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The Ultimate Mother’s Day Playlist

Your mom deserves the best, and we’ve got it – from Jay-Z to Joni Mitchell

Mother's Day playlist


The annals of music folklore are full of unforgettable moms. There’s tough mothers, saintly mothers, evil mothers, motorcycle mamas, mothers of invention. Some stars love to do emotional tributes to their mamas, from Tupac to Taylor, from Dolly to Drake. Others celebrate the fearsome bad-ass maternal figures — whether it’s LL Cool J’s mama telling him to knock you out, or Rosalita’s mama chasing Bruce Springsteen off the porch with a broom. So here’s a few of our favorite mom songs, from pop, rock, hip-hop, R&B, and country.

The Shirelles, ‘Mama Said’

So much good advice to be learned from the wise moms of Sixties girl-group pop. In Motown, Diana Ross and the Supremes took their troubles to “Mother Dear”; over in Chicago, Jan Bradley sang “Mama Didn’t Lie.” But the sentimental faves have to be The Shirelles, who get through tough times by remembering, “Mama said there’ll be days like this.”

Merle Haggard, ‘Mama Tried’

Hag’s ultimate outlaw tale, sung from behind the bars of a jail cell. He grew up the rebel child of the family, while his saintly mama cried over him. Turning 21 in prison, doing life without parole, Merle recalls how she struggled to raise him right. But as he sings, “That leaves only me to blame, ‘cause mama tried.”

Kacey Musgraves, ‘Mother’

A short interlude on Golden Hour, only 1:18 long, but straight from the heart, as Kacey sings about living too far away from her mother, missing her over the miles from Tennessee to Texas. She revealed that she wrote it after getting a text from her mom while tripping on acid. Now that’s relatable.

Lynyrd Skynyrd, ‘Simple Man’

Can you imagine how tough Ronnie Van Zant’s mama must have been? Now there’s a hard-ass Southern matriarch for you – she probably shot down a lot of free birds in her day. But Marion Van Zant gave Ronnie this advice: “Baby, be a simple kind of man/Be something you love and understand.” And he spent his life doing her proud. Of all the classic-rock mom tributes, “Simple Man” is the one that never fails to get those lighters lifted high and bring a tear to a biker’s eye.

Beyoncé, ‘Ring Off’

Beyoncé pledges her love to Tina Knowles, in one of her most personal songs, in the aftermath of her parents’ divorce. She tells her mother, “Always know you got a daughter who’s proud you took the high road,” and adds, “You a killer, you so sexy!” It ends with words from Tina herself: “If you’re going through it, just know it’s called ‘going through it’—you’re not gonna get stuck there. You’re not gonna die, you’re gonna survive.”

Lucy Dacus, ‘My Mother and I’

Dacus wrote this for Mother’s Day in 2019, but she isn’t going for hearts and flowers, as you can tell from the opening lines: “My mother hates her body / We share the same outline / She swears that she loves mine.” It’s for both her mothers—the one who raised her and the biological one she just met at 19. An astoundingly powerful song about growing up, guilt, and inheritance, with the kicker: “All she has given/All I have taken / All is forgiven / All is forsaken.”

Danzig, ‘Mother’

Glenn Danzig, the musclebound Misfits belter from hell, warns the mothers of the world not to let their children listen to evil music like this. He isn’t wrong.

Jay-Z, ‘December 4’

Has any artist ever created so many classic songs about his mother? Shawn Carter might hold the record, from “Blueprint (Momma Loves Me)” to “Smile,” where he stands by Gloria Carter as she comes out. But the Black Album jam “December 4″ is where they co-narrate the whole story of their hard-knock life together. Gloria recalls that he was “the only one who didn’t give me any pain when I gave birth to him.” Jay admits he made up for that later.

Carole King, ‘Where You Lead’

Carole King wrote a classic ode to mom/daughter bonding—without even realizing she’d done it. When she sang “Where You Lead” on Tapestry, she considered it an adult love song. But years later, when it became the Gilmore Girls theme, King finally realized this is what the song was always meant to be. She asked Toni Stern to rework the lyrics, and sang it as a duet with her daughter Louise Goffin.

The Stratford 4, ‘Telephone’

A psychedelic shoegaze guitar tale about a rock & roll mom who’s partied harder than you ever will. Alone late at night, weary from too much dancing and decadence every night, he calls his mother for advice. She tells him, “When I was 22/I was a lot like you,” and orders him to go play some more Dylan and Stones albums. Coolest rock & roll mom in any song, ever.

Diana Ross and the Supremes, ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’

The Supremes scored a Number One hit with this Motown mama-said classic. When these lonely girls feel like they can’t go on, all they have to do is remember what mama taught them: “You can’t hurry love / No, you just have to wait / Just trust, give it time/No matter how long it takes.” Listen to the woman—she knows what she’s talking about. Diana Ross gives one of her finest vocals, while James Jamerson lays down the mother of all basslines.

