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Another Music Mix

A Gentle Reader has asked me to pose the following question to the rest of y’all: what are the best rock/pop/soul/etc. songs about parenthood?

It’s a tough one. I thought I would just open up the music player and easily come up with ten songs for a Parenthood Mix, and then I’d open it up for y’all to fill in the last few tracks. The problem is ... rock songwriters don’t write about raising children. They write about cars, they write about girls, they write about girls in cars, but they don’t write about raising children.

All right, let’s get to it. There are three main categories of Songs About Parenthood that come up in these discussions. First, there’s the category typified by Stevie Wonder’s song for his daughter, “Isn’t She Lovely?” These are songs to celebrate the birth of a baby. Miracle songs, songs of love and awe, songs of near-generic happiness and, occasionally, terror. Songs that come to mind include the Barenaked Ladies’ “When You Dream” and Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young”. Sometimes the child isn’t a baby, like in the Eurythmics’ “Beautiful Child”, but it goes in this category because it’s essentially just an expression of love coupled with a somewhat frustrated urge to protect, that is, a celebration of the existence of the child, not a song about actually raising the child.

The second category is a song of advice, given from a parent to a child, often one who is explicitly too young to yet understand such advice. My favorite of these is the XTC song “Garden of Earthly Delights”, but I’m also fond of a Fred Small song called “Everything Possible” (this may be outside the genre restrictions, being essentially folk, in which genre you will find more such songs). “Sean” by The Proclaimers could be in this category, too, but I’m pretty sure it’s an older sibling giving advice (Sean, I’d say the best one came from Tupelo, Mississippi/I’ll tell you know that grown men cry, and Irish girls are pretty/Though fear and hurt and care can lead me to despair/I saw why I’m here the morning you appeared), not a father.

The third category is songs by Paul Simon.

You’ll notice that the first two categories do not involve any actual parenting. Mr. Simon writes about, oh, taking his nine-year-old son to Graceland, or telling his kids about the first time he met their mother. Or tucking his boy in to bed, or about his hopes for his child’s future. Like that. As my Gentle Reader put it, good songs about being a good parent, or trying to be a good parent and missing the mark occasionally, or what have you. I’d like to have more songs in this category, the Paul Simon category. Not by Paul Simon, but songs about being a good parent, or trying to be.

Well, I’ll mention a few songs that came up in my musing. The first thing that came to mind was “Stay Up Late” by the Talking Heads. It’s from the sibling’s point of view, actually: “Mommy had/a little baby/There he is/fast asleep/He’s just/a little plaything/Why not/wake him up?” It’s not really about parenting, except that it’s really (I think) a parent singing from the pretended point of view of the older siblings. David Byrne also wrote a very odd song called “Now I’m Your Mom” about transgender parenting (“Oh little girl/Please understand/And listen to the words I say/I was your dad/Now I'm your mom/I hope you'll comprehend someday”) but it’s much more about the gender thing than the parenting thing.

Ken Batts (Has anybody heard of this guy? Why do I have his CD?) has a quite lovely song called “Lobster Keychains” about buying his kids, well, lobster keychains, which is absolutely about parenting, but is, you know, folk. Like that. As I mentioned, that does open it up.

Squeeze “Up the Junction” is a wonderful song, and there is just a trifle of parenting in it, enough to have it come to mind, but seriously, no.

Uncle Bonsai has a very depressing song called “In it for the Children”, which is from the point of view of the parents, but has no actual parenting. A powerful song. No. Possible to include “Don’t Put It in your Mouth” in the list, though, but that’s stretching it.

Googling turns out a bunch of songs I don’t know. David Bowie, Kooks? Dar Williams, The One who Knows? Cocteau Twins, Pur? Jimmy Buffett, Delaney Talks to Statues? Do y’all know these tunes? Are they good?

Let’s exclude from consideration (for the purposes of the discussion) songs about parents, but told from the child’s point of view. If we have to include “Cat’s in the Cradle”, we will, but I’d rather not, because the narrator doesn’t actually talk about his experience of parenting (at the end, sort of). But no you were wonderful, mother or what a dad I had songs—they can be great, and when it comes to making an actual mix, my Gentle Reader may be well advised to include one or two, but I’m really looking for songs from the parent’s point of view, about having a kid (or kids) and ... whatever the song is about. Taking a kid to a ballgame. Going shopping with the girl. First day of school. Jamming with your kid’s band. Somethin’.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

Lisa and I gave you the Ken Batts CD. He was a Boston-area folksinger, but stopped performing as far as I know 4 or 5 years ago.

On one of our first dates we went to the Nameless Coffeehouse to see another performer, and discovered Ken. We got there early, he played Tangled for us during the soundcheck, and we saw him perform about a dozen times over the next couple of years at various venues around eastern Massachusetts. Always short sets, because folk venues around here always have multiple performers in an evening. We finally decided that the only way we'd hear him do more than a short set would be to hire him to do a house concert, and he was our first (and so far only) house concert performer here.


"My Hometown" by Springsteen.


"I Am A Child," Neil Young?

