Mothers: Popular in Popular Music


This Sunday we celebrate Mother’s Day. Make no mistake; this is one of the most important annual events on the calendar. Mothers are at the epicenter of everything in our lives. They are our conscience, our advisor, our friend, our guide, our pain in the neck, our anchor, and often our life preserver. Where do you go when you’re confused, lonely, depressed, or in deep shit? You go to mom. Who’s the first person you call when something great has happened to you? You can’t wait to tell mom. And to a large extent this carries on from childhood to late adulthood or until your mom passes away. Even then, her memory and moral compass guide you through both good and bad times. Even after her death, you go to her figuratively to find comfort and peace. Those who do not have great relationships with their mothers grapple with many unresolved emotions, and this is because a consistently bad relationship with your mother is the very epitome of an unbalanced life. You cannot truly be happy in life if you’re estranged from your mother. Of course a disconnect with your mother is far less common than a disconnect with your father, mainly because the mother-child connection is so strongly rooted in both biological and societal aspects that is relatively rarely goes completely to shit. And thankfully most of us have at least a consistently loving relationship with, or memory of, our mothers.

So how has this mother-child connection manifested itself in popular music? The idea of mother is rather common and widespread in the lyrics of some of our most famous and well-known rock acts. Two standouts are John Lennon’s “Mother” from his debut solo album Plastic Ono Band and “Mother” from Pink Floyd’s The Wall. These two songs explore the emotional legacy left by mothers; the former addresses painful absence and the latter oppressive omnipresence. Then we have the Rolling Stones’ “Mother’s Little Helper,” a biting commentary on the despondent stay-at-home mom and the corresponding rise of anti-anxiety prescriptions in the 1960s. Of course we cannot forget the country music “mama” songs, which usually depict the mother in a helpless role as her son falls prey to a wayward life: Merle Haggard’s prison song “Mama Tried,” Waylon and Willie’s “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies (Grow up to be Cowboys),” and “Mama He’s Crazy” by the Judds. We also see the idea of mother used metaphorically, such as in “Mother Nature’s Son” by the Beatles and “Mother Earth” by Neil Young. Both of these songs explore the primordial image of mother as having reign over the nurturing and replenishing elements of the natural elements of our planet.

As we can see, the mother theme is prevalent in popular music – although the particular aspects of this theme vary greatly. We embrace these well-known and celebrated lyrics for the same reason we embrace our mothers: for the deep, complicated, and powerful emotions of the relationship. The best songwriters create directly from personal experience, so it’s no accident that we enjoy a vast array of mother songs in society’s most celebrated musical genre. I always wonder, however, how a mother feels when she hears Pink Floyd’s “Mother” on the radio. Does she ask herself if she indeed has helped her child build an emotional wall in a futile attempt to shut out the dangers of society? And has this overbearing influence affected her child in any way? Then again, she probably just dismisses it and says to herself, “I’d never do that to my child.” After all, everybody’s mother is the best mother in the world.

So don’t be a cheapskate this Sunday. Splurge on something nice for mom. And tell her she’s the best.


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