ALICE’S RESTAURANT: The Story of an 18-Minute Song


On Thanksgiving Day, most classic rock radio stations across the country play this song, a song by a man by the name of Arlo Guthrie, who could prove that he could be good at telling a story/song as he is at singing City of New Orleans; That song is called “Alice’s Restaurant”, or rather, “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree”.
This song that is “Alice’s Restaurant”, which consists of protracted spoken monologue and complete with a constantly repeated fingerstyle ragtime guitar backing as well as a light brush-on-snare drum percussion with bookends of a chorus about that certain diner, is Guthrie’s most prominent work, and has since gone on to become a song in its own right; It tells the tale that is based on an actual true incident from his own life that had begun on Thanksgiving Day in 1965 with him being in citation for littering, and ends with the U.S. Army refusing to draft him after being convicted of the crime.

Of course, the song ends with an iconic punch line by Guthrie: “I’m sittin’ here on the Group W bench ‘cause you want to know if I’m moral enough to join the Army-burn women, kids, houses, and villages-after bein’ a litterbug”, and then ends with Arlo Guthrie encouraging the listeners to sing along to the chorus of the song, while urging to resist the draft and to end war.
The original song, one that has become Guthrie’s signature song, originally clocks in at 18 minutes and 34 seconds, thus occupying the entire A-side of the album of almost the same name, Alice’s Restaurant. The song’s title itself refers to an actual restaurant that was at the time owned by Guthrie’s friends, however, it plays no role in the story except being mentioned in the chorus. As for the “Massacree” in the title, it is a colloquialism originating in the Ozark Mountains that describes “an event so wildly and improbably and baroquely messed up the results are almost impossible to believe”. That word happens to be a corruption of the word massacre, but it actually carries a much lighter and more connotation of the sarcastic kind, thus never being used to describe anything that involves an actual death.
“Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” later spawned a 1969 film, while the original album spent 16 weeks on the Billboard 200 album chart, peaking at #29 during the week of March 2nd, 1968; After the release of the movie, the song re-entered the chart on December 27th, 1969 at #63. Two years later, Arlo Guthrie released a shorter version of the song, entitled “Alice’s Rock & Roll Restaurant”, which removed the entire monologue, incorporated the chorus, and used a slightly different arrangement, not to mention adding extra verses, which does little except to advertise the restaurant.

It since went on to become a tradition for most classic rock stations to play the song every Thanksgiving each year (probably as a way for those who want to listen or watch anything but the Macy’s parade), while Guthrie himself has since performed that certain song in his concerts throughout his career. If you would like to learn a whole lot more about “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree”, please go to and look up the aforementioned song title.



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