A suburban mother’s role is to deliver children obstetrically once,
and by car forever after.
– Peter De Vries
Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina scored their biggest hit with 1972’s “Your Mama Don’t Dance.” The song looks back at a time when parents railed against rock and roll music instead of competing with their kids for the most Facebook friends. During a 2006 reunion tour, Loggins told Pop Culture that the duo performs the song as audiences remember it.
“When we play it now, it’s evocative of a time in their lives that was simpler, no responsibility, nothing but fun. For a moment in time, we take them back. We don’t jazz it up. We try to keep it the music of that time.
“To me, the most gratifying part is when I can nail an emotional situation so well that it becomes a part of someone’s life … and is adopted as the soundtrack to their lives. I’ve been lucky in that way.”
In 1989, Poison released an amped-up version of “Your Mama Don’t Dance” that reached the Top Ten.
“Your Mama Don’t Dance” by Loggins and Messina
“Your Mama Don’t Dance” by Poison
In 1966 “Mother’s Little Helper” co-writers Mick Jagger and Keith Richards described the growing dependence on calming drugs like Valium. “I get inspiration from things that are happening around me – everyday life as I see it,” Jagger said in Rolling Stones Monthly. “People say I’m always singing about pills and breakdowns, therefore I must be an addict – this is ridiculous. Some people are so narrow-minded they won’t admit to themselves that this really does happen to other people beside pop stars.”
“Mick’s always written a lot about it,” Richards told Rolling Stone. “A lot of the stuff Chuck Berry and early rock writers did was putting down that other generation […] We used to laugh at those people, but they must have gotten the message right away because they tried to put rock and roll down, trying to get it off the radio, off records.”
“Mother’s Little Helper” by the Rolling Stones
When writing “Lady Madonna,” Paul McCartney asked producer George Martin about the boogie-woogie piano rhythm in the 1956 tune “Bad Penny Blues.” Martin was A&R head at Parlophone when Humphrey Lyttleton recorded the trad-jazz tune. “‘Lady Madonna’ was me sitting down at the piano trying to write a bluesy boogie-woogie thing,” McCartney recalled in Many Years From Now. “I got my left hand doing an arpeggio thing with the chord, an ascending boogie-woogie left hand, then a descending right hand. I always liked that, the juxtaposition of a line going down meeting a line going up. That was basically what it was. It reminded me of Fats Domino for some reason, so I started singing a Fats Domino impression. It took my voice to a very odd place.”
“Lady Madonna” reached No. 4 in 1968. “The original concept was the Virgin Mary but it quickly became symbolic of every woman; the Madonna image but as applied to ordinary working class women,” continued McCartney. “It’s really a tribute to the mother figure, it’s a tribute to women.”
“Lady Madonna” by Paul McCartney & Wings
“Bad Penny Blues” by Humphrey Lyttleton
Cartoonist Shel Silverstein wrote whimsical hits like “A Boy Named Sue” and “The Cover of Rolling Stone” but took a more sober turn with “Sylvia’s Mother,” a No. 5 hit in 1972 for Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show. That year Silverstein explained in Rolling Stone that the song was largely autobiographical. Silverstein had hoped to win back a woman named Sylvia Pandolfi.
“I just changed the last name, not to protect the innocent, but because it didn’t fit. It happened about eight years ago and was pretty much the way it was in the song. I called Sylvia and her mother said, ‘She can’t talk to you.’ I said, ‘Why not?’ Her mother said she was packing and she was leaving to get married, which was a big surprise to me. The guy was in Mexico and he was a bullfighter and a painter. At the time I thought that was like being a combination brain surgeon and encyclopedia salesman. Her mother finally let me talk to her, but her last words were, ‘Shel, don’t spoil it.’ For about ten seconds I had this ego charge, as if I could have spoiled it. I couldn’t have spoiled it with a sledge hammer.”
“Sylvia’s Mother” by Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show
Legendary New Orleans musician Allen Toussaint wrote and produced Ernie K-Doe’s “Mother-in-Law,” a No. 1 hit on the pop and R&B charts in 1961. Toussaint told NPR that he was frustrated after a few unsuccessful takes and threw the song away.
“I just balled it up and put it in the trashcan, like I did with many efforts back then. But one of the backup singers, Willie Hopper, he thought it was just a delightful song and he took it out of the trashcan when I took a short break, and went over to K-Doe and said, ‘Look, try this again, man. And just calm down and please give it a try again, ’cause it’s a good song.’ And K-Doe did just that, and I’m so glad he did.”
In K-Doe’s 2001 obituary, the New York Times notes that in 1995 the singer opened his Mother-in-Law Lounge in New Orleans. ”There aren’t but three songs that will last for eternity,” he used to tell customers. ”One is ‘Amazing Grace.’ Another is ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’ And the third is ‘Mother-in-Law,’ because as long as there are people on this earth, there will always be mother-in-laws.”
“Mother-in-Law” by Ernie K-Doe
By 1979 Elton John had hit a rough patch in his career. It had been almost three years since he had a big hit. John was unhappy with the tracks he’d recorded two years earlier with Thom Bell, who’d helped created the Philadelphia soul sound of the 1970s. “Producer Thom Bell was an idol of mine,” John told Rolling Stone, “and I was crazy about all that music from Philadelphia: Gamble and Huff, MFSB, the Three Degrees, the O’Jays, Teddy Pendergrass – come on! That era was so great, totally brilliant stuff, never dated.”
