Now, here is a subject that means different things to different people. What is the age-old expression, “Can’t live with them, can’t live without them”? True words for some. Songwriters have not been slow to appreciate the various situations, good and bad, that exist in families.
While the word might bring up images of utopia, it rarely is. Families do not always get along, families often split, and bad behavior can destroy any relevance the word might have.
Culture can have an effect…
Culture plays its part as well. The family unit means different things in different parts of the world. In some environments, there are obligations placed on each member of the family they need to fulfill.
One of the songs we are going to look at shows what happens when someone rebels against that situation. But, it is not all bad and can be a warm and loving unit for some, and that is included as well. Let’s take a look at some songs about family, starting with…
- Top 12 Songs About Family
- Mother and Child Reunion by Paul Simon
- Father And Daughter by Paul Simon
- We Are Family by Sister Sledge
- Teach Your Children Well by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young
- Family Affair by Sly and the Family Stone
- Hey Jude by The Beatles
- Sarah by Thin Lizzy
- It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) by Bob Dylan
- Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone by The Temptations
- Father And Son by Cat Stevens
- Mother by Pink Floyd
- Cat’s in the Cradle by Harry Chapin
- Want More Music About Family Members?
- Songs About Family – Final Thoughts
Top 12 Songs About Family
Mother and Child Reunion by Paul Simon
A song taken from his 1972 album simply entitled Paul Simon. This was his first solo album after the “final” split with Art Garfunkel.
This is an interesting song about family and one that demonstrates his evolving interest in world music because of its obvious Reggae influence. What is also worthy of comment is that it is one of the very few Reggae songs not recorded by a Jamaican.
Simon liked reggae, listening to such people as Desmond Dekker and Jimmy Cliff. The latter had recorded “Vietnam,” his anti-war song, in Kingston, Jamaica. Simon went there to record “Mother and Child Reunion” in the same studio.
The song creates a sad mood…
And it has some interesting lyrics that encourage that emotion. He says, “On this strange and mournful day – I can’t for the life of me – Remember a sadder day.”
The song is almost an examination of himself. His pet dog had been hit by a car and killed. And, for those of us who love animals, that can be a traumatic experience, as it was for him.
He began to wonder, if he felt like that about his dog, how he would feel if it happened to his wife. The song reached #5 in the UK and #4 in America.
Father And Daughter by Paul Simon
Let’s stay with Paul Simon but move forward in time 30 years. He wrote this song for the animated family film, The Wild Thornberrys Movie. It was released as a single in 2002. In 2006, it was released again and went into the Top 40 in the UK. It also was included in his 2006 album, Surprise.
But this is not just an “ordinary” song…
Paul Simon was quite a bit older when Lulu, his daughter, was born. There have been plenty of songs about the bonds between fathers and daughters. This one expresses the love that he feels and exists between them.
It is a clever song in that it is written in a way that a child can understand. He uses terminology that a young person could relate to. For example, how he guards her “like a golden retriever.”
As she gets older and her understanding increases, she will see that he is saying he will always watch over her and be a part of her life. If not in the flesh, then in her memories of him. A great sentiment and one that very few songwriters could achieve with such sincerity.
We Are Family by Sister Sledge
This is something you don’t come across every day. A band that is made up of nothing but family members. The quartet comprised four sisters, and this was a track from their album released in 1979, We Are Family. Not surprisingly, they gave us one of the best songs about family.
The song was written by two members of Chic, Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards. Sister Sledge was from Philadelphia and had the majority of their success during the Disco period. Interestingly, they scored a #1 hit in the UK with their release of “Frankie” in 1985.
Growing up, they had all the right family members to make it work. Besides their very good voices, their father was a dancer, and their mother an actress.
The performance genes were built-in…
They got vocal training from their grandmother, who had been an opera singer. The song was quite an appropriate release for them. It’s a song that celebrates the importance of family and the bond between them.
Although Kathy left to pursue a solo career in 1989, there was never any animosity. The strength of some family units. She often returned to join up with her sisters for one-off performances.
Teach Your Children Well by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young
I have to lay cards on the table here and say I was never a fan of Crosby and the rest of them. Sorry about that, CSN and Y fans. Neil Young, however, I have always thought of as great. But the rest? Supergroup… whatever that is? Not for me, I am afraid. I always thought America was better.
This song was taken from the 1970 album Deja Vu, which I had given to me and kept. There were a couple of good tracks on the album, and this one was very good indeed.
