Please have a box of tissues within reach. Mamas are a tearful subject in country music whether those mamas are nourishing
or nasty. Here — just in time for Mother’s Day — are a dozen of the most dramatic and memorable mom-inspired lyrics, arranged
chronologically. Ready, set, weep!
“Mother the Queen of My Heart” (Jimmie
Rodgers, 1932, never charted; written by Hoyt “Slim” Bryant, Jimmie Rodgers) — Even in death, mama comes through. Disregarding
the warnings of his “kindest old mother,” our boy surrenders to “drinking and gambling” after she’s passed on. Then one day
in a poker games, he turns over the card he’s drawn and sees his mother’s face. This time, he takes her advice seriously.
Please Stay Home With Me” (Eddy Arnold, 1945, never charted; written
by Eddy Arnold, Wally Fowler, J. Graydon Hall) — Here’s the setup: “A mother went out on a party/She left at home her baby
son/He cried and begged her not to leave him/But she would not give up her fun.” Can you guess where the situation goes from
there? This is a two-tissue minimum.
“I Dreamed About Mama Last Night” (Hank
Williams as Luke the Drifter, 1951, never charted; written by Fred Rose) — In this recitation, Luke describes a selfless
mother who is so devoted to her kids that she won’t go to bed until they’re all safe at home. She’s even cheerful about her
“Give Mother My Crown” (Flatt Scruggs,
1956, never charted; written by Walter Bailes) — This mama raises “her children on a widow’s small pay” that she earns from
“washing and ironing.” In heaven, says the singer, “If I’ve a crown coming when awards go around/Please, blessed Jesus, give
Mother my crown.”
“Mommy for a Day” (Kitty Wells, No. 5,
1959; written by Harlan Howard, Buck
Owens) — This weeper is sung from the mother’s point of view. She’s been cast out by her husband, she tells us, because
people have told him lies about her. So he’s restricted her access to their “little girl” to Sunday afternoons. Naturally,
the daughter’s confused by what’s going on, and mama can’t easily explain it.
“Mama Tried” (Merle
Haggard, No. 1, 1968; written by Merle Haggard) — Of all the mama songs in country music, this is probably the most recognized
one — which is a real achievement considering the tough competition. The nugget of the story is this: “I turned 21 in prison,
doing life without parole/No one could steer me right, but Mama tried.” It carries the message as “Mother the Queen of My
Heart,” which, by the way, Haggard also recorded.
“Here’s a Toast to Mama” (Charlie
Louvin, No. 42, 1970; written by Buck Owens, Gene Price) — What was it with Buck Owens and mamas? (Note that he also
co-wrote “Mommy for a Day.”) Despite its jolly title, this is a sad, bitter, sarcastic song, rendered in the voice of a son
whose mother abandoned him as an infant. “Oh, how I wish I could’ve known you mama/Maybe now I wouldn’t feel the shame/Maybe
now I wouldn’t feel so empty/’Cause mama I don’t even know your name.” He “toasts” her with wine he bought after finding a
dollar on the sidewalk. Pretty heavy stuff and a thematic precursor to Kellie
Pickler‘s “I Wonder.”
“Roses for Mama” (C.W.
McCall, No. 2, 1977; written by Gene Dobbins, Wayne Sharpe, Johnny Wilson) — In this recitation — guaranteed to crack the
steeliest heart — a guy decides to visit his friend in Florida for a few days of drinking and wenching. He tells his mother
in Tennessee he’s on a tight schedule but will try to stop and see her on his way back. The incidents that ensue are too convoluted
to go into here. But prepare to cry your eyes out before the song ends on a redemptive note.
“Mama Knows” (Shenandoah, No. 5, 1988, written by Tony Haselden, Tim Mensy) — An affectionate
tribute to the kind of mom who knows what’s going on with her kids before they’re prepared to tell her. In other words, just
about every mom.
“Mama Don’t Forget to Pray for Me” (Diamond
Rio, No. 9, 1991; written by Larry Cordle, Larry Shell) — Leaving home doesn’t mean leaving mama. Here the singer is
on a career fast track but still incredibly homesick and in need of a mother’s reassurance. “I just thought of you and home
and got a little sad.”
“Is There Life Out There” (Reba McEntire,
No. 1, 1992; written by Rick Giles, Susan Longacre) — This song mentions neither mother nor child, but both are implicit
in the question, “Is there life beyond [my] family and [my] home?” Unlike most of the mothers considered in the songs cited
above, this modern one doesn’t find fulfillment in simply serving her husband and kids. Even so, “She doesn’t want to leave/She’s
just wonderin’/Is there life out there.”
(Kellie Pickler, No. 14, 2007; written by Kellie Pickler, Chris Lindsey,
Aimee Mayo, Karen Rochelle) — Another case of infant abandonment and the lingering wounds it leaves. The song goes, “I think
about how it ain’t fair/That you weren’t there to braid my hair like mothers do . . . Did you even miss me through the years
at all.” That this song is based on Pickler’s own childhood makes it all the more heartbreaking.
Want to hear more?
Then try Billy “Crash” Craddock’s “My Mama Never Heard Me Sing,”
the Judds’ “Mama He’s Crazy,” Bill
Anderson‘s “Mama Sang a Song,” Flatt Scruggs’ “Mother Prays Loud in Her Sleep,” the Forrester Sisters’ “Mama’s Never
Seen Those Eyes,” John Conlee’s “Mama’s Rockin’ Chair” and, of course,
Blake Shelton’s No. 1 single from 2002, “The Baby.”
And then there’s
Dottie West’s baldly manipulative “Mommy, Can I Still Call Him Daddy,”
which pairs her vocally with her then 4-year-old son, Dale. But listen at your own risk. You could drown in those puddles