But in 1979 “Mama Can’t Buy You Love” became the surprise hit of a three-song EP titled The Thom Bell Sessions ’77. In A House on Fire: The Rise and Fall of Philadelphia Soul, Bell maintains that the EP was given its title “because they were scared of the product, that it wasn’t really Elton. They decided, ‘Well, we’ll hedge our bet. We’ll make it The Thom Bell Sessions. And it came back to hit ’em in the face ’cause it was a hit! I took the bull by the horns and gave the boy a Top Ten record.”
“Mama Can’t Buy You Love” by Elton John
Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson were the original Outlaws, singers who rebelled against the staid Nashville recording formula. Jennings and Nelson insisted on performing songs of their choice with musicians they favored. “‘Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys’ was mine and Willie’s tip of the cowboy hat to our mustang values,” Jennings wrote in Waylon: An Autobiography. “That there was no other country that could have birthed this country music was proven in mid-1978, when the Outlaw clan was invited to the White House by President Jimmy Carter. Willie and his wife Connie went, along with Jessi, my son Buddy, and a few Waylors. I didn’t go. I had been in a room down the hall, doing a snort of cocaine with a local football hero.”
Country singer Ed Bruce first wrote the song in 1975 as “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Guitar Players,” a semi-autobiographical take on his own pursuit of a hit. Bruce’s wife Patsy suggested the change from guitar players to a more romantic image: cowboys. Bruce scored a minor hit with his version but the Jennings-Nelson cover reached No. 1 on the country charts with some crossover success in 1978.
“Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson
“Mother” was released in 1979 as part of Pink Floyd‘s The Wall LP. Written by Roger Waters, it describes how Pink, the rock star at the heart of the story, was raised by an overprotective single mom. “I suppose some mothers neglect their children, but I think an awful lot more of them overprotect them,” Waters told DJ Jim Ladd. “And go on trying to mother you for far too long. Don’t get me wrong – that’s not how I feel about my mother. I don’t feel that that’s exactly what she did. In fact, I think that she gave me, in lots of ways, a reasonable view of the world and what it was like – or as reasonable as she could. Nevertheless, I think that parents tend to indoctrinate their children with their own beliefs far too strongly.”
“Mother” by Pink Floyd
Queen‘s “Tie Your Mother Down” features what the band’s archivists called “one of the most distinctive guitar riffs of all time, a veritable stalwart of any self-respecting Air Guitar compilation.” Written by Brian May in 1968, the song debuted on Queen’s 1976 LP A Day at the Races. “It wasn’t about my mum really,” May told Rockline. “It’s really meant to be a story about a young boy’s frustration and where it leads him, really. It’s a simple as that, it’s not as personal about some of the stuff we’ve done, it’s more fun.
“Sometimes you get a little riff, and you just put some words with it, and then you don’t even think about what they mean. Now I remember thinking, this isn’t a good enough title for this song, but everyone said: ‘Well actually, it sounds okay,’ and so we kind of lyrically built it around that. That’s the truth, folks.”
“Tie Your Mother Down” by Queen
The inspiration for Paul Simon‘s “Mother and Child Reunion” came when he and his first wife Peggy lost a beloved pet. “We had a dog that was run over and killed, and we loved this dog,” Simon told Rolling Stone. “It was the first death I had ever experienced personally. Nobody in my family died that I felt that. But I felt this loss – one minute there, next minute gone. And then my first thought was, ‘Oh, man, what if that was Peggy? What if somebody like that died? Death, what is it, I can’t get it.’ And there were lyrics straight out forward like that.”
“Mother and Child Reunion” reached No. 4 in 1972. Its track was recorded in Kingston, Jamaica before Simon had written lyrics. The song’s title came from an unexpected place. “I was eating in a Chinese restaurant downtown. There was a dish called ‘Mother and Child Reunion.’ It’s chicken and eggs. And I said, ‘Oh, I love that title. I gotta use that one.'”
“Mother and Child Reunion” by Paul Simon
“Mama Weer All Crazee Now” was written by Slade‘s Jim Lea and Noddy Holder and produced by Chas Chandler. Holder explains the inspiration for the glam-rockers’ 1972 song in his autobiography Who’s Crazee Now?
“Crazy was one of my catchwords on stage. I used to shout, ‘Everybody’s crazy’ at the audience between songs, when they were going really wild. I came up with a song title there and then. It was ‘My, My, We’re All Crazee Now.’ A couple of days later, Jimmy and I had finished the song and we played it to Chas on acoustic guitars in the studio. He said, ‘It’s brilliant. I love it. And what a great title – “Mama We’re All Crazee Now.” What the hell does that mean?’ I said, ‘No, no. It’s not “mama,” it’s “my my” … As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I knew ‘mama’ was much better. So, really, it was Chas’ idea, although it was an accident. He had just misheard it.”
In 1984 American rockers Quiet Riot fared a bit better in the U.S. with their cover of the Brits’ original.
“Mama Weer All Crazee Now” by Slade
“Mama Weer All Crazee Now” by Quiet Riot