There’s never a bad time to celebrate mothers – and the songs that have celebrated them. Mothers take all kinds of different forms, so we’ve included songs from different perspectives, but – generally speaking – there’s plenty of evidence here that nothing makes a tough rocker or rapper get sentimental more than songs about moms.
Think we’ve missed any of your best Mother’s Day songs? Let us know in the comments section, below.
Listen to the best Mother’s Day songs on our celebratory playlist.
Brandi Carlisle: The Mother
For Mother’s Day, Brandi Carlisle gave the world a song that was both personal and universal. It’s specifically about her daughter Evangeline, whose name and personal details are right there in the lyrics, but women everywhere will likely recognize the experiences she sings about, starting with “The first things that she took from me were selfishness and sleep.”
Kacey Musgraves: Mother
One of the sweetest songs ever written (by Kacey Musgraves’ own admission) on acid, “Mother” is simple as it gets – voice, piano, revealing lyric – and it’s less about mothers than about one of those vulnerable moments when only one person could understand.
Justin Bieber: Turn to Me (Mother’s Day Dedication)
This stand-alone single was part of Justin Bieber’s transition from teen idol to grown-up hitmaker, and the lyric salutes his mother in grown-up terms: The lyric notes that he’s the same age she was when she had him, old enough to understand the sacrifices she made.
The Backstreet Boys: The Perfect Fan
The Backstreet Boys closed out their smash Millennium album by thanking their mothers who got them to where they are. The words are warm and sentimental, and the music pulls out all the stops, with its gospel choir and hand-clapping finale. On an album full of splashy hit ballads, they made sure Mom got the splashiest.
Lenny Kravitz: Always on the Run
Lenny Kravitz’s mother appears to be a regular well of good advice. In this funky tune, she tells him to get home early, never take more than your share and, by the way, don’t do heroin.
Meghan Trainor featuring Kelli Trainor: Mom
While all these artists sang to their mothers, Meghan Trainor went the extra mile and put hers on the record – not singing but chatting on the phone. On the recording, Kelli Trainor sounds every bit as wonderful as the song claims she is, and it was enough to give her a few moments of internet stardom.
Jamie O’Neal: Somebody’s Hero
This 2005 hit isn’t about the singer’s own family, but a salute to the mothers of the world – especially the ones who sacrifice big dreams to raise daughters. Jamie O’Neil sings of the mother’s heroic moment in letting go of her daughter when she gets married, and then the daughter’s own heroism in tending to her mother when she’s aged. That’s a lot of real-life detail to fit into a three-minute country song.
Taylor Swift: The Best Day
Even on her early albums, Taylor Swift was especially good at grabbing those little details that tell a bigger story. This Fearless track explores the mother-daughter bond through a couple of strong memories, including mom’s consolation after a tough day at school. The recent “Taylor’s version”: adds some new resonance by telling the story in her deeper adult voice.
Martina McBride: In My Daughter’s Eyes
Country music is full of loving odes to mom, but none can match the deep sentiments of this one from a mom to her daughter (and a dad to his, since James Slater wrote it). No mother-daughter squabbles here, just the singer’s testimony on the transforming power of her daughter’s love. McBride’s heartfelt vocal made this a rare country smash with no guitars or drums.
The Spice Girls: Mama
Behind the Spice Girls’ usual exuberance is a grown-up song about motherhood, with the singers admitting that they also fought with their moms in younger days, but came to respect them as mentors and friends. Girl power at its finest.
Ismael Miranda: Madre
This mid-70s salsa classic shows how intense the lyrics could get behind those ebullient grooves. If you didn’t speak Spanish or have a translation at hand, you’d figure he was just declaring his love for his mother. But he’s really despairing over her having passed away, and saying he’d give up his life if it meant he could see her again.
Bob Seger: Momma
True to form, Bob Seger’s song about moms is honest and unvarnished; this track (from his pre-Night Moves stardom days) allows that their relationship wasn’t smooth. But it comes back to the chorus of “Momma, she never told me a lie,” making that the highest praise you can give.
