With Mother’s Day weighing heavily on my mind this year (what do you buy for someone that gave you the gift of life?), I pulled together this playlist of my favorite rock–or very close to–songs about motherhood. Either from the perspective of children or mothers, sorrowful or joyous, this playlist brought me a lot of comfort as I navigated what to do for the woman who gave me everything.
1. Tunic (Song For Karen) by Sonic Youth
Penned as a retrospective ode to The Carpenter’s Karen Carpenter, the song doubles as a fiery anthem for daughter’s everywhere with the lyrics ‘Hey mom! Look I’m up here, I finally made it/I’m playing the drums again too/Don’t be sad, the band doesn’t sound half bad/And I remember mom, what you said/You said honey, you look so underfed’. Featured in the Sonic Youth biography, Sonic Youth: Sensational Fix, Gordon’s letter to Carpenter wrote, “I must ask you, Karen, who were your role models? Was it yr mother? What kind of books did you like to read? Did anyone ever ask you that question—what’s it like being a girl in music?”
‘Make you better/I made you better/You’re inside me/I’m yr mommy,’ belts the Washington rock band off their 1995 debut title album. The song lights upon the concept of the relentless emotional labor women do, often taking on the role of mother for anyone besides children. ‘Fix it for you/I fixed it for you/But I don’t wanna/Be your mama/I know what is going on here/I always make you so stronger/Can’t you see that I need to?/Can’t you see that I need to, yeah?’
From the 1994 album of the same name, this tender track describes the many ways Phair plans to raise her son with both masculine and feminine traits. She says she’ll raise him to be pretty, wary of anyone coming onto him, and of course, whip-smart. The song ends with an allusion to the fairy tale of Rapunzel, with Phair singing, ‘And I’m gonna lock my son up in a tower/’Til he learns to let his hair down far enough to climb outside.’
4. I’m Crying (Mother’s Tears) by Grace Jones
Leave it to new-wave superstar Jones’ masterful lyricism to seamlessly knit together memories of her mother from her childhood with how they affect her as a grown woman. The song hails from the 2018 album Hurricane, Jones’ tenth studio album and first one of new material in nineteen years. Born in 1948, the singer just headlined AfroPunk’s Fancy Dress Ball in 2015.
Is there another song written in the last 40 years that more easily moves a parent to tears? Although written by Stevie Nicks while staring out at the Colorado mountainside after some hard personal times–and not directly about motherhood–the song’s chorus often makes it a favorite amongst mothers: ‘Well, I’ve been afraid of changing/Cause I’ve built my life around you/But time makes you bolder/Even children get older/And I’m getting older, too.’
Naturally, the eclectic and theatrical Bush’s song on maternity is from the perspective of the mother of a killer. ‘Mother stands for comfort/Mother will hide the murderer/Mother hides the madman/Mother will stay mum,’ Bush sings. “Well, the personality that sings this track is very unfeeling in a way. And the cold qualities of synths and machines were appropriate here. There are many different kinds of love and the track’s really talking about the love of a mother, and in this case she’s the mother of a murderer, in that she’s basically prepared to protect her son against anything,” Bush stated in a 1992 interview with Richard Skinner of BBC Radio 1.
7. Ode To My Family by The Cranberries
If Landslide can make a parent cry, Ode To My Family queues the waterworks of daughters everywhere. Singer Dolores O’Riordan wrote the song about how the decision to become a musician affected her Irish family, and the conflicts that followed. “Ode to My Family was written when I first came to America with The Cranberries,” O’Riordan said in an interview with SongFacts.com. “I was away from my family and friends and I was lonely, so I wrote that.”
Santigold’s playful 2016 electronica-rock album 99¢ followed the arrival of another huge addition in the artist’s life–her son. ‘Mama says a what she want/Mama says a what she want/ If you mess with me, you wrestlin’ with the deep/I tell you what,’ sings the art pop artist in this catchy song. As flirty as it is vicious, this powerful track reclaims motherhood’s oft-described drabness through celebrating the revolutionary power of them. ‘Baby cry, she hush him up/Hubby think he run the show/Go to work, she wreckin’ shit like a bulldozer, rake it up.’