Our parents give us values, morals, and a lifelong outlook. Plus, they’re the first folks we meet. So, it’s only natural that they inspire a range of emotions. These songs about parents capture our impressions of our first caregivers.
Here are narratives of admiration and love, perfect for the father-daughter wedding dance, and songs about flawed role models. From encouraging art to acting as the catalyst for countless therapy sessions, mothers and fathers play an intriguing role in our lives.
Check out these 31 songs about parents that capture the magic of this vital relationship.
1. Dear Mama – 2Pac
Tupac Shakur wrote this song of appreciation in honor of his mother, Afeni Shakur, for raising him. “You’re tryin’ to raise two bad kids on your own, And there’s no way I can pay you back, But my plan is to show you that I understand.”
2. Daddy – Beyoncé
A lot of things go right in making a phenomenon such as Beyoncé. And one of them was the singer’s father and manager, Mathew Knowles. Daddy is a tribute from the legend’s 2003 album, Dangerously In Love, and the tune was composed by Beyoncé and Mark Batson. She said the song was inspired by her father’s loyalty and devotion to his family.
3. Father of Mine – Everclear
This autobiographical song, written and performed by Everclear’s lead singer, Art Alexakis, serves as a cautionary tale. There’s good news and bad news. Your kid grows up to be a wildly wealthy, charismatic, and successful rock star. The bad news is that you were a deadbeat dad, and your son just outed you in a hit song.
4. Papa Don’t Take No Mess – James Brown
A funk masterwork performed by the inimitable James Brown, the short version of Papa Don’t Take No Mess was the master showman’s final number-one R&B hit. The almost 14-minute full-length version is on the double album, Hell. Testify!
5. Family Portrait – Pink
Co-crafted by P!nk and Scott Storch, this song is about a family coming apart, told from a child’s perspective. Her father, James Moore Jr., noted that Family Portrait “had been unofficially named the national anthem for young kids” going through their parents’ divorce.
6. A Song for Mama – Boyz II Men
Written and produced by Babyface, this number-one R&B single by Boyz II Men is a stirring tribute to that special someone. A Song For Mama served as the tasty theme song for the 1997 motion picture, Soul Food.
7. My Father’s House – Bruce Springsteen
My Father’s House came out on the studio album, Nebraska. It’s been speculated that this meditative and haunting song was inspired by Bruce Springsteen working through memories and emotions of his familial relationships.
8. Dance with My Father – Luther Vandross
This beautiful ballad was composed as a tribute by Luther Vandross to his late father, who died when he was seven. Dance With My Father was inspired by his memory of his dad dancing in the house with his kids.
9. Mama’s Song – Carrie Underwood
In Carrie Underwood’s ballad, the narrator tells her mother not to worry as she is getting ready to start her new life with her man. Mama’s Song was commercially successful and nominated for Best Country Solo Performance at the 54th Grammy Awards.
10. Mama Said – The Shirelles
We learn so much from our mothers. From “please” and “thank you” are magic words to “always wear clean underwear.” They are veritable troves of wisdom. Were more valid words ever uttered than the wisdom passed on in Mama Said? “Mama said there’ll be days like this, There’ll be days like this, mama said.” That is stone-cold solid.
11. Father Daughter Dance – Kesha
Imagine a song by a singer and songwriter about a woman raised by a strong single mother. In Father Daughter Dance, the singer contemplates and explores her feelings, imagining an alternative reality and what her life would have been like if her absent father had been more present.
12. Father’s Eyes – Amy Grant
For those who understand that a family resemblance is more than just skin deep, these lyrics see how we pass on values. “She had her Father’s Eyes, Her Father’s Eyes, Eyes that found the good in things.”
13. Parents Just Don’t Understand – DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince
This song captures the complaints of stereotypical teen life, Parents Just Don’t Understand won a Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance at the 1989 Grammy Awards. In addition, it was name-dropped in The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air and featured in Malibu’s Most Wanted, Jersey Girl, and The Parent Trap.
14. Wouldn’t Mama Be Proud? – Elliott Smith
With a chorus of Wouldn’t Mama Be Proud? The late Elliot Smith asks the question that drives much of human behavior and has sent countless individuals into therapy. That, or bars or rehab.
15. Father to Son – Queen
This power ballad tells the tale of a father attempting to pass on his hard-won wisdom, which he puts down in a letter that he writes to his son. The son reads the letter and ignores its wisdom and lessons. And the son repeats the scene, with himself in the role his father had played with his son. And so on through the generations.
16. Loves Me Like a Rock – Paul Simon
Do you know that unconditional love you’re looking for all the time in all the wrong places? That steady and unquestioning acceptance? It’s that hunger for love that is rock solid, rock steady. Paul Simon captures that confidence. “My mama loves, she loves me, She gets down on her knees and hugs me, Like she loves me like a rock.”
17. Mother-in-Law – Ernie K-Doe
If you have a partner, there’s a good chance they come with their own set of parents. In 1961, Ernie K-Doe came out with Mother-In-Law, a humorous screed and cry to the heavens, written and produced by Allen Toussaint. The song strung a chord, hitting the number-one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 and Billboard R&B charts.
