Pop & Hiss

The L.A. Times music blog

« Previous Post | Pop & Hiss Home | Next Post »

Get in tune with mom: classic Mother's Day songs

May 8, 2009 |  5:52 pm


They make you eat your vegetables. They yell at you for getting mud on your new penny loafers. In some cases, they leave you in a car on a hot day with the windows not rolled down enough or get you a prescription to Ritalin. But overall, moms are pretty awesome -- especially to hug.

To wit: The vast and eclectic body of pop paeans to mothers that have been recorded over the last half century (to be sure, there are great mom songs from beyond that epoch but, hey, this is a blog post, not an encyclopedia). With that in mind, Pop & Hiss submits for your consideration an arbitrary survey of mom songs cobbled together hurriedly on the eve of Mother's Day weekend: 

"Mother Stands for Comfort": Kate Bush

Sample lyric: "Mother stands for comfort/Mother will hide the murderer/Mother hides the madman/Mother will stay mum"

I heart mom: Eerie synth-driven workout in the name of atmospheric angst though the song may be, it drives home an important truth. Kate Bush's mom loves her so much she is prepared to commit perjury -- in the face of some unspecified but no doubt horrific act of manslaughter -- in order to preserve the sacrosanct bond between mother and daughter.

 "Mama Said Knock You Out": LL Cool J

Sample lyric: "Why do you riff with me, the maniac psycho?/And when I pull out my jammy, get ready 'cause it might go BLAAAW/How you like me now?"

I heart mom: While such sentiments might not outwardly speak to themes of filial loyalty, Cool J completists have come to regard "Mama Said" as an empowerment anthem. Within its narrative scheme, the rapper's mother acts as a sort of Flavor Flav can-do guru, enjoining Cool J to ascend new career heights by "wreckin' shop/when I drop/these lyrics that'll make you call the cops."

"The Perfect Fan": Backstreet Boys

Sample lyric: "You showed me when I was young, how to grow/You showed me everything that I should know/You showed me just how to walk without your hands/'Cause mom you always were the perfect fan"

I heart mom: It may be somewhat sickening to me and you (dear reader) to consider our beloved materfamilias in terms of being a lowly "fan" -- when in fact a mother must create a kind of atomic fusion inside of her in order for each of us to exist. What "fan" does that? But for the Backstreet Boys, with their pronounced Freudian shortcomings, mom's perfection can only be couched in such terms. At least it's heartfelt; and it's nothing a few years of intensive counseling can't cure. 

"Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys": Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson

Sample lyric: "Don't let 'em pick guitars and drive them old trucks/Make 'em be doctors and lawyers and such"

I heart mom: A cautionary tale advising mothers to raise their sons to become part of the white collar workforce rather than ranch hands or cow pokes (for fear that such men would be "always alone" -- a dagger in many a mum's quivering heart) the song inadvertently underscores the underlying pathos of parenthood. It presupposes that a certain powerless mommy has to help her ne'er do well son find contentment vis a vis his impulses toward drunkenness and whoring.

"I'll Always Love My Mama": The Intruders

Sample lyric: "Sometimes I feel so bad when I think about the things I used to do/How mama used to clean somebody else's house just to get me a new pair of shoes"

I heart mom: The corollary to feeling joy at the thought of a mother's tender mercies and nurturing impulse are feelings of profound guilt. If you love mom, you should feel bad for being such a little jerk -- especially during adolescence -- toward the single person in the world who doles out unquestioning love and unstinting acceptance.

So what if she could be kind of a nag about telling you to clean up your room or embarrassed you by singing all weird during the national anthem at the Dodgers game? Sorry for everything, Mom! You're a saint.

"Mama Told Me Not to Come": Three Dog Night

Sample lyric: "That ain't the way to have fun, son!"

I heart mom: The lesson here is mommy knows best. She was livin' la vida loca before you were even a twinkle in her eye. And while your attendance at "the craziest party that ever could be" might be a borderline traumatic experience for you, she has seen decadence and depravity you couldn't likely imagine during her time on this planet. Ergo, don't discount mom's admonishments just because she forced you to floss two times a day and drove your sister to ballet practice.

-- Chris Lee

Photo: LL Cool J. Credit: Los Angles Times