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!
1932: Jimmie Rodgers’ “Mother the Queen of My Heart”
Writers: 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 game, he turns over the card he’s drawn and sees his mother’s face. This time, he takes her advice seriously.
1945: Eddy Arnold’s “Mommy Please Stay Home With Me”
Writers: 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.
1951: Hank Williams’ “I Dreamed About Mama Last Night”
Writer: 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 self-sacrifice.
1956: Flatt & Scruggs’ “Give Mother My Crown”
Writer: 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.”
1959: Kitty Wells’ “Mommy for a Day”
Writers: 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.
1968: Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried”
Writer: 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, a No. 1 for Haggard, 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.”
1972: Dottie West’s “Mommy, Can I Still Call Him Daddy”
Dottie West’s baldly manipulative song pairs her vocally with her then 4-year-old son, Dale. But listen at your own risk. You could drown in those puddles of tears.
1977: C.W. McCall’s “Roses for Mama”
Writers: 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.
1984: The Judds’ “Mama He’s Crazy
Writer: Kenny O’Dell
1988: Shenandoah’s “Mama Knows”
Writers: 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.
1991: Diamond Rio’s “Mama Don’t Forget to Pray for Me”
Writers: 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.”
1992: Reba McEntire’s “Is There Life Out There”
Writers: 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.”
2002: Blake Shelton’s “The Baby”
Writers: Michael White, Harley Allen
2007: Kellie Pickler’s “I Wonder”
Writers: 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.
2010: Carrie Underwood’s “Mama’s Song”
Writers: Carrie Underwood, Kara DioGuardi, Marti Frederiksen, Luke Laird.
2017: Brandi Carlile’s “The Mother”
Writers: Brandi Carlile, Phil Hanseroth, Tim Hanseroth
2018: Kacey Musgraves’ “Mother”
Writers: Kacey Musgraves, Daniel Tashian, Ian Fitchuk
2019: Kane Brown’s “Good As You”
Writers: Kane Brown, Brock Berryhill, Shy Carter, Taylor Phillips, Will Weatherly
2019: Rita Wilson’s “Throw Me a Party”
Writers: Rita Wilson, Kristian Bush, Liz Rose
Want to hear more? Then try Billy “Crash” Craddock’s “My Mama Never Heard Me Sing,” Bill Anderson’s “Mama Sang a Song,” Flatt & Scruggs’ “Mother Prays Loud in Her Sleep,” the Forrester Sisters’ “Mama’s Never Seen Those Eyes” and John Conlee’s “Mama’s Rockin’ Chair.”