20 Songs About Moms

Wondering Sound Staff

By Wondering Sound Staff

on 05.07.12 in Lists

From doting to derelict, supportive to destructive, pop music contains mothers of every stripe. This year for Mother’s Day, we decided to showcase 20 of pop music’s more prominent moms. Any of them look familiar?

The Wise Mom

20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection: Best Of Smokey Robinson & The Miracles

The Miracles

The Miracles, "Shop Around": Motown's first million-seller (1960-61) opens with Smokey Robinson relating a message his mother gave to him as he was about to start dating. Did she tell him to wait until he gets married to go all the way? Nope. Does she want him to get married? Eventually. Her bottom line: "Keep your freedom for as long as you can." The climactic sax solo, the savvy commentary of the chanting backing singers, and Robinson's commanding falsetto in front of it all makes you really believe his mother gave him permission to screw, er, shop, around. —Wayne Robins

The Birth Mom


Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell, "Little Green": A teenage mother accidentally gets pregnant and makes the difficult decision to give the baby up for adoption — an everyday horror story, almost unbearably painful, and sung with shocking feeling. (No wonder — Mitchell had herself given up a daughter out of wedlock. They would reunite decades later.) When Joni goes low on the words, "Little Green, have a happy ending," it's as wrenching as Bambi losing his mother, or Dumbo visiting his. — Michaelangelo Matos

The Troubled, Loving Mom

Me Against The World


Tupac, "Dear Mama": "Dear Mama" doesn't sugarcoat a damn thing. All the ugly details are here: a crack-dealing son paying tribute to his crack-addicted single mother who raised two kids while on welfare, acknowledging how he paid her no mind growing up, but remembering now how much she tried to love him. That the song is autobiographical, and that Tupac keeps the mix and the message simple and slow for maximum understanding, only enhances its power. "You are appreciated," the rapper says soberly. — Britt Robson

The Estranged Mom

Hell Hath No Fury


Clipse, "Momma I'm So Sorry": "Momma, I'm so sorry" is something we've all said at one point or another; maybe we threw a big party while she was away that got out of hand, or said something hurtful we didn't mean. Pusha T and Malice of Clipse have some heavier sins to atone for: "I got two hot rocks in my pocket," they confess on the chorus. Glocks, ki's, duffel bags, international trafficking: "Momma I'm So Sorry" is a pair of remorseless drug kingpins taking a brief moment from their affairs to acknowledge the conscience they've long since lost. — Jayson Greene

The Consoling Mom

20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection: Best Of Etta James

Etta James

Etta James, "Tell Mama": Her beloved son has been abused and disabused in the ways of love by a scheming woman who threw him out in favor of a new boyfriend who is wearing his clothes. Now he needs to come home and come clean — tell Mama all about it. In 1968, there was nobody better than Etta James in this protective-domineering role, to ride to the rescue and "make everything alright," her avenging vocals perched on the crest of the cantering horns and blistering R&B of the legendary Muscle Shoals session men in their prime. — Britt Robson

The Hot Mom

Welcome Interstate Managers

Fountains of Wayne

Fountains Of Wayne, "Stacy's Mom": To the adolescent narrator of this new-wave homage, the mom of his pal Stacy is, quite simply, a smoking-hot babe. A MILF, if you will. While listeners know the crush is doomed — and even the narrator admits their love is forbidden — he's still convinced the attraction is mutual, because he's such a stud. Why, Stacy's mom's critique of his lawn-mowing skills — "with just a towel on" — is an obvious sign of her lust. — Annie Zaleski

