Nightly Song
Musings on Songs that Strike a Chord Tonight

Songs about Fathers

Songs about Fathers

With Father’s Day upon us, I thought to compile a list of songs about fathers.  I wanted good songs about fathers or fathers relating to their children or children relating to fathers. This is not a list of gauzy greeting-card songs. The picks run the gamut from the gentle (“Dad’s Yard”) to funny (“A Boy Named Sue”) to proud (“If That Ain’t Country”) to remorseful (“My Old Man”) to angry (plenty of those). To make the list, the songs had to be about a man, so no songs about God or other men (Neil Young’s “Old Man” is about a ranch hand) or songs with the word in the title that has nothing to do with being a father (“Papa’s Got a Band New Bag” or “Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line”).

I start with songs that I recommend and then add a list of other songs about fathers or mentioning fathers that you might find interesting. (Thanks to Pat for helping compile the list). I make no claim that this is a definitive list or a comprehensive list. If you see a title highlighted, you can click on it to hear a performance of the song.  I welcome additional songs and your comments. Enjoy and Happy Father’s Day.

Songs about Fathers

(In no particular order)

My Old Man  – Steve Goodman

Goodman almost whispers this song, makes you lean close and pay attention:

I miss my old man tonite
and I wish he was here with me
With his corny jokes and his cheap cigars
He could look you in the eye and sell you a car.
That’s not an easy thing to do

Adam Raised a Cain – Bruce Springsteen

Biblical story relived in the rooms of a small New Jersey house that’s not big enough for the rage between father and son:
In the summer that I was baptized, my father held me to his side
As they put me to the water, he said how on that day I cried
We were prisoners of love, a love in chains
He was standin’ in the door, I was standin’ in the rain
With the same hot blood burning in our veins

Click here, here and here for a live version.

Father and a Son – Loudon Wainwright III 

Let’s see, the son is on the rise, but the father doesn’t want the son to pass him by. The son and father fight just like the father and his father fought. Multi-generation fathers, each flawed, great fodder for a song:

When I was your age I was just like you,
And just look at me now; I’m sure you do.
But your grandfather was just as bad
And you should have heard him trash his dad…..

 Dad’s Yard – Catie Curtis

A sweet and loving song, Curtis builds out from observations about the things her father collects in his yard. She makes the connection between his ability to find use in old junk and his ability to see meaning in all of us:

He will polish the grey
Until it shines clear blue
And if you know my Dad
He won’t give up on you

You can buy Dad’s Yard” at iTunes here.

The Homecoming – Tom T. Hall

The prodigal son makes a visit home and tries to explain himself to the stoic father whom he knows can never understand his life. Another virtuoso story song from a master: every detail is telling, understated and moving. Click here for a live version.

Dance with My Father Again – Luther Vandross

A tearjerker song with great emotion about a father gone too soon:

If I could get another chance, another walk, another dance with him
I’d play a song that would never, ever end
How I’d love, love, love
To dance with my father again

My Son Calls Another Man Daddy – Hank Williams

Ol’ Hank sings about a man locked up in prison pining for his son. He bemoans that his son “was the one ray of sunshine that shone through the darkest of nights.”

Dick the Bruiser Junior – Pete Nelson

The mighty wrestler’s son makes one last promise to the father he could never please, to get the autograph of his father’s favorite singer: Liberace. Pathos by the boatload. You can buy the song at Amazon.

Boy Named Sue – Johnny Cash

Written by Shel Silverstein, corny, funny and sentimental, it turned into a monster hit for Johnny Cash. At times, he hated this song, but it made the prisoners at San Quentin who heard it first laugh aloud.

Patches – Clarence Carter

The hard luck story told by the serving eldest son. Yes, it’s sentimental and over the top, but who can resist when Carter sings:

 One day papa called me to his dyin’ bed
Put his hands on my shoulders And in tears he said
Patches, I’m depending on you son
To pull the family through My son, it’s all
left up to you

B.B. King and George Jones have recorded a duet of Patches that’s worth tracking down.

Papa Was a Rolling Stone – The Temptations

Not every Dad makes it to Hallmark card status. Back by strings, horns and a killer rhythm track. The Temptations tell of one father, but don’t go putting him down.

Papa’z Song – Tupac

This is the anti-father song, a rhythmic howl at the father who abandoned the boy and all the false fathers who show up each weekend and leave as fast as they arrived.

Had to play catch by myself, what a sorry sight
A pitiful plight, so I pray for a starry night
Please send me a pops before puberty
the things I wouldn’t do to see a piece of family unity

Daddy Frank the Guitar Man – Merle Haggard

The family forms a band only Mom is deaf and Daddy Frank, the Guitar Man, was blind.

Frank and mama counted on each other;
Their one and only weakness made them strong.
Mama did the driving for the family,
And Frank made a living with a song

My Father was a Jockey – John Lee Hooker

Recorded late in the great man’s career and include don his Mr. Luck album (1991), it’s got the classic Hooker propulsive beat and smoky vocals recalling his Dad, who taught him how to ride. Or maybe he’s just speaking in polite terms.

 Seven Little Indians – John Hiatt

 Storyteller Hiatt spins a grand yarn about a storytelling father. You can buy the song at iTunes.

 Color Him FatherThe Winstons

Smooth soul paying respect to a stepdad:

There’s a man at my house he’s so big and strong
He goes to work each day, stays all day long
He comes home each night looking tired and beat
He sits down at the dinner table and has a bite to eat
Never a frown always a smile

If That Ain’t Country – David Allen Coe

This Dad may be backwoods and poor, but he’s tough and proud, just listen:

The old man was covered with tattoos and scars
he got some in prison and others in bars
the rest he got working’ on old junk cars

Additional Songs about Fathers

These are in alphabetical order by title.

A Child’s Song Tom Rush
Bridging the Gap Nas with Olu Dara
Cats in the Cradle Harry Chapin
Daddy Julie London
Daddy and Home Jimmie Rodgers
Daddy Come and Get Me Dolly Parton
Daddy Had a Buick Robert Earl Keen
Daddy Sang Bass Johnny Cash
Daddy’s Home Shep & the Limelites
Dear Dad Chuck Berry
Drive (for Daddy Gene) Alan Jackson
Dust Got Into Daddy’s Eyes Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland
Father and Daughter Paul Simon
Father and Son Cat Stevens
Father Time Lowell Fulson
Gimme the Car The Violent Femmes
Highway 20 Ride Zac Brown Band
Hitting You Loudon Wainwright III 
I Think My Dad’s Gone Crazy Eminem
Mama Loves Papa Jimmie Johnson
Mockingbird Eminem
My Father’s House Bruce Springsteen
My Old Man Lou Reed
Papa Don’t Preach Madonna
Papa Was a Rodeo Kelly Hogan and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts
Papa’s on the Housetop Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell (Link is to a cover by Jim Kweskin and Geoff Muldaur)
Semper Fi John Gorka
Seven Curses Bob Dylan
Ships Ian Hunter
Silver Thunderbird Marc Cohn
Song for Dad Keith Urban
Song For My Father The Horace Silver Quintet
That Silver Haired Daddy Of Mine The Everly Brothers (I linked to a Johnny Cash cover)
The Cheapest Kind Greg Brown
Things I Wished I’d Said Rodney Crowell
Your Dad Did John Hiatt

(One interesting sociological observation that may or may not mean anything: Country music seems filled with songs about Dad, much of it drivel, while Hip-Hop seems nearly devoid of songs about Dad and many of the ones that do exist are angry songs lashing out at the vanished father. )

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