A few tunes to honor Dad

Posted June 14th, 2013 at 12:33 pm (UTC+0)

By Katherine Cole

June 17th is Father’s day in the US. Last month, we celebrated Mother’s Day in song,  now it’s equal time for dear old Dad.

When I set out to document Father’s Day in song, I was thinking that songwriters didn’t have the same enthusiasm for “dad songs” that they do for the mom variety. But I was wrong–there are plenty of songs honoring fathers and an equal number of sad ones chronicling the messy side of fatherhood. I’ve picked four of my favorite Dad Songs to share with you—these aren’t the best or the most famous, they’re just ones that speak to me.
Zac Brown put a cover of Cat Steven’s Father and Son on a recent project, and Irish band Boyzone scored a huge hit with it, but the original still shines. While there is tension between the father and son in this song–the father not understanding why his son wants to live his life the way he does, in interviews, Cat Stevens says his own father was always supportive of his career choice. Sometimes a song is just a song…

John Mayer’s big hit “Daughters” won many awards, including the 2005 Song of Year Grammy, but it’s actually a song for fathers, not just about daughters. It’s Mayer’s reminder to Dad (and to Mom, as well) to nurture their daughters in childhood, because he believes father-daughter relationships affects girls’ adult relationships with men.

The daddy classic from The Temptations is another tough one, subject wise–Mom is being questioned by the kids about their late father. I bet you’re going to sing along with her answer when the chorus comes around:”Papa was a rolling stone…” There are a million versions of this song floating around the web, but I just love the hot pink suits they’re wearing in this one.

While the title of this one is “A Boy Named Sue”, it’s really all about his desire for revenge on his Dad, the man who gave him a name usually reserved for girls. The song started out as a poem by humorist Shel Silverstein, but is best known as a huge hit by Johnny Cash. Silverstein said his inspiration was his friend, writer Jean Shepherd, a man with a feminine-sounding name. Johnny Cash had to be talked into recording this one by his wife, June Carter Cash –good thing he listened to her, because “A Boy Named Sue” was his biggest hit single. Cash first recorded the song in 1969 during his famous concert at San Quentin prison in California. This version was recorded a few years later in Denmark. I won’t spoil the fun by telling you any more of the story…

And here’s a bonus extra — John Prine’s “Unwed Fathers” , simply because it’s a song that I think everyone in the world needs to hear at least once in their lifetime.  Tammy Wynette, Johnny Cash and the band Deer Tick have all recorded great versions,  but I don’t think anyone does it better than the man himself. Grab the tissues, because it’s a real heart-breaker.  As John says in his intro, it’s a song about a group of people you don’t hear too much about–unwed fathers, the men who aren’t living with the mothers of their children. In this case, it sounds like he’s singing about a couple of teenagers and their baby.

Those are my picks for Father’s Day. Let me know what’s on your playlist of favorite Dad-Songs.

Host of VOA's Roots and Branches, and world traveler extraordinaire! When I'm not listening to music, I'm probably talking about it or thinking about the next band I'm going to see. Or my next interview! Join me every week for the best in folk, bluegrass and all other forms of American roots music!

14 responses to “A few tunes to honor Dad”

  1. John Stevenson says:

    Hey Joan. I really enjoyed your blog about Dad songs. Although I hope I’m not like the dad in his song, I really like Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle.” Even though it’s about a dad who is so busy that he doesn’t have time for his child, in the end, the child doesn’t have time for his father. It’s a good reminder to spend as much time as possible with your kids. Hope you’re doing well.

    • I debated putting that one on the list—but thought I’d go with the Prine song instead. That Chapin song is such a weeper, it still gets me…even though I’ve heard it a thousand times at least! Hope your Father’s Day was a good one!

  2. Maryl Neff says:

    Another great blog post, Katherine. Love your choice of songs!

  3. Tori Porter says:

    Yay! What a great list. I feel very connected to my dad through music and was working on my own blog post this morning about songs that I dedicate to my dad. Thank you for posting!

  4. Dave Reilly says:

    Like your choices, particularly “Father and Son.” Beatlemaniac that I am, I would have considered a lesser-known tune from a pretty well-known dad — “Put It There,” by Paul McCartney, about his own dad.

  5. Martha says:

    Loved this; thanks! Father’s Day does not get the press that Mother’s Day does, and yet fathers are monumentally important in everyone’s life.
    How about Wilco’s “One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)” next year?

  6. Steve Meredith says:

    Very nice selection of videos! Do you know who was the excellent slide/dobro player that was accompanying John Mayer? And the woman singing with John Prine, one of my very favorites? (BTW, three of these were on Weasel’s Father’s Day show, so you’re in great company)



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