With Mother’s Day upon us, it’s only natural that 303 compile a list of songs both new and old that express a variety of feelings towards Mom, ranging from true love to otherworldly estrangement.
Tupac Shakur’s “Dear Mama” is the quintessential mother rap dedication in that it expresses not only love but forgiveness. “And even as a crack fiend, mama, You always was a black queen, mama,” Shakur sings. “I finally understand, for a woman it ain’t easy tryin to raise a man.” Shakur grew up in New York City without much of a father figure; the men that passed through his household were associated with crime and violence. Tupac’s eventual escape seems achieved only through his mother’s sacrifice, making their story all the more moving.
“Oh, Mother of Mine” is not just an ode to the birth-giver but was actually the first single The Temptations released upon inking a deal with Motown Records, for whom they’d record a number of hits. While this one might not have topped the charts, it’s still classic Temptations, full of singer Paul Williams’ wild wailing and a brass section that was just as brash.
Which “mother” does CHVRCHES refer to as “The Mother We Share”? The song’s ambiguous nature has no effect on its infectiveness. It’s pure undiluted pop with just a hint of melancholy. While some believe it’s in reference to the Mother Earth or perhaps a spiritual mother of existence, many believe the title to be a nod to one of CHVRCHES’ predecessors, The Knife, and their just as exuberant song “We Share Our Mother’s Health.”
“I prefer your love to Jesus,” is a phrase that would make plenty of ordinary people uncomfortable, but there’s no stopping St. Vincent from proclaiming it toward her own mother, who experienced a bout of sickness while the talented guitarist-singer was recording her amazing latest record.
I have a mother who loves musicals. Each morning when I was young we’d awake to show tunes blaring from the kitchen, songs about stories I never bothered asking about: Les Miserables, Miss Siagon, Phantom of the Opera. I was 12 when the terrible day came that I’d be forced to sit through one. We had taken a trip to Las Vegas under the pretense of having a good time. Dad had even snagged rooms at the amazing Mandalay Bay, which just happened to be hosting Mama Mia in its relatively new theater. My pleas ignored, we attended as a family. While I fidgeted and groaned as Donna stirred over the arrival of her exes, they suddenly sprang into the title track and a sudden peace came over me. I learned later that it and all the other songs were ABBA hits. I nonetheless expressed my displeasure afterwards, much to Mom’s disappointment, never admitting the damn song had become lodged into my head where it remains to this day.
As an indeliable rock anthem of the ‘90s and the breakout hit of Danzig, “Mother” is perfectly suitable for filling up mom-song lists. Lead singer Glenn Danzig has said that the song refers to the Parents Music Resource Center, the organization responsible for the Parental Advisory stickers slapped onto audio material containing explicit content. Without a single curse word, Danzig seems to speak to them directly: “Mother, can you keep them in the dark for life, can you hide them from the waiting world, oh Mother!”
Mom’s advice is emboldened by Van Morrison in his classic 1995 cut “Days Like This,” a song where “Momma warns” about the tough days and awful moments that come with life. His irreplaceable drawl is front and center in a clean and concise package that ultimately feels warm for a song based on life’s hardships. For an artist with a bevy of memorable tunes, it’s a deep cut with a deep heart.
Where Tupac initially succeeded in escaping a life of crime and violence, country star Merle Haggard failed. As he notes in one of his best-known songs, “Mama Tried.” Haggard was involved in petty crimes for most of his teens, and after a botched burglary and attempted prison escape, he wound up in the San Quentin prison at the age of 21, but not, as he sings, serving life without parole. His song expresses his deep sympathy to his hard-working single mother who “tried to raise me right but I refused.” Rolling Stone notes that years later, after he’d become a country star, then-governor Ronald Reagan expunged Haggard’s criminal record. Perhaps his tribute to a mother he put through hell played a part in that rare pardon.
Certainly the song on this list Mom is most likely to hate, “Mother of the World” will nonetheless be relatable to plenty of men and women enduring the holiday. Consider that nagging guitar line, the sickly succession of breaths and the overall building nausea. This amazing procession by Swans is a song steeped in existential dread, finally breaking away for Michael Gira to chant “In and out and in and out, again.” While the track sounds like the end of everything, perhaps Gira really is alluding to the long and mostly uncomfortable process of birth. Be it life or death, the song is an experience.
Kanye West’s “Hey Mama” was on Late Registration, an album released years before his mother died from complications of cosmetic surgery, and since he has made it a staple of his concerts. It might not have the gravitas of Tupac’s mom tribute, but it’s nonetheless a pleasing track off an amazing album that makes you appreciate mothers while they’re still here.