18. Ms. Jackson – OutKast
Ms. Jackson, from the alternative hip hop duo’s 2000 album Stankonia, tells the story of a guy presenting his love for the mother of his child to his significant other’s mother. “My baby’s drama mama, don’t like me.” The song’s inspired by André 3000 explaining his side to the mother of his son’s mother, musician Erykah Badu.
19. When Doves Cry – Prince & The Revolution
Ever wondered if maybe you inherited more than your mother’s eyes or your father’s chin? Do you have a bit of their character? In When Doves Cry, the singer sings, “Maybe you’re just like my mother, She’s never satisfied (she’s never satisfied), Why do we scream at each other?”
20. Father – Demi Lovato
For everyone who has had mixed emotions about a parent, this song with lyrics penned by Demi Lovato resonates. “I know you never got the chance, To be yourself, to be your best.”
21. Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone – The Temptations
Living the maxim that if you can’t be a good influence, be a bad example, this staple of R&B is a classic of coming to terms with a man, who “when he died, all he left us was alone.” Merging driving rhythms, hard-driving rhymes, and a classic yearning to know one’s father, Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone is a stone-cold classic.
22. A Boy Named Sue – Johnny Cash
It’s hard to get the mix just right. They aren’t there or around too much. They’re too demonstrative or repressed, overly controlling or uninvolved. So, to bastardize Tolstoy’s line about unhappy families, why not try naming your son Sue as you head out the door?
23. Daddy’s Hands – Holly Dunn
In less assured hands than Holly Dunn’s, a song entitled Daddy’s Hands could’ve gone in a dark, strange place. Not to fear, this is a sweetheart of a tune, paying homage to a hard-working parent. She sings, “I remember daddy’s hands workin’ ’til they bled, Sacrificed unselfishly just to keep us all fed.”
24. Cat’s in the Cradle – Harry Chapin
A classic work on Harry Chapin’s Verities & Balderdash album tells the tale of a father watching his son grow up to inherit his emotional distancing from those around him.
25. We Exist – Arcade Fire
The Indie rock band Arcade Fire set fans and critics ablaze with We Exist on their 2013 album, Reflektor. The song’s lyrics relay the event of coming out to one’s father.
26. Poppa Was A Playa – Nas
Nas constructs a thoughtful meditation on the many conflicting demands of authenticity, loyalty, family, and autonomy. And the allure of the ladies. He captures his complicated respect for his father in Poppa Was A Playa. Listen to lyrics like “A child’s young years the most important time to be there, That’s why he stayed ’til we grew up, respect is still here.”
27. Father and Daughter – Paul Simon
Father And Daughter was created for The Wild Thornberrys Movie. It was inspired by a father’s love for his daughter, expressed through the extraordinary talent of singer and songwriter Paul Simon. The story goes that he heard his son, Adrian, who was 10, singing and had him add harmony to the choruses. This is the track that has launched many a father-daughter wedding dance.
28. Mother – Pink Floyd
The Wall is a concept album based around Pink, an alienated rock star. The song Mother is like a conversation between Pink (Roger Waters) and his mother (David Gilmour). It might be heard as a rumination on how we’re influenced “by our parents’ views on things like sex. The single mother of boys, particularly, can make sex harder than it needs to be,” Waters said in an interview with Mojo.
29. My Mom – Eminem
The parent thing. It’s complex. Those prominent people in our lives, our “caregivers,” have such a capacity to influence us when we’re young. That may be why Eminem penned the lyrics to his song, and this time, it’s personal. “My mom, There’s no one else quite like my mom, I know I should let bygones be bygones, But she’s the reason why I am high on what I’m high on.”
30. The Story of My Old Man – Good Charlotte
The Story Of My Old Man is from the album The Young And The Hopeless by indie and punk band Good Charlotte, released in 2002. Some fans believe the title of the album is a satire on the soap opera of the same name. The cover image shows a family watching a film that looks like an ’80s movie about dystopian Cold War shopping.
31. Song for Dad – Keith Urban
Have you ever looked into the mirror and wondered if you’re turning into your old man? Right. So has Keith Urban. And he put it down in Song For Dad, and he says, “Lately I’ve been noticin’, I say the same things he used to say.” This is why we should be understanding and empathetic towards previous generations and loving and respectful of the upcoming ones.
Bonus track: Family Reunion – The O’Jays
Sometimes, you may want to hug it out. This is why there’s The O’Jays 1975’s critically and commercially successful Family Reunion, with lyrics such as, “That is if we all come together no matter what color, race, creed, Because that’s all in the head whether you wanna believe it or not, ‘Cause you’ll bleed, ha, Hoo… Family, family, family reunion, It’ll be nice, so nice, so nice.”
This list of 31 songs is a sampling of songs about parents, inspired by the nuanced relationship between father and mother and child. So find your tune, whether you’re into power anthems, tender ballads, alt poems, or chart-topping hits. We’d love to hear: what is your favorite song about parents?
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