Rock and roll was born in part out of teen rebellion, it’s true, but even rock’s most avid practitioners have occasionally penned odes to their moms. Sometimes the sentiment expressed is, ahem, complicated (see the Rolling Stones entry below), but generally speaking the message delivered is one of unadulterated affection. Below are ten tracks that pay tribute to mothers everywhere.
“Mother & Child Reunion” (Paul Simon)
Paul Simon recruited reggae great Jimmy Cliff’s backing band to record this lively 1972 hit, one of the earliest reggae tunes written and recorded by a white artist. The “motherly” sentiment expressed in the title was inspired by a chicken-and-egg dish -- called "Mother and Child Reunion" -- that Simon saw on a menu in a Chinese restaurant. Interpretations of the song’s lyrics have varied widely through the years.
“Matilda Mother” (Pink Floyd)
This Syd Barrett-penned nugget from Pink Floyd’s debut album was inspired by a “fairy tale” book titled Cautionary Tales for Children. Unlike The Wall’s “Mother,” which could hardly be said to celebrate motherhood, Barrett’s psychedelic tune unfurls with a childlike, whimsical charm.
“Your Mother Should Know” (The Beatles)
Paul McCartney wrote this bouncy pop ditty specifically for the Magical Mystery Tour film. In the famous film sequence, the song plays as the band descends a grand staircase. John, George and Ringo were wearing red carnations, but the carnation affixed to Paul’s lapel was black. The visual cue was one of several factors that further fueled the rumor that McCartney had died.
“Mama Told Me Not to Come” (Three Dog Night)
Three Dog Night scored big with this 1970 hit, written by Randy Newman as a tongue-in-cheek cautionary tale about the late ‘60s L.A. music scene. Two little known facts: Eric Burden and The Animals cut the track in 1966, three years before Three Dog Night did; and Newman’s own version – released in 1970 – featured understated slide guitar from Ry Cooder.
“Surrender” (Cheap Trick)
Written by Rick Nielsen, this Cheap Trick classic asserts that Mom – and Dad, too – might be much hipper than you imagine them to be. The line in which the narrator discovers his parents “rolling on the couch,” rolling numbers and listening to Kiss records, is irresistible. Nielsen once told Rolling Stone that in order to write the song, he had to “go back and put himself in the head of a 14-year-old.”
“Mama Said” (Metallica)
This track from Metallica’s 1996 album, Load, found James Hetfield giving expression to the difficult relationship he had with his mother, who died of cancer. It’s one of the few instances in which Metallica has incorporated “country” elements into their music. Hetfield later performed the song on CMT’s “Outlaw Tribute” concert as a duet with Waylon Jenning’s widow, Jessi Colter.
“Mama, I’m Coming Home” (Ozzy Osbourne)
Sure, this 1991 single was actually about Ozzy’s wife, Sharon, but that doesn’t mean the sentiments expressed can’t be applied to mothers as well. Guitarist Zakk Wylde and Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister pitched in as co-writers. Wylde played a Gibson EDS-1275 -- white with gold pickups – when he performed the song on subsequent live tours.
“Mother’s Little Helper” (The Rolling Stones)
Okay, so what if the “little helper” the Rolling Stones had in mind on this early classic was something other than Mom’s little boy or little girl? At least Mick Jagger recognized that the challenges involved in being a “stay-at-home Mom” were too often underestimated. The sitar-like sound of the main riff was actually slide guitar played by Brian Jones on an electric 12-string.
“Mother” (John Lennon)
No mother could doubt how integral she is to her child’s well-being after hearing this opening track from Lennon’s 1970 solo album debut. Lennon was inspired to write the song – essentially a howl of longing – after undergoing grueling sessions of primal scream therapy. Along with “Julia,” the beautiful ballad Lennon wrote for The Beatles’ “white album,” the song mourns the loss of his mother, who was struck and killed by a car when Lennon was 17.
“Stacy’s Mom” (Fountains of Wayne)
This 2003 power pop gem centers on a young boy’s crush on the mother of a female friend. The accompanying video, in which supermodel Rachel Hunter appears as the scantily clad “Mom,” has since become a classic. Fountain of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger has said the song is a tribute to The Cars, whose 1978 single, "Just What I Needed," has an intro that’s similar.