Mother’s Day is around the corner, which got us thinking about mothers and motherhood. If yours is a fan of good music, they’ll likely appreciate this list. And no, sharing the link won’t count as a gift, but it probably wouldn’t hurt.
Van Morrison, “You’re My Woman”
“You’re My Woman” is Van Morrison’s 1971 expression of gratitude to Janet Planet, the woman who “bore my child, Lord,” calling her his “sunshine.” They split up a few years after she “went in labor” in “Kingston town” near Woodstock in upstate New York, but she remained the mother of his daughter.
Dolly Parton, “Coat of Many Colors”
Also from 1971, “Coat of Many Colors” tells how Dolly Parton’s mother made a coat for her out of “a box of rags that someone gave us.” “Although we had no money,” she sings, “I was rich as I could be in my coat of many colors my momma made for me.”
The Beatles, “Let It Be”
Paul McCartney’s mother, Mary, died when he was fourteen, and “Let It Be,” released as a single fourteen years later in 1970, is an evocation of her spirit, inextricably mixed with the image of the Virgin Mary. In McCartney’s “hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me, speaking words of wisdom: let it be.”
Radiohead, “I Am A Wicked Child”
This B-Side from 2003’s Hail to the Thief is one of the most straightforwardly Americana songs Radiohead has recorded, sounding like a haunting deconstruction of a forgotten Appalachian ballad. It starts with the line “Mother Mary come to me,” possibly borrowed from “Let It Be,” and delves into imagery about “sin,” “the Devil,” and walking “the straight and narrow,” finally calling for “baby Jesus to radiate his light.”
Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, “Shop Around”
Motown’s first number 1 hit on the Billboard R&B Singles chart in 1960, “Shop Around” tells the story of a young man receiving advice from his mother to “keep your freedom for as long as you can, now.” Smokey Robinson sings: “’Before you tell ‘em that you love ‘em so, now,’ my mama told me, ‘you better shop around.’”
Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys”
This outlaw classic from Waylon and Willie warns mothers everywhere to avoid “Lonestar belt buckles and old faded Levis” for their sons at all costs. Of course, this admonishment is ironic given that the two singers were some of the biggest cowboys around in 1978, but they understood their lifestyle’s perils more than most: “If you don’t understand him and he don’t die young, he’ll prob’ly just ride away.”
The Kinks, “Mindless Child of Motherhood”
“Mindless Child of Motherhood” is a searing 1969 B-Side written and sung by Dave Davies, the Kinks’ lead guitar player and brother of lead singer Ray Davies. The song is directed toward Dave’s first serious girlfriend with whom he had a child when he was fifteen though, according to the singer, their parents kept them apart by telling them that “one didn’t like the other anymore,” so she and the “bastard son” he mentions were “lost without trace.”
The Shirelles, “Mama Said”
As with “Let It Be” and “Shop Around,” this is a classic song of motherly advice released in 1961 by the Shirelles of Passaic, New Jersey. The singer’s mother has informed her daughter that “there’ll be days like this” when “all that I can see is chapel bells are callin’ for everyone but me,” but that “someone will look at me like I’m looking at you one day,” so “don’t worry.”
Bob Dylan, “Tough Mama”
Bob Dylan recorded “Tough Mama” with the Band for 1974’s Planet Waves, and it appears to be one of several songs on the album addressed to Sara Dylan, his wife and the mother of four of his children. The lyrics are ambiguous and evocative, but Dylan’s admiration for his wife’s “toughness” and “dark beauty” and “sweetness” while raising those children shines through.
Merle Haggard, “Mama Tried”
Released in 1968, Merle Haggard sings of the “one and only rebel child from a family meek and mild” who, despite his mother’s best efforts after the death of “dear old Daddy, rest his soul,” “turned twenty-one in prison doing life without parole.” Once children are grown, they have to make their own choices, Haggard suggests, singing “Mama tried to raise me better, but her pleading I denied. That leaves only me to blame ‘cause Mama tried.”