“Teach Your Children Well” was written by ex-Hollies member Graham Nash in 1969. It is a semi-country-style song that is full of sentiments about families and children. Especially the role of the father figure.
Nash had experienced some heartbreak in that respect…
He had watched his father sent to prison for something he didn’t do. And, at the time, Strangeways prison in Manchester was a tough place to be. He never recovered from the experience, according to Nash.
But, it is a song that transcends just his father in the family. It encourages every father to take responsibility and be the role model required of him. One of their best songs, in my opinion, and one of the best songs about family. It wasn’t released as a single in the UK but reached #16 in America.
Family Affair by Sly and the Family Stone
This is another band that had plenty of family connections. In the band were Sly’s sister Rosie and his brother Freddie. Interestingly, a commentator said they were unique because they had a mix of black and white people in the band.
This was in 1971…
And, for years before, the UK had bands that mixed black and white. Let’s try The Equals, The Foundations, Geno Washington, Hot Chocolate; I could go on. I think for that particular commentator, it’s called living in a bubble.
Sly and his band may have been best known for their great track “Dance to the Music,” which was a big record for them in 1967. A song that the band didn’t like at all, calling it just “glorified Motown.” Not sure about that, but it introduced them to the world with a bang.
“Family Affair” reached #15 in the UK and #1 in America. It was included in their 1971 album, There’s A Riot Goin’ On.
Hey Jude by The Beatles
One of The Beatles’ most well-known hit records, it was released in 1968, and we don’t need to talk about any chart success. It was a time when if The Beatles had recorded “Three Blind Mice” as a medieval chant, it would still have been #1.
The song was written by Paul McCartney during the period when John and Cynthia were getting divorced. It was written to John’s son, Julian, who at the time was just five years old.
McCartney was always portrayed as the “sensitive” one for writing this song…
Not so sensitive, though, that he criticized Ringo’s drumming on The White Album. In particular, the song Ringo sang, “Back In The U.S.S.R.” That caused Ringo to tell him to “shove it,” and he walked out and wasn’t seen for two weeks. He came back for the video recording of “Hey Jude.”
That wasn’t the only argument. George wasn’t allowed to interpret his guitar parts for the song, either. John gave him “carte blanche” on his songs, but McCartney “always knew best.”
One of the producers commented that McCartney was oblivious to anyone else’s feelings at this time. Sensitive? The song was noted for its rather long coda, which was longer than the actual song.
Sarah by Thin Lizzy
Not the best-known Thin Lizzy track, probably because they didn’t use it in their stage act. The song was written by Phil Lynott and Gary Moore about Lynott’s newly-arrived daughter, Sarah. It was included on the album Black Rose: A Rock Legend.
The single reached #24 in the UK. It was released in 1979 at a time when if you went to see “Lizzy,” you weren’t sure who was going to be on the stage. On the first public TV performance on “Top of the Pops,” Lynott was the only band member who played that had been on the recording.
This song is not to be confused with another Thin Lizzy song of the same name. The first Sarah song was written for Phil Lynotts’ grandmother and included on the album, Shades Of A Blue Orphanage.
It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) by Bob Dylan
It isn’t possible to take the best songs from any topic without including one from one of the 20th Century’s real geniuses. You know what I mean, not the plastic ones we are force-fed but a real-life music genius.
Almost like a letter to a fictitious mother, it is a protest song that can only be described as “grim.” A grim masterpiece, that is. It was taken from one of his early great albums, Bringing It All Back Home.
But this song is different…
In most of his other protest songs, he offers a glimmer of hope. In this song, he does not. He has a go at just about everything he hates. Commercialism, consumerism, hypocritical politicians, and the war mentality that existed in America at the time.
Nothing much has changed in sixty years, has it?
Perhaps only that those evils have now spread to other countries. He often said it was a painful song to write, and he couldn’t write it again now. But he can still play it.
He uses his “Ma” as an outlet for the pain he is feeling by a metaphorical expression of him bleeding. Genius at work? We already knew that. There has only been one storyteller/songwriter to even get close to him. But I will finish my roundup with him.
Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone by The Temptations
I always loved The Temptations apart for two things which I shall refer to soon. In the very early days, they produced great songs like “Get Ready,” “The Way You Do The Things You Do,” “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg,” “My Girl,” “(I Know) I’m Losing You,” and “Beauty Is Only Skin Deep.”
