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A lot of music about motherhood gets a bad rap.
Given how much our culture devalues women's work—and housework in particular—this shouldn't be particularly surprising, but it's still a bummer. The vaguely defined genre ofcalf stonehas grudgingly earned cultural respect over the years, but the term "mother rock", on the rare occasion it's used, still sounds like an insult.
I remember discussing this double standard a few years ago when I interviewed the singer-songwriterAnaïs Mitchell, who won a Tony for his score to the hit musical "Hadestown" and publishes deeply observed folk music under his own name. Becoming a mother had heralded a drastic change in her perspective—"a pull of myself into the world and into my family," in her words. She wanted to be able to write about that experience with all the richness and depth it deserved, even if it risked being labeled, as she jokingly put it, "culturally irrelevant mother art."
Fortunately, plenty of other songwriters have charted the troubled waters of motherhood - and offbeingmotherhood—proving that it is one of the most complicated, challenging, and (at least sometimes) rewarding human experiences. In honor of Mother's Day (don't forget: this Sunday!), I've put together a playlist of songs that reflect motherhood in all its unruly complexity.
But at the same time: notheunruly, on this celebratory Mother's Day. There is a time and a place for Danzigs"Mor,"but it's not now or here on this playlist. Ditto John Lennon's original cry"Mor,"although the Beatles"Julia"could have been a better choice. I would like to acknowledge the existence of the Spice Girls here"Mama"yes God Charlotte's"Thank you mom"without asking you to listen to it.
The aboveAnaïs Mitchell, however, made the cut, along with an eclectic group of artists including2 Pac,Brandi CarlileIBeyonce. Mamma mia, here we go.
1. Kacey Musgraves: "Mor"
The shortest, thinnest song on Kacey Musgraves' 2018 album,"The Golden Hour",is also the most emotionally penetrating. "I'm just sitting here thinking about time ticking by and missing my mother," the trailblazer sings with heartbreaking simplicity, before zooming back a generation and imagining her own mother probably doing the same. Musgraves hassaidthat "Mother" is one of the "Golden Hour" songs she wrote while tripping on LSD — but don't tell her mom that part. (Listen on YouTube)
2. Beverly Glenn-Copeland: "La Vita"
The pioneering composer and new age artistBeverly Glenn-Copelandhas enjoyed a long-overdue and well-deserved resurgence in popularity in recent years thanks to a series of reissues and the enthusiastic embrace of a younger generation of musicians. The mesmerizing "La Vita" from Copeland's 2004 self-released album "Primal Prayer" features operatic vocals from soprano Maggie Hollis, to which Copeland intones a stirring lyric that ends with a deep-seated memory, "And my mother tells me, 'enjoy your life .” (Remember that chorus; it will come back later in this playlist.) (Listen on YouTube)
3. Brandi Carlile: "The Mother"
CarlielIt doesn't soften the experience of motherhood in this beautifully written highlight of her 2018 album, "By the Way, I Forgive You," but it gives the song a lived-in honesty and makes the warmth come across as something more powerful than feeling empty. "They still have their morning paper and their coffee and their time," she sings of her "noisy" childless friends. But despite all that has been lost, she realizes, so much has also been gained since the birth of her daughter: "All the wonders I have seen, I will see a second time from the inside of your eyes. " (Listen on YouTube)
4. Merle Haggard: "Mommy Tried"
"Instead of life in prison, I served one to 15 years," Merle Haggard once admitted about the minor embellishment of how he spent his 21st birthday in one of his most famous (and semi-autobiographical) songs. "I just couldn't make it rhyme." Even if the title proves remorse, at least it doesn'tto blameher! — Haggard still sounds like hell on this 1968 hit. The more heartfelt Mother's Day gift would come much later, in 1981, when he released the gospel album "Songs for the Mama That Tried" and even put sweet Flossie Mae Harp on the cover. (Listen on YouTube)
5. 2Pac: "Lieve mama"
The rap game "Mama Tried"? Of his clear but thoroughly loving tribute to his mother,Afeni Shakur, Tupac once said, "I aimed them straight at my friends' hearts." Mission accomplished. (Listen on YouTube)
6. Anaïs Mitchell: "Little Big Girl"
This one is also heartbreaking. Mitchell is caught between child and elder on "Little Big Girl," a poignant track from her self-titled 2022 album. There's a striking moment near the end when she catches her reflection in a window and watches her tired mother come home from work '. Mitchell sings with great emotion: "Tell her you love her/Tell her you are here." (Listen on YouTube)
7. Beyoncé med Blue Ivy: "Blue"
Named after Beyoncé's first child, "Blue" is all the more poignant for its placement at the end of her 2013 Imperial self-titled album; it follows 'Heaven', a heartbreaking ballad about a miscarriage. Bey's honesty about both the heartbreak of pregnancy loss and the joys of hard-fought motherhood helped make this album feel like a turning point in her career: the beginning of her grown woman era. (Listen on YouTube)
8. The Shirelles: "Mommy Said"
The vocal sound of most 1960s girl groups was chatty and communal—a musical vehicle for sharing wisdom, commentary, and advice from woman to woman. This classic from the great early 60s hitmakers the Shirelles passes on some motherly know-how that Mama picked up when she too was just a lovesick teenager. (Listen on YouTube)
9. Romy: "Enjoy your life"
Do you remember that Glenn-Copeland chorus?of xxRomy Madley Croft samples it to extraordinary effect in this newly released and compellingly soulful solo single. "I promised my mother I'd stop worrying about my problems," she sings, Glenn-Copeland's voice echoing like a compassionate elder pouring glowing benevolence over a musical daughter: "My mother tells me, 'Enjoy your life'." (Listen on YouTube)
The playlist for the amplifier
Listen on Spotify.We update this playlist with each new newsletter.
"The Mother of All Playlists" sporliste
Number 1: Kacey Musgraves, "Mom"
Number 2: Beverly Glenn-Copeland, "La Vita"
Track 3: Brandi Carlile, "The Mother"
Spor 4: Merle Haggard, "Mama Tried"
Number 5: 2Pac, "Dear Mama"
Nummer 6: Anaïs Mitchell, "Little Big Girl"
Spor 7: Beyoncé med Blue Ivy, "Blue"
Nummer 8: The Shirelles, "Mama Said"
Number 9: Romy, "Enjoy Your Life"
Some wise words from the Swedish pop queenRobin, on her 2010 song"Involve Me": "Hail to the mamas who hold it down / Hail to the pillar of the family / This one's for grandmothers, bucks."
Also, few songwriters have captured the experience of adoption as poignantly and prismatic asJoni Mitchelldid"Little Green",from herlegendary 1971 album 'Blue'.
Speaking of Joni, listen to a newly released recording of her performance of "Both Sides Now" at last year's Newport Folk Festival (and music from Dolly Parton, Rhiannon Giddens and more) inplaylist.
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