LL Cool J, ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’

You know, LL was totally right about the whole “don’t call it a comeback” thing. He’d just had one of his biggest and best hits in 1989, “I’m That Type of Guy.” But somehow the criticism spurred him to prove to Ma Dukes that her boy was indeed the future of the funk, in this old-school rap banger. LL’s mama Ondrea Smith makes a cameo in the video, calling him by his given name “Todd.”

Alicia Keys, ‘Superwoman’

Alicia sends this anthem out to superwomen everywhere, especially the moms, singing, “This is for all the mothers fighting for better days to come.”

Joni Mitchell, ‘Let The Wind Carry Me’

A Seventies meditation on changing gender roles, as Joni Mitchell looks at her own troubled relationship with her mother, re-evaluating her rebellious teen years in light of her adult perspective. A highlight of her most underrated masterpiece, For The Roses.

Funkadelic, ‘Cosmic Slop’

A young man moans over grimy Hendrix-gone-uptown guitars about being haunted by his mama’s deal with the forces of evil: To feed her kids, she sold herself as a dancer to the devil. (Take that, Ozzy!) He hears her voice calling in his drugged-out head – “Would you like to dance with me?/I’m doing the cosmic slop” – as the guitars voice her soul.

OutKast, ‘Ms. Jackson’

Of all the songs for the baby-mamas’ mamas, this OutKast classic has to be the saddest and most honest. Andre 3000 sings, “Never meant to make your daughter cry.”

Japanese Breakfast, ‘Psychopomp’

A poignant moment on Japanese Breakfast’s breakthrough album. Michelle Zauner devotes Psychopomp to mourning her mother Chongmi, a woman she portrays so beautifully in her memoir Crying in H Mart. It’s a synth-and-guitar setting for a voicemail from her mother consoling her, by saying “gwenchanta,” or “it’s all right” in Korean.

The Beach Boys, ‘Mama Says’

Brian Wilson leads his bros through a brief a cappella tribute to maternal wisdom: “Eat a lot, sleep a lot, brush ’em like crazy/Run a lot, do a lot, never be lazy.” It’s the finale to their classic Wild Honey, ending on a note of family harmony.

2Chainz featuring YG and Offset, ‘Proud’

Three rap legends remind everyone they’re in the game just to make their mamas proud. 2Chainz remembers how they used to trap together out of the same house: “Me and mama got busted at the same time/Went to court and told the judge the same damn lies.” As he said, “We starved together, struggled together, hustled together, smiled together.”

Jan Bradley, ‘Mama Didn’t Lie’

A Chicago soul classic from Jan Bradley. Her mama didn’t raise no fool, teaching her the ways of the world: men are trash, don’t believe a word they say, stay in school. “She said, ‘Girl, stay in your class / You got a whole lot of growing and a-learning to do / So girl, don’t you go so fast.” Jan Bradley’s mama didn’t lie, and neither did Jan.

Madonna, ‘Promise To Try’

Madonna at her most autobiographical. “Promise To Try” was never a hit, or even a single, but it’s the intimate piano ballad at the heart of her classic confessional Like a Prayer. Madonna Louise Ciccone remembers the mother who shared her name, telling herself, “Never forget her eyes/Keep them alive inside.” She dedicated the album “to my mother, who taught me to pray.”

The Spinners, ‘Sadie’

If your mama has a taste for old-school Philly soul—and who doesn’t?—“Sadie” is the one. The Spinners never sounded sweeter, with everyone on the team putting their hearts into it—the genius producer Thom Bell, the house band MFSB, lead singer Phillipe Wynne hailing “the premier of ladies.”

Kanye West, ‘Hey Mama’

Kanye pays tribute to Donda West, a few years before her tragic death, with an emotional powerhouse from the jam-packed back-half of Late Registration, when he was still touching the sky. And there’s a sample of “Sadie.”

Sleater-Kinney, ‘Little Babies’

A catchy, hilarious, but tough-talking guitar rager about moms and daughters, with all of their conflicts. The punk rock goddesses in Sleater-Kinney make “Little Babies” one of the highlights of their classic Dig Me Out, with Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein trading off lines in a good-cop/bad-cop maternal dialogue, until they explode into the irresistibly rowdy chorus. Best rock-mom line: “Are you hungry? Did you eat before the show?” 

B.B. King, ‘Nobody Loves Me But My Mother’

B.B. King sings the blues, with the immortal line, “Nobody loves me but my mother, and she could be jiving too.”

Kate Bush, ‘Mother Stands For Comfort’

You know how sometimes you decide to drop in on your mom for a little surprise visit? Because you’ve just committed a murder and you need a place to hide, and you know she’ll take you in no matter what? Kate Bush makes this one of her most beautifully disturbing odes to motherly devotion.

