The annals of rock & roll folklore are full of tough mothers, evil mothers, motorcycle mamas, mothers of invention. Although stars love to get sentimental over their mamas, there’s something special about the fearsome, badass maternal figures of rock & roll – whether it’s LL Cool J’s mama telling him to knock you out, or Rosalita’s mama chasing Bruce Springsteen off the porch with a broom. So here’s a few of our favorite mom songs.
Queen, “Tie Your Mother Down” (1976)
Don’t do that!
Mr. T, “Treat Your Mother Right” (1984)
Bruce Springsteen, “Rosalita” (1974)
“I know your mama, she don’t like me/’Cause I play in a rock & roll band.” To this day, Rosie’s ma probably yells at her about how she disgraced the family name with that skinny creep from the swamps of Jersey, with his scraggly beard and daringly tilted beret.
Funkadelic, “Cosmic Slop” (1973)
A young man moans over grimy Hendrix-gone-uptown guitars about being haunted by his mama’s deal with the forces of evil: To feed her kids, she sold herself as a dancer to the devil. (Take that, Ozzy!) He hears her voice in his drugged-out head – “Would you like to dance with me?/I’m doing the cosmic slop” – as the guitars voice her soul.
Neil Young, “Cinnamon Girl” (1969)
“Mom, send me money now”: How many footloose hippies have sent a letter like that back home in 1969? But only Neil Young was honest enough to admit it in a song. Did his mom write back, “Get a job, or at least hire a semi-competent rhythm section”? Nope – she probably just wired the dough. Neil had it made.
Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Simple Man” (1973)
Can you imagine how tough Ronnie Van Zandt’s mama must have been? Now there’s a hard-ass Southern matriarch for you – she probably shot down a lot of free birds in her day. She gave Ronnie this advice, and he spent his life doing her proud.
OutKast, “Ms. Jackson” (2000)
Of all the many rock, pop, R&B and hip-hop songs for the baby-mama’s mamas, this has to be the saddest and most honest, as Andre 3000 sings, “Never meant to make your daughter cry.”
Ernie K-Doe, “Mother-in-Law” (1960)
Then there’s this less high-minded blast of New Orleans funk, where Ernie K-Doe likens his wife’s meddling mother to Satan. (Take that again, Ozzy!) Allen Toussaint provides the ice-coldest nine-note piano solo in history.
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The Stratford 4, “Telephone” (2003)
A psychedelic guitar ballad about a rock & roll mom who’s partied harder than you ever will. Alone late at night, weary from too much dancing and decadence, he calls his mother, who tells him, “When I was 22/I was a lot like you,” and tells him to go put on some more Dylan and Stones albums. Coolest rock & roll mom in any song, ever.
The Beach Boys, “Mama Says” (1968)
Brian Wilson leads his bros through a brief a cappella tribute to maternal wisdom: “Eat a lot, sleep a lot, brush ’em like crazy/Run a lot, do a lot, never be lazy.”
John Lennon, “Mother” (1970)
A sad song, from one free-spirited son to his equally free-spirited mother.
LL Cool J, “Mama Said Knock You Out” (1990)
You know, LL was kind of right about the whole “don’t call it a comeback” thing. He’d just had one of his biggest and best hits in 1989, “I’m That Type of Guy.” But somehow the criticism spurred him to prove to Ma Dukes that her boy was indeed the future of the funk.
Al Wilson, “Queen of the Ghetto” (1973)
The late, great soul singer is best remembered today for his 1973 Number One hit, “Show and Tell,” one of Seventies R&B’s suavest love jams. But Wilson got grittier in his ode to a mama who did what (and who) she had to do to put food on the table – and he’s nothing but proud.
The Shangri-Las, “Bull Dog” (1963)
Four tough-as-leather beehived biker chicks from Queens – including a set of twins – they had the all-time most epic battles with their moms, especially over greaser boys in songs like “Leader of the Pack.” This time, though, it’s their boyfriend’s mother who buys a bulldog to keep those lust-crazed Shangri-Las away from her son. Except it doesn’t work, because no bulldog is as scary as a Shangri-La in raging-pheremone mode. If you doubt punk rock women were kicking ass in the Sixties, start here.
The Rolling Stones, “Stray Cat Blues” (1968)
While Mick is upstairs sharing Fancy Feast snacks with his feline concubine, he really should have other things on his mind besides her mother. But he keeps yowling, “Bet your mama don’t know you bite like that!/Bet your mama don’t know you can scratch like that!” Yeah, right, Mick – her mama probably already left claw marks on your back years ago.
This story was originally published in May 2011
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