New Orleans” helped him pay the bills!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We have a radio station here that will play it also every Thanksgiving. One other song that he some success with was “Coming Into Los Angeles”… plus it was great at Woodstock.

        He is one guy I would love to see live.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Right. I should have seen Dylan/Van Morrison 20 years ago and Police/Elvis Costello when they toured. When Petty last toured I think it might have been Christian who suggested i should check him out. Next time I thought. Life is short.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I saw Morrison at the Ryman in 06…I’m so happy I did. Same with me with Petty on his last tour. My 20 year old son wanted to go but we decided next time like you did.

        I missed Elvis when he toured but was lucky. Went to see Dylan and out came Elvis and he did a surprise acoustic set to open up.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yeah, I think Elvis and Dylan toured together or something. There’s no way I’d go see Dylan now. I always loved his nasally but evocative voice. Now he just sounds like a smoker.

        Liked by 2 people

      4. I’ve seen Dylan 8 times…from the late 80s to 2016…the best concert was the Dylan/Simon tour which was great.
        Yes his voice is totally different now…that I agree totally.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Wow, no shit. Nice I feel like i know the guy from listening and reading about him. Oh, another stupid thing I did was not seeing him on the Rolling Thunder tour. Also goes into the “What was I thinking?” bucket.

        Liked by 2 people

      6. Oh wow! There are two periods I would have love to see him in… the 66 tour and the Rolling Thunder Tour…that sucks…I wish you could have gone.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. Did you see the recent Rolling Thunder documentary? Can’t remember now who made it but watched it on the tube just a few months back. But the first part of the tour was all northeast. He went to Lowell, Mass where I was living at the time. I was new in town and as likely as not didn’t have anybody to go with. Since then I’ve gone to tons of shows by myself if no one else wants to go. I’m not missing good music ‘coz people don’t like to go out. (Pre-COVID of course.)

        Liked by 2 people

      8. No I haven’t but it’s on my watch list. I’ searched for bootlegs of it for years so I’ll be happy to see it. Yea I can see being in a new town how it would be.

        I’ve been to a few by myself as well…the last concert I missed was last year. I had tickets to ELO with Dhani Harrison opening and a kidney stone with a hospital stay messed those plans up.

        Liked by 1 person

      9. Yes I a few in line to watch and that is on of them. Thanks I will watch it…I’m looking forward also to the guests like Roger McGuinn.

        Like

  1. Damn! I always listen to this on Thanksgiving. Completely spaced out. What a great song, great story. I remember going to see the flick with my father of all people. I don’t think he had a clue. Certainly not his generation. I can’t recall if it was you I was telling this to but Arlo got sick and tired of being expected to play this tune. He wouldn’t always play it. One guy insisted that he had paid good money to hear it and so Arlo offered him a refund. I guess for this guy is was kinda like not hearing Skynyrd do ‘Free Bird.”

    Liked by 1 person

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