Blake Shelton: The Baby
If the Martina McBride song doesn’t get you tearing up, this one will. It’s the twist at the end that does it, as the singer rushes to meet his dying mom and cries like a baby when he doesn’t make it. This one had the whole country weeping when it topped the country charts in 2003.
Not all songs about moms are warm and fuzzy, some people need time to get their feelings out. Goldie’s ode to his missing mom (who turned him over to foster care when he was young) runs a full hour and takes up most of the first CD of his controversially epic Saturnz Return. It practically takes in the entire history of music from classical to jungle, with the drums not entering for 20 minutes.
Sufjan Stevens: Decatur, or, Round of Applause for Your Stepmother!
You wouldn’t expect a straightforward Mother’s Day song on Sufjan Stevens’ surreal journey through his Illinois album. What you get is this delightfully hummable tune full of rhymes and narrative twists, starting with the lyric’s mentioning “our” stepmom, not “yours.” You do however learn that you’ll regret hating your stepmother the minute you see her getting carried away by kangaroos.
Liz Phair: Little Digger
Liz Phair’s self-titled fourth album includes her most honest song about motherhood – specifically about her son’s conflicted reaction when she starts dating post-divorce. The chorus hook, “My mother is mine,” is one of her most haunting.
Christina Aguilera: Oh Mother
Christina Aguilera’s “Oh Mother” ventures into riskier territory, dealing with her own memories of growing up with an abusive father. It celebrates her mother having the strength to walk out after realizing she deserved better and bears out the stronger mother-daughter bond that resulted. Aguilera emotes the song for all it’s worth, delivering what may be the strongest performance on the jazz-infused Back to Basics album.
Beyoncé: Ring Off
Modern pop’s other great divorced-mother song. Unlike Xtina’s song, the marriage here isn’t abusive – it’s just gone south, and now the mom holds out for a love that isn’t being returned. She decided she’s had enough, off goes the ring and daughter Beyoncé celebrates with a hot dance track. The shouts of “so sexy!” suggest mom has more good times ahead.
Let’s get the most dysfunctional Mother’s Day song out of the way first. In this stellar bit of pop- noir, a young man works through some deep-seated Oedipal issues through his relationship with a prostitute. It’s possibly the most dramatic vocal Phil Collins ever cut for Genesis.
Carole King & Louise Goffin: Where You Lead
This key Tapestry track wasn’t originally a mother-daughter song, but the producers of television’s Gilmore Girls heard it that way. Carole King was glad to oblige and called in original collaborator Toni Stern to revise the lyrics and enlisted her daughter Louise Goffin (also an established singer-songwriter) to do the duet. It remains a timeless song of devotion, whoever it’s sung to.
Drake: You & The 6
Drake wrote two songs dedicated to his mother: “You & The 6” and “Look What You’ve Done,” which both make the same point: He may be a bad boy, but he’d be much worse if his mother hadn’t kept him relatively on the straight and narrow. The rapper puts it all out there – owning up to his vices of booze, women, and other perks of stardom – but not to worry because “you and the six (a reference to his Toronto roots) raised me right.”
Lauren Alaina: Like My Mother Does
Contrary to popular belief, there are plenty of country songs about moms that aren’t tearjerker. “Like My Mother Doges” got Lauren Alaina a runner-up slot on American Idol and launched her recording career. The uplifting song was actually first recorded by season seven American Idol contestant Kristy Lee Cook for her 2008 album, Why Wait, making it an Idol favorite.
Kanye West: Hey Mama
Bruce Springsteen: The Wish
Bruce Springsteen repurposed several greatest hits for Springsteen on Broadway, but its emotional centerpiece was this deep cut that got largely overlooked on the Tracks box set. After saluting the sacrifices his mother made and her ultimate gift of a cheap guitar, Springsteen makes the wish that he could just take her dancing to a great rock’n’roll band.