The Overprotective Mom



Danzig, "Mother": I sympathize with the mom quivering nervously in the shadows of this song. I think that's because I had that mom. All parents have an overprotective streak, but it seems like, if you were raised in the late '80s, those fears were especially heightened. There was terror around then-new, "evil" heavy metal, urban legends about random abductions by strangers in ice cream vans, and the most nefarious scourge of all: Dungeons & Dragons. Hell, even Danzig sides with the mom, encouraging her to "tell your children not to walk my way." Thing is, though: What troublemaking teenager worth their weight in Natty Light can resist the promise of "finding hell," especially when it's with the former singer of the Misfits? Dude even loves comic books! At the end of the day, all the milk, cookies and motherly love can't compete with the evil alchemy that occurs when a curious teenager meets a perpetual adolescent. — J. Edward Keyes

The Bereft Mom

Paul Simon

Paul Simon

Paul Simon, "Mother and Child Reunion": The rubbery, reggae-ska beat was unprecedented for a mainstream white American singer-songwriter, but it captures the bitter-sweetness of what appears to be a spiritual separation, and imminent reunion, of a mother and child. The lyrics are vague for a reason — Simon named this song after a breakfast dish from a Chinatown restaurant in New York, and was inspired to write it because his dog was hit by a car. But it is no coincidence that in seeking the most poignant way to express his ineffable sense of loss, and faith in recovery, he chose the relationship between mother and child. As the first single (a Top 10 hit) of his first solo disc following the breakup of Simon and Garfunkel, it was his genius to know that the tune could not function without that essential parental dynamic. — Britt Robson

The Studio 54 Mom

Scissor Sisters

Scissor Sisters

Scissor Sisters, "Take Your Mama": The disapproving mama in these disco revivalists' 2004 hit isn't a bad person — she just can't understand why her favorite son's "girl has gone a-missin' and [his] house has got an empty bed." So what better way to explain than to "get her jacked up on some cheap Champagne" and "show her what it's all about"? Cheers to Scissor Sisters for making "Take Your Mama" sound like the aural equivalent of that low-rent libation: sweet, bubbly, refreshing. — Mikael Wood

The Beloved Mom in Memorial

The Very Best Of


The Spinners, "Sadie": Soul singing transmutes unreal sorrow into something both heaven-leaning and earthbound. "Sadie" is a song about a dearly-loved, unfathomably-missed mother — "The premier of ladies!" Philippe Wynne cries, half-strangled, a little while after admitting, "It's a mean world without you here" — that embodies that mutual embrace. What she represents is important: unconditional love in the face of a world of increasing disillusion, making "Sadie" as much a product of Watergate as "Bad Luck" or "Funky President." — Michaelangelo Matos

The Other’s Mom

Ernie K-Doe, "Mother In Law": The New Orleans singer states his case with acute exasperation, but also some of the buoyancy that matches writer-producer Allen Toussaint's carnival-song sound. Mother-in-law jokes apparently date to Roman times, and K-Doe's grievances echo many of the punch lines, Hell being the recurring theme. But how long can one stay angry while singing such an upbeat tune? And isn't overstatement one of the greatest belly-laugh inducers? From the Borscht Belt to Bourbon Street, we all suffer and persevere alike. — John Morthland

The All-Suffering Mom

Merle Haggard - 16 Biggest Hits

Merle Haggard

Merle Haggard: "Mama Tried": Haggard's earliest albums feature paranoid songs, but this isn't one of them. Instead, over a steady rolling band, he guiltily laments how his innate restlessness inevitably led him to betray all his mother's good intentions. There's little doubt how it'll end: "I turned 21 in prison/ doing life without parole." Mixing fact and fiction, Merle shoulders the blame while implicitly suggesting that she endured the pain he inflicted because she understood its genesis. That's something else mamas do; they forgive. — John Morthland

The Stand-In Mom


The Dead Weather

The Dead Weather, "Treat Me Like Your Mother": The mother in this dirty garage tune is only referenced for the sake of comparison, but she looms large in the dynamic between her son and his girlfriend. The latter mentions her — a stinging, simple invocation of "your mother" — as a way to tame her man and demand respect. Any attempt to hide indiscretions (or embark on shenanigans), and lines such as, "Look me in the eye now/ Treat me like your mother," immediately shame him into submission. — Annie Zaleski

