Just in time for Father’s Day, let’s express gratitude to the Zac Brown Band and Lee Brice for adding two memorable songs to CMT.com’s tally of titles about dear old dad and the concept of fatherhood.
The Zac Brown Band issued a fan version of the video for “My Old Man,” but the original edit of the video speaks for itself. The track is featured on the group’s latest album, Welcome Home.
As we celebrate Father’s Day, here’s an informal collection of songs that have impacted CMT.com’s editorial team throughout the years:
“That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine,” Gene Autry
More than 70 years ago, Autry all but created the dad song subgenre with this nostalgia tune about his patient father and all the gray hairs he earned raising a rambunctious boy. The sentiment has proved durable over the decades, and the song has been covered by, among many others, Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, Doc Watson, Slim Whitman and even Simon & Garfunkel.
“A Boy Named Sue,” Johnny Cash
Sometimes dads pass along beloved heirlooms, like a family Bible or a gold watch. (I have my father’s old fountain pen sitting on the desk in front of me right now.) Other times they give you something you don’t want, as in this tale of a boy whose father bestowed him with a feminine name. Many years later, the son learns it was a tough-love lesson to steel him against a cold, mean world. Chastened, he promises, “And if I ever have a son, I think I’m gonna name him … Bill or George anything but Sue. I still hate that name.”
“Daddy Frank,” Merle Haggard
Daddy Frank may have played a mean guitar, but his wife never knew. She was deaf, and he was blind. “Frank and Mama counted on each other,” Hag observes in this single from 1971. “Their one and only weakness made them strong.” Together, they had all five senses, made ends meet and provided a shining example of how a strong family supports one another.
“They Don’t Make ’Em Like My Daddy Anymore,” Loretta Lynn
A daughter celebrates her dignified and stalwart daddy with a 1974 song that proves as warmly reminiscent and as carefully sketched as Lynn’s other big daddy hit, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” He slaves long hours in that dark mine to put food on the table for his family but made sure they never thought of themselves as poor.
“Daddy What If,” Bobby Bare With Bobby Bare Jr.
A cute puppy dog of a song, “Daddy What If” first appeared on Bare’s 1973 album Lullabies Legends & Lies as a duet between the singer and his 5-year-old son Bobby Jr. Some 37 years later, Junior passed the song to another generation, singing it with his daughter Isabella for Twistable, Turnable Man, A Musical Tribute to Shel Silverstein.
“Ford Fairlane,” Bobby Pinson
This is pure poetry in which a battered old car serves as a vivid chronicle of a dad’s love for his son and vice versa. I’ll go out on a limb (where I have extensive real estate holdings) and say that Stephen Sondheim, that master jeweler of American lyricists, never wrote a more profound or moving song than this one. Alan Jackson’s “Drive (For Daddy Gene)” (2002) covers much the same territory but with a lighter touch.
“The Greatest Man I Never Knew,” Reba McEntire
The last lines say it all about this dutiful but emotionally distant father: “He was good at business/But there was business left to do/He never said he loved me/Guess he thought I knew.” Reba’s will always be the definitive version of this song, but give a listen to the inimitable Billy Dean’s interpretation, as well. It reveals its own set of wounds.
“I Loved Her First,” Heartland
Here we have the soliloquy of a conflicted father who, while happy to see his daughter deeply in love, is sorry to lose to marriage the “freckle-faced kid” he remembers. It is a tear-jerker of the first order and will be the soundtrack at wedding receptions for ages to come.
“That’s My Job,” Conway Twitty
Without boast, complaint or breast-beating, this father simply accepts that it is his “job” to keep his son safe, whether he agrees with his choices or not. George Strait’s “Love Without End, Amen” (1990) pursues the same theme.
“He Didn’t Have to Be,” Brad Paisley
Stepfathers don’t have the adjective “wicked” attached to them as reflexively as stepmothers do, but they don’t carry the reputation of being angelic, either. Well, this one is — a stepdad who embraces his wife’s child as completely as if he were his own. Paisley says Lovelace is the stepfather who inspired the song.
“Daddy Never Was the Cadillac Kind,” Confederate Railroad
While junior squanders his money and stretches his credit on flashy cars, his coalmining daddy tries to talk some sense into him, but with little success. Daddy finally does take a ride in a Cadillac — on his way to the grave. Watch the original music video on this one. The last scene will have you wiping your eyes.
“Tough Little Boys,”Gary Allan
This may be the sweetest daddy song of them all, particularly given the tender, understated way Allan sings it. No matter how much bravado a guy exhibits on his way to becoming a man, the lyrics observe, it all melts when he has a child. As the refrain says, “When tough little boys grow up to be dads/They turn into big babies again.”
“I’m Doing This for Daddy,” Johnny Wright
Here’s a tale that unfolds in that uncomfortable territory between copious weeping and uncontrollable giggling. A young lad marches into a bar to retrieve his mother from the clutches of a bounder who’s putting the moves on her while daddy is “away in Vietnam.” Talk about a spoilsport! The song brings to mind two other effusions of daddy sentimentality: Molly O’Day’s “Don’t Sell Daddy Any More Whiskey” (date uncertain), the recording of which, believe it or not, includes the sound of an infant crying, and John Denver’s “Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas) (1974). Both songs deal with brutish, abusive dads. But they are so shamelessly manipulative that you react more to how the message is delivered than to what the message is.
“My Daddy Is Only a Picture,” Eddy Arnold
Let’s end this parade of papas with one more tear-jerker. Here’s what a little boy tells a visitor who asks to see his father: “My daddy is only a picture/In a frame that hangs on the wall/Each day I talk to my daddy/But he never talks at all.” Since the dad died when the boy was “going on 3,” he has had to construct a father from a photo rather than memories. It’s very sad but was also very common to a generation of “war babies” whose fathers were killed in World War II, not long after which this song was recorded.