"Step On My Old Size Nines," Stereophonics? I mean, you could interpret it that way. I think it's got some wistful "Gee it would be nice to have a kid," kind of stuff going on, but I don't think it's really in the category... Maybe not so much.

Ray Davies almost certainly has something to offer, but I don't have a very deep knowledge of his opus.

Hm, that is a toughie...


"The third category is songs by Paul Simon." Heh. Yeah, that about sums it up. :-)

Michael, thank you for reminding me about "My Hometown," which I always think of as a song about, well, home towns and the economic collapse of the rust belt, but is also a song about parenting (and unsafe child restraint practices in motor vehicles). That's definitely going in the mix.

Into the first category I'd add that Creed song from some years back "With Arms Wide Open" that seems to be used as the soundtrack for every single birth video on YouTube. I'm not putting it on the mix, though. Gack.

Oh, and folk is totally within the genre restrictions; I just didn't want a whole mix of charming folk songs about lobster keychains and the like. In fact, when posing the question to Our Gracious Host I thought to myself, "surely Joan Baez has a handful of songs about kids and parenting...?" But this brings up a side question, which is, why are all these songs by men and from the perspective of fathers? Interesting gender implications there...


Oh, and thank you for excluding "Cat's in the Cradle." I had originally intended to specify that the mix NOT include that, but forgot.


Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young's "Teach your Children" seems to fit the category. Folk-Rock, I guess.

I would absolutely include "Don't Put It in your Mouth," even if it might not be only about parenting . . .


I don't know rock/pop/soul so well, but I'll toss in the first folk and country songs that come to mind off the top of my head. These are a mix of "watching your kid grow up" songs and "wow, cool, it's a baby!" songs.

Butterfly Kisses, Bob Carlisle (I always found the lyrics just slightly creepy, though, perhaps because I wasn't familiar with the phrase "butterfly kisses")

In a similar vein, Turn Around (that version by Nanci Griffith, but there are other nice ones by John McCutcheon and Priscilla Herdman, and a much slower version by Kenny Loggins)

Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel), Billy Joel

Welcome to the World, Si Kahn; not to be confused with an entirely different song called Welcome to the World, which I'd never heard of 'til now but sounds pretty.

Cindy Kallet's "Song for Margaret" contains one of my favorite lines from a brand-new-baby song: "Oh, Margaret, your name is longer than you."

Pete Seeger recorded a version of Tom Paxton's "A Little Brand New Baby," which won't win any awards for clever lyrics but is still fun.

I suspect that John McCutcheon and Lui Collins both have good parenting songs but I'm blanking.

I put together a set of lullabyes for Mary Anne recently, but that's not really the same thing. Still, there are a couple of advice-for-too-young-kids songs there, including "Everything Possible" and John McCutcheon's "Wish You Goodnight."


John McCutcheon has a song about advice "on the Kindergarden wall". I can't remember the title but the chorus goes like this:

Of all the things that you learn
Remember this the best:
Don't hurt each other
And clean up your mess.

Take a nap every day,
Wash before you eat,
Hold hands, stick together
Look before you cross the street

And remember the seed
In the little paper cup
First the root grows down
Before the tree grows up.

I think I heard him perform that song in concert. It's not on either of the two albums of his that I have.

It's a schooling song rather than a parenting song, I guess, but there's some overlap between those themes.

It also seems to me that Lui Collins has some parenting songs, but I can't remember them, either.


Well if we're posting lyrics, rather than songs you might actually be able to find, I thought of this one, by the short-lived emo outfit Hodag, from DC, back in the day. Good luck finding any of their music. These lyrics have stuck with me for nearly two decades, though, after hearing them a handful of times...

I hope some day I have a son His mom could be anyone She'll be the soft virgin sucker That my mother was Will he have my eyes I will tell him his first lies Won't he be surprised When he's older But what if he fails What then Well, I really don't know What if he fails What then Well, I really can't say But I pray I won't make a machine of my kid

peace
Matt


Excellent question!

The Coup's "Wear Clean Draws" falls under the heading of advice songs, but with unusually specific exhortations that approach actual parenting: "Life is a challenge so you gotta team up./ When you play house pretend, let the man clean up," and "wash your hands after using the toilet/ brush after every meal."


I put forth for your consideration these two songs:

Roy Zimmerman's ode to parenthood, Hollywood-style, called "Nothing but the Best":
http://www.royzimmerman.com/lyrics/peacenick_best.html

and Paul & Storm's "A Better Version of You":

http://www.paulandstorm.com/lyrics/a-better-version-of-you/

Both songs move me, but I'm kind of sentimental like that...


Greg Brown's "Daughters"?

Not, admittedly, rock, or even pop.

(Aside: I am so sorely tempted to put a comma after every word in the previous sentence except the final one. Style aside, would that be at least marginally grammatical?)


I don't know if I'd put it in a mix, but I've just noticed that Squeeze's "Can of Worms" fits the category of being about parenting. It's from the point of view of the mother's new boyfriend, though.

Thanks,
-V.


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