Boyz II Men: A Song for Mama
While some of the songs on this list call for mom to have specialized tastes (or a sense of humor), here’s one anyone can sing to their mother and know she’ll be touched. Nothing but love on this Boyz II Men cut with lines like, “Your love is like tears from the stars…lovin’ you is like food to my soul,” to show your filial devotion.
Carrie Underwood: Mama’s Song
Carrie Underwood said a big goodbye to her mom, not once but twice: In 2006’s “Don’t Forget to Remember Me,” she’s leaving the house and going on her own after graduation. Four years later, this tune asks her mom to accept that she’s getting married, and not to worry, the guy’s great and will take good care of her.
The Jackson 5: Mama’s Pearl
Mama doesn’t fare too well in this Jackson 5 classic since she always told her daughter to stay away from guys and these guys are telling her just the opposite. ‘Mama’s Pearl’ still comes out sounding fairly wholesome, but this was the last J5 hit to have that lively kiddie sound; the mature ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ would soon follow.
Flo & Eddie: Mama, Open Up
This Flo & Eddie single is the ex-Turtles team at their dark-humored best, seeking some immediate shelter from the trials of the music biz: “Mama open up, I’m coming back in!” You decide whether they just want to come back home, or whether they’re taking the Oedipal thing to extremes.
BB King: Nobody Loves Me But My Mother
As originally recorded by BB King, “Nobody Loves Me But My Mother” was originally an album-opening fragment with just one verse of lyric (he’d later grow it into a full song onstage) but it contains one of the most quotable lines in King’s catalog, if not the entire blues canon: “Nobody loves me but my mother…and she could be jiving too”.
Ozzy Osbourne: Mama, I’m Coming Home
Ozzy’s biggest power ballad essentially follows Flo & Eddie’s concept without the laughs (and with some wonderful Beach Boys-type harmonies). Co-written by fellow sensitive soul Lemmy Kilmister, it’s about returning to a place where you know you’re loved. He apparently wrote it about his wife Sharon (at least she says so), but it struck a chord for mothers and sons everywhere.
James Brown: Mother Popcorn
Only James Brown could record a classic song about moms that doubles as a dance craze hit. During the song, the Godfather of Soul looks up from his dancing to note that there are lots of great mothers out there, but he prefers them tall and proud.
David Peel & the Lower East Side: Happy Mother’s Day
Not all songs about moms are sentimental, including this 1968 single about a teenage runaway by NYC outfit David Peel & the Lower East Side off their debut album Have A Marijuana. And what does this model son do to celebrate his newfound freedom? “Living on the East Side, always getting stoned/ Always getting high, I’m glad I’m not at home!”
The Beatles: Julia
This “White Album” track was such an exquisite love song that many fans overlooked the fact that John Lennon was singing about his late mother. This celebrated the tender side of their relationship, while the later solo tune ‘Mother’, addressed the underlying tension.
Kate Bush: Mother Stands for Comfort
Though this is the sparest song on Hounds of Love, it’s also one of the most haunting, and nobody did strange beauty better than Kate Bush in 1985. Lyrically it’s about a murderer who turns to mother for solace – call it “Bohemian Rhapsody” without the opera.
Thin Lizzy: Philomena (1974)
Phil Lynott did his mom the ultimate compliment of putting her name in the song title, one of the most traditional Irish-sounding tracks of Thin Lizzy’s heyday. It’s a brilliant song, even if Lynott doesn’t come off as the most attentive son in the world: “Tell her that I love her, and I’ll try to write sometime.”
Johnny Guitar Watson: A Real Mother For Ya
So maybe this song is really about rising gas prices and the like, and the title is just a radio-friendly way of saying something else. But if your mother is at all funky, she’ll be able to relate to this gritty classic.
Glen Campbell: The Hand That Rocks the Cradle
If you’re going to get sentimental about Mom, you might as well go all the way. Though it was recorded well into the 80s, this Glen Campbell tune (a duet with Steve Wariner) is one of the ultimate old-fashioned songs about moms, saying that mothers are nothing less than “nature’s most unique and precious pearls.”
