RECOMMENDED: All Mother's Day ideas
1. "Dear Mama," Tupac
The mom-love-rap-song par excellence, and a song so powerful that in 2010 the Library of Congress deemed it worthy of being preserved in the National Recording Registry. Its expression of love is unbridled: In its first bars, Shakur nods, "You are appreciated," before outlining his teenage misdemeanors up until jail time—and the stress he's given his mother: "I finally understand as a women it ain't easy to raise a man." What makes it such a tear-jerker—Eminem's favorite song, no less—is that Shakur's flow is rueful but respectful, never hammy. Similarly, the samples (the Spinners and Joe Sample) are pretty but not cloying. The fact that he died a year after its release, age 25, makes it even harder listening. Something in your eye, you say?
2. "Mother," Danzig
Perhaps the toughest mommy anthem ever cut, this track—from the 1988 debut by Glenn Danzig's namesake band—finds the former Misfit sneering at the idea of parental control. "Can you keep 'em in the dark for life?" Danzig wonders. "Can you hide 'em from the waitin' world?" As he howls out "Mother!" with an Elvis-y sneer, it's pretty clear where he stands on the issue.
3. "Mother," John Lennon
When your mother worries about what will come up as you begin a course of psychotherapy, she's basically thinking about this song from 1970, written after Lennon underwent primal therapy. A doomy clang of what can only be British church bells opens the track—and then Lennon's voice kicks in, a veritable ray of sun through the clouds, until you realize he's singing about being abandoned by his mum ("I wanted you, you didn't want me"). If ever ambivalence were soul-crushing, it's in the chorus to this song. "Mama don't go! Daddy come home!" Oh, there's some tissues right next to you. That's what they're there for.
4. "That Was Your Mother," Paul Simon
Yes, your parents were once cool. As in, cooler than you. Go check out the family Polaroids if you don't believe us—or just listen to Rhymin' Simon's shimmying cajun romance from 1986 family-fave Graceland. "Along come a young girl, she was pretty as a prayer book, sweet as an apple on Christmas day..." Mom and pop eye each other up, get a little red wine, go dancing—and you couldn't have been further from their minds. Believe it. Now go buy your mom something pretty and non-sensible.
5. "Mama Said Knock You Out," LL Cool J
This certified gold single from the album of the same name catapulted LL Cool J into the big time in '91—and James Brown's funky drummer sample into chart-consciousness for an entire decade. But LL couldn't have done it without his Grandma who supposedly instructed him to K.O. his critics. Respect is due. We just want to know if the old dear nagging him at the end of the video is the lady in question.
6. "Simple Man," Lynyrd Skynyrd
After the deaths of Ronnie Van Zant's grandmother and Gary Rossington's mother, the Southern rock royals of Lynyrd Skynyrd got together and penned this song, sharing advice the wise women had given them over the years about how to live and how to love. Touching for its philosophical message and heart-pulling chord progressions, it might remind you that whenever your mom nags you—she really just wants the best for you. Sniffle.
7. "Stacy's Mom," Fountains of Wayne
Offering a twist on the old "Dude, your mom's hot" riff (see: Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure), this Cars-y power-pop confection finds our narrator trying to sweet-talk his way into the home of a female friend, while harboring a skeevy ulterior motive. "Stacy, can't you see? / You're just not the girl for me," he tells her, before confessing, "I know it might be wrong / But I'm in love with Stacy's mom."
8. "Mother's Little Helper," Rolling Stones
Being a mum is hard work, kids (especially in England). So the Stones' 1966 hit reminds us, with its dark, twangy chords evoking the altered reality of barbituate-addicted houswives. What's a mom to do when her cooking, cleaning and child-rearing goes unappreciated by her husband?: "She goes running for the shelter of her mother's little helper," shrugs Mick Jagger. Let's hope she doesn't overdose to the tune of Keith Richards's ironically upbeat riffs. So remember, your own career-driven mother may have evaded the Betty Draper-trap, but she's probably got even more on her plate. A little acknowledgment goes a long way.
9. "Mother Stands for Comfort," Kate Bush
If you think mom will do anything for you then, according to this melancholy songstress, you're right. Never one to shy away from controversial (or just plain weird) subjects, Kate Bush rasps about a mother who hides the crimes her child is forced to commit by the voices in his head. Too bleak for you? Check out her jolly Elizabethan ode to motherhood, "Bertie," from the album Aerial.
10. "Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean"
Ah, complaining to your mom. Does it ever get tiring? No, at least not for the complainee. In this knockout hit from 1953, R&B saucepot Ruth Brown whines for all she's worth about the terrible man she's seeing—who is also, it's clear, giving her the time of her life ("Mama he makes me squeeze him! Still my squeeze don't please him!"). What's a mother to do?
11. "Mother," Pink Floyd
12. "Sylvia's Mother," Dr. Hook
Written by Shel Silverstein about a true-life heartbreak, "Sylvia's Mother" hit number one all over the world in 1972—a testament to just how desperate most of the record-buying public have felt. One can only imagine Sylvia's mom felt pretty lackluster after that telephone conversation, too.
13. "Mama," Genesis