Worried, Small-Town Mom


Miranda Lambert

Miranda Lambert, "Mama, I'm Alright": Kerosene's title track might have depicted Lambert burning down the home of a cheating partner, but in "Mama, I'm Alright," the singer goes in the other direction, paying homage to the house that built her. The tune opens on a "sleepy little Texas town" where not much happens and not much changes: Mama rocks her baby in the same chair that her mama had once rocked her. So when that baby grows up, breaks tradition and heads off with only "50 watts and Johnny Cash" by her side, those matriarchs can't help but worry, leading Lambert to step in and reassure. "I've given up on love / 'Cause love's given up on me," she sang on that title track, but this one is for the woman who affection is eternal. — Nick Murray

The Instigating Mom

Mama Said Knock You Out

LL Cool J

LL Cool J, "Mama Said Knock You Out": There's a couple of asterisks we should attach to this track's maternal bona fides: The mama-spurred motivation in question was actually provided by LL's grandma, and she doesn't figure too prominently in the lyrics. (Granted, she does have a great cameo at the end of the video: "Todd! Get upstairs and take out that garbage!") But if you cut a go-for-yours track to silence the skeptics, and you knew your granny was listening, this is the best way to do it: relentless, ferocious and yet without a single solitary curse word. — Nate Patrin

The Metaphysical Mom



Can, "Mother Sky": It's not entirely clear what Damo Suzuki is muttering in this monomaniacal jam, recorded in 1970 for Jerzy Skolimowski's semi-improvised film Deep End. (One possibility: "I say madness is too pure like Mother Sky" — a reading that might have given the British label Too Pure its name. Another: "I think mothers ain't too cool like Mother Sky.") But the sky that Can reaches up to touch here is a mother in the sense of a creator-goddess: the source of infinite possibilities, and occasionally indistinguishable from madness. — Douglas Wolk

The Understanding Mom

The Shirelles, "Mama Said": Led by Shirley Alston, the Shirelles blended girl group scenarios and passionate vocals solidly rooted on the R&B side of the tracks. The 1961 hit "Mama Said" is equal parts sweetness and soul, a message of reassurance. Daughter saw a boy she likes. Boy didn't notice her: a tween's end-of-the-world insecurity attack. Don't worry about it, Mama said. "There'll be days like this," Mama said. And that's the whole deal. — Wayne Robins

The Exclamatory Mom



ABBA, "Mamma Mia": OK, the Swedish popmeisters were simply borrowing an interjection from the Italian for this typically exuberant 1975 smash. But if ABBA stood for anything, it was finding depth in shiny surfaces, which means they have to have understood the alternate reading here: a neglected kid addressing her absentee mother. "I think you know that you won't be away too long," Agnetha and Anni-Frid sing over that strangely menacing tick-tock groove, "You know that I'm not that strong." Heartbreaking, right? — Mikael Wood

The Mom Who’s Late to Basketball Practice

Bizarre Ride II

The Pharcyde

The Pharcyde, "Ya Mama": "We need some brothers to be uhh, like dropping knowledge," Booty Brown claims on the intro. But when the cleverly flipped "Brothers and sisters!" sample that once launched Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" kicks the track into gear, what we get instead is four minutes of Yo Mama jokes, from the vaguely mean ("Your mama wears coathangers for earrings") to the completely absurd ("Your mama is an extra on The Simpsons and shit"). It's not knowledge, exactly, but it does plug the group into a tradition of lyrical dexterity and crass one-up-manship that predates hip-hop and will likely outlive it. — Nick Murray

The Slam Glam Bam Mom

Slade, "Mama Weer All Crazee Now": The Brit glam band's heavy pedal paean to partying hasn't lost a step after 40 years — which is saying plenty, considering Slade stepped around on some of the steepest high heels and platform shoes of the time. The song, about consequence-free whiskey drinking, is a perfect Mother's Day song for those of us who feel a day with mom best when accompanied by a bottle of Johnny, Jim or Jack. —Wayne Robins