Bruce Springsteen, ‘Rosalita’

“I know your mama, she don’t like me/’Cause I play in a rock & roll band.” Rosie’s ma is a real hard-ass, but she’s a lot cooler than Sherry’s. To this day, Mama Rosalita is probably still shaking her damn head at that skinny guy from the swamps of Jersey.

Bruce Springsteen, ‘The Wish’

Another Bruce classic, but a very different story: “The Wish” is a tribute to his real-life mother Adele, and an emotional highlight of his Springsteen on Broadway show. He pulls up in a hot rod and tells mom, “We’ll find us a little rock & roll bar and baby, we’ll go out and dance.” They always loved that. “My mother and her two sisters were dancing machines,” he recalls in the Broadway introduction. “When she comes in the door, we make sure there’s music on. She wants to dance.”

The Shangri-Las, ‘Bull Dog’

Four tough-as-leather beehived girls from the mean streets of Queens – including a set of twins – they had the most epic battles with their moms, fighting over greaser boys in hits like “Leader of the Pack.” This time, though, it’s their boyfriend’s mother. “I’m in love with the prettiest boy in the U.S.A./But his momma bought a dog just to keep little me away!” Ma  tries to scare off those lust-crazed Shangri-Las, but it doesn’t work, because no bulldog is as fearsome as a Shangri-La in raging-pheromone mode. If you doubt punk rock women were kicking ass in the Sixties, start here.

The Backstreet Boys, ‘The Perfect Fan’

The boy-band tradition is full of maternal devotion, going back to how New Edition and the New Kids both dedicated their debut albums to their moms. Brian, Howie, Kevin, Nick, and A.J. sum it up with their thank-you to “The Perfect Fan.”

ABBA, ‘Hey Hey Helen’

Abba give some love to the Seventies divorced moms—not a demographic that got much attention on pop radio at the time. But Abba were a lot more candid chronicling the 1970s feminist revolution than supposedly edgier bands. Anni-Frid and Agnetha ask, “Is it worth the pain to see the children cry? Does it hurt when they ask for Daddy?” But they cheer on Helen as she rebuilds her life, to become “a woman of today.” Question: How did Abba’s best mom song get left out of both Mamma Mia movies? 

Junior, ‘Mama Used To Say’

A great one-shot from the Eighties, with Junior Giscombe rising out of the London R&B scene. “Mama Used To Say” was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic, with its zippy electro-soul beat and Junior testifying in the voice of a young Stevie Wonder, as he quotes his mother’s advice: “Live your life!”

Patti Smith, ‘Mother Rose’

Nobody tells family stories like Patti Smith—she wrote the all-time greatest baby-sister song (“Kimberly”), while also chronicling her father, her husband, her kids. But “Mother Rose” is a mystic tribute to her South Jersey mom: “She felt our tears, heard our sighs/And turned to gold before our eyes.”

Neil Young, ‘Cinnamon Girl’

“Mom, send me money now”: How many footloose hippies have sent a letter like that back home since 1969? But only Neil Young was honest enough to admit it in a song.

Ernie K-Doe, ‘Mother-in-Law’

And then there’s this less sentimental blast of New Orleans funk, where Ernie K-Doe compares his wife’s meddling mother to Satan. Allen Toussaint provides the ice-coldest nine-note piano solo in history.

The Intruders, ‘I’ll Always Love My Mama’

Another Philly soul classic from Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, the Intruders’ most famous hit is a family affair, proclaiming, “She’s my favorite girl!” From their album Save the Children, which also had their heart-tugging version of Paul Simon’s “Mother and Child Reunion.”

BTS, ‘Mama’

J-Hope sings of his gratitude to “Mama,” in a gospel-style standout from the BTS album Wings. It starts out in 2006, when he’s a child learning to dance with her help; it follows her support and encouragement over the years, as she teaches Hobi that failure is the mother of success.

The Five Stairsteps, ‘O-o-h Child’

Few vintage soul sounds can soothe a troubled mind like Aloha Burke’s voice as she sings the opening lines of this dusty Chicago groove: “Ooooh child, things are gonna get easier / Ooooh child, things’ll get brighter.”

Al Wilson, ‘Queen of the Ghetto’

The late, great R&B singer is best remembered today for his Number One hit, “Show and Tell,” one of the Seventies’ suavest love jams. But Wilson got grittier in his ode to a matriarch who did what she had to do to put food on the table – and he’s nothing but proud.

Johnny Paycheck, ‘I’m The Only Hell (My Mama Ever Raised)’

A classic of outlaw country, the twanged-up honky-tonk tale of a bad, bad man who’s done some evil deeds—but he’s always got a soft spot for Mama. (And ONLY for Mama.) Johnny Paycheck, the ornery hombre who sang “Take This Job and Shove It,” makes the whole bar sing along: “She tried to turn me on to Jesus/But I turned to the devil’s ways/And I turned out to be the only hell my mama ever raised!”