But then, there was a change of atmosphere. We suddenly got an almost Dylan-like series of protest songs. “Cloud Nine,” “Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today),” and then, “Papa.”
This was something else. They had become a good, going from probably the best Motown act to a great act with something to say.
But, oh dear…
I presume they wanted the messages in these songs to be taken seriously, as they should have been. If so, then why those awful pink suits and staged dance routines? I used to love to listen to them, but I just couldn’t look without cringing.
“Papa” was a song written by Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield. Both were Motown songwriters. It tells the tale of a no-good father who didn’t work and just drifted. “Wherever he laid his hat was his home.” It was powerful and somber but great at the same time.
A classic song about fathers and families that remains very popular today.
Father And Son by Cat Stevens
I mentioned earlier about cultures. And fathers’ and sons’ responsibilities within those cultures and the sometimes rebellion that occurs. This is what I was referring to.
It is a semi-autobiographical song by Cat Stevens where he takes both parts, the father and the son. Stevens was born and brought up in West London, and he lived with his family above the family business. It was a busy restaurant, the Moulin Rouge, situated on Shaftesbury Avenue.
His Cypriot father assumed that he would one day assume his role of helping to run the family business. But Stevens had other ideas. This song is representative of the exchange of views they may have had.
The son wants to break away and create his own life, in this case, in music. The father cannot understand that. The son finds it hard to explain; he just knows he must leave.
In many ways, it is a very sad song about families, but also an inspiration for others in a similar situation. Some heartbreaking lines reflect on people’s traditions.
“How can I try to explain – When I do he turns away again – It’s always been the same – Same old story – From the moment I could talk – I was ordered to listen.” And, “You will still be here tomorrow – But your dreams may not.”
As I said, quite sad…
The song was taken from his album, Tea For The Tillerman, released in 1970. The single was not a success, which was surprising. Although, it did chart in Holland and Italy a year later in 1971.
Mother by Pink Floyd
Written by Roger Waters, this is a song about having an overtly over-protective mother. It was taken from their iconic album, The Wall, released in 1979.
Pink Floyd and Roger Waters were never afraid of addressing delicate issues at times, and this is a good example. Waters said that looking back, he felt that his mother was a “wall” that he was constantly banging his head against.
Of course, those of us who had children can relate to this from both sides. Waters never met his father; he was killed in Italy in WW2. His mother, if she was over-protective of him, may have been like that with the best of intentions.
She may have felt without his father; she had to be the protector. The song is a masterpiece of the situation when it occurs in its most extreme form.
The album, The Wall, topped the charts in eleven countries, including America. Although, it only reached #3 in the UK. Nevertheless, it remains a very well know song about family relationships.
Cat’s in the Cradle by Harry Chapin
I mentioned earlier that as a storyteller/songwriter, only one other, in my view, came close to Dylan. Say hello to Harry Chapin. This epic song was taken from his album, Verities & Balderdash, released in 1974.
It looks at an issue that is not uncommon for a man with a family. Balancing the time between earning a living and having time with your children. It is factual but brutal in its outcomes.
And it should be a warning…
The song traces the relationship between the boy who wanted to have time with his dad, but the father is always too busy. It ends up with the son growing up with his own family, doing the same thing his father had done.
Not only has he no time for his children, but he also has no time for his dad in his old age either. Perfectly encapsulated in the final few words of the verse, “And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me – He’d grown up just like me – My boy was just like me.”
Want More Music About Family Members?
Well, then take a look at our detailed articles on the Best Songs About Brothers, the Best Songs About Daughters, the Best Songs About Sons, the Best Songs About Having A Baby, and the Best Songs About Grandparents for more incredible song selections.
Of course, you need to hear them. So, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best True Wireless Earbuds, the Best Sound Quality Earbuds, the Best Noise Isolating Earbuds, the Best Headphones for Music, and the Best Headphones Under $200 you can buy in 2023.
Songs About Family – Final Thoughts
“Come mothers and fathers throughout the land – And don’t criticize what you can’t understand – Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command – The old world is rapidly fading.”
It never ceases to amaze me how Bob Dylan always gets it so right poetically. I suppose that is how he won his Nobel Prize for Literature.
As parents, we often don’t understand. As kids, we didn’t either. Yet, families are the strongest thing we have and should be celebrated where we can. And they are celebrated here by some of the great songwriters.
Until next time, happy listening.