In Honor of Mother’s Day – A List of Some of the Best Songs About Mothers

May 9, 2008 12:04am

Mother’s Day is this weekend, so I thought it would be fitting to list 10 of my favorite songs about Mothers.
10. Fatboy Slim – “Ya Mama” (2000) – This song is a guitar-fueled rocker of an electronica track named for its refrain, “shake what ya mama gave ya!”  Throughout the majority of the track it repeats the phrase “Push the tempo!”  It really has very little to do with Mother’s Day.  It’s just on here because it thoroughly rocks!
9. Elliott Smith – “Wouldn’t Mama Be Proud” (2000) – This is from “Figure 8,” the last album Elliott Smith released in his lifetime, but not his last album.  It’s one of his greatest, most memorable songs too, describing a rock star selling out and having success and then asking the question “Wouldn’t Mama Be Proud?” There’s a vague line here and there, references to plane-rides and “the heavenly host,” but that just proves even in life (as he is in death) Smith was a man of mystery.
8. Tracy Bonham – “Mother Mother” (1996) – In this, Bonham’s most famous song, she writes a letter home to her mother about her quest for success.  The verses are serene and reassuring, saying things like “life is perfect, never better,” while the choruses scream with ferocious uneasiness. “I’m hungry, I’m dirty, I’m losing my mind!” The capper is the completely unhinged way she screams “Everything’s fine!!!” If I got a letter like this, I’d be worried.
7. Kanye West – “Hey Mama” (2005) – Three years ago Kanye paid tribute to his now late mother and illustrated what a great influence she was on him.  It’s a gloriously soulful track written out of great love and respect.  When she died unexpectedly last year, the track got some addition attention.
6. The Police – “Mother” (1983) – One of the few Police tracks not written by Sting.  It’s Andy Summers’ tormented, Eastern-tinged, almost punk shouting match.  It’s a rather uncomfortable listen, but it’s darkly funny with its manic vocal outbursts. “The telephone is ringing!!!  Is that my mother on the phone!!???”  It’s the strangest track the band ever recorded, placed firmly in the middle of their poppiest record!  It’s excellently subversive.
5. The Beatles – “Julia” (1968) – One of the many highlights on the Beatles’ “White Album” is John Lennon’s soft tribute to his mother.  She died when he was very young and that sense of sadness carries through in the sparse, moving track.  It’s a song that has been written about extensively for good reason.  As quiet as it may be, it speaks volumes.  Two years later, Lennon recorded the more wince-inducing “Mother.” He was obviously deeply affected by her death.
4. The Rolling Stones – “Mother’s Little Helper” (1966) – This one is a humorous if not odd ode to stressed-out, pill-popping mothers.  One of the strangest drug-influenced songs of the sixties, but it also captured the older generation’s angst and frustration with youth culture.  “What a drag it is getting old!”
3. Herman’s Hermits – “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” (1965) – Perhaps the best song ever written about a guy trying to win over the mother of the girl who broke his heart.  Yes, it seems like it’s all about kissing up in order to win back her affection, but it’s delivered really nicely. You can almost imagine Mrs. Brown telling her daughter later, “He’s a nice boy.  You should give him another chance.”  The track also evolves really well from section to section. Probably one of the most melodic and under-rated songs of the era.  Their version isn’t the original, but it may be the best.
2. The Shirelles – “Mama Said” (1961) — This is girl-group gold.  Two minutes of pop enjoyment with a chorus that won’t get out of your head. “Mama said there’d be days like this, there’d be days like this, my Mama said.”  Not much happens in the song. The protagonist pretty much just meets a guy and she falls in love, but it’s a clear winner.  Mom’s advice is vague, but good pop songs often are.
1. Liz Phair – “Little Digger” (2003) – Phair got a lot of flack for her self-titled pop album from her indie-purist fan-base, and yes, it was disappointing to see someone who had done something as monumental as “Exile In Guyville” selling-it-all-out attempting to get airplay.  I want to go on record that I’ve enjoyed and appreciated every one of her records and that even on her “pop” records, the same elements that I liked about her were still present.  Phair can really set a scene.  Her attention to lyrical detail has always been her strength, and on those later albums, she still possesses that skill only with shinier, more invasive production.  “Little Digger” is a solid example.  It is about being divorced and having her small son be introduced to a new man in her life. Usually when singers write songs about their children, it can be very irritating and almost cloying.  Here, it is tenderly explained and all the issues are spilled out on the table.  The son plays with trucks with the new man, but he tells him “This one’s my favorite one. This one you can’t have. I got it from my dad.”  The son also gets endearingly possessive when he declares “my mother is mine.”  Divorce is an issue affecting many mothers, and it’s a subject not talked about in many songs. No song I can think of better illustrates a mother/child bond.  This should’ve been a single.  In fact my biggest problem with Phair’s “pop” period (her last two albums) was that her label, Capitol, was marketing her the wrong way  and was for the most part releasing her weakest songs as singles. (“Extraordinary” is the exception.)  When it all comes down to it, Phair is an ace songwriter and deserves her due. Thankfully, a reissue of “Guyville” is on the way, and she is back on an indie, having just signed to ATO.  That should please just about everyone.
Happy Mother’s Day!   What are your favorite Mother-referencing songs?

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