Dolly Parton: Coat of Many Colors
In this masterful bit of storytelling, the mother from a poor family shows her love by knitting her daughter a coat like Joseph’s coat in the Bible. But instead of going for a tearjerker finale, Parton reveals the daughter gets laughed at by the richer kids at school. The lesson? “Now I know we had no money / But I was rich as I could be / In my coat of many colors / My momma made for me.”
Tupac Shakur: Dear Mama
This landmark rap song was brutally honest, acknowledging the things that Tupac’s mother did wrong. But Tupac couches all of this in a simple fact: A single mother on welfare doesn’t have many options. By choosing truth over fiction, it’s all the more powerful.
In this corner, you have the well-meaning parents of the world. And in the other corner, Glenn Danzig, the corruptor of sons and daughters. Supposedly inspired by the PMRC hearings, this metal classic allowed Danzig to riff on eternal generation-gap themes.
The Rolling Stones: Mother’s Little Helper
Along with The Who’s far kinkier “I’m a Boy,” this Rolling Stones’ song was one of the first songs to acknowledge that parents had rock’n’roll vices of their own. As Jagger’s generation would learn in time, truer words than “What a drag it is getting old,” were never sung.
Fountains of Wayne: Stacy’s Mom
Nothing’s more all-American than a song about loving your mother unless, of course, it’s one about a crush on somebody else’s mom. A teenaged slice of life, and one of the many pop gems that Adam Schlesinger left us.
Rare Earth: Ma
When it comes to songs about moms, 70s soul delivers (sorry) the motherlode. This epic Norman Whitfield production devotes a whole side to singing the praises of a tough contemporary mom who fights all of society’s obstacles to do right by her kids.
Elvis Presley: Mama Liked the Roses
One of the most heartfelt performances in Elvis Presley’s catalog, “Mama Liked The Roses” was recorded in 1970 when his voice was arguably at an all-time peak. Elvis’s love for his mother Gladys was legendary and though this tribute song was recorded 12 years after her death, you can still hear him fighting back tears during the spoken part. Though only a B-side at the time, it’s since become one of the iconic Elvis tracks.
Merle Haggard: Mama Tried
As Merle Haggard pointed out in this signature song (also done memorably by the Grateful Dead three years later), you can have a saintly mother and still wind up in the slammer. Though he recorded “Mama Tried” quite a few years later, the song was likely conceived when Haggard himself did time himself. Though, unlike the song’s hero who got life without parole, he only served short sentences for robbery.
The Shirelles: Mama Said
“Mama Said” is one of the first and greatest songs about moms in rock’n’roll, in which the singer responds to first love by realizing Mama told her there’d be days like this. It was a classic bit of wisdom that was later borrowed by everyone from John Lennon (‘Nobody Told Me’) to Van Morrison (‘Days Like This’). It also spawned a long string of songs about motherly advice, including the next three on this list.
Three Dog Night: Mama Told Me Not to Come
Mama knew best in this case, warning her rather messed-up son that he’d freak out if he went to that wild party. It was written, of course, by Randy Newman, but Three Dog Night had the hit, and lead singer Cory Wells gave it that perfect paranoid reading. Could this be the first hit song about agoraphobia?
The Supremes: You Can’t Hurry Love
In the Shirelles song, Mama knew all about the glories of love. But she also knew that it didn’t always work out, which led to one of the wisest (and ultimately reassuring) songs in the Motown catalog. It’s arguably the best performance of Diana Ross’ life, a timeless sentiment, and one of the best basslines in music history.
LL Cool J: Mama Said Knock You Out
Mom doesn’t really turn up much in the lyrics to this hip-hop classic, we just know that LL Cool J is knocking out every other DJ because his mother told him to. And since he did indeed knock out the competition with this track, he can probably thank Mama for bailing him out.
The Intruders: I’ll Always Love My Mama
Nothing serenades your mom better than vintage Philly soul, and no Gamble & Huff song was ever sweeter than this pledge of love: “She’s my favorite girl!” It opens their hearts without getting sappy and, like all Philly soul records, it’s also great to dance to.