Although a Whole Foods gift card and solo morning at the spa are what your mother actually wants for her upcoming eponymous day, why not treat her to something you’ve been creating for your friends and crushes since you learned how to tape things off the radio? Here are ten songs to show your mama that although times may be tough and the road may be long, she’ll always be the girl in your life. Like when people ask if there is “anyone special,” you’ll be like, yeah, it’s my mom. They might look at you weird, but then you’ll press play on this mix and they’ll totally get it:
THE WISTFUL MOTHER
“Mother and Child Reunion” – Paul Simon
Legend has it that the mother and child reunion is actually the name of a dish at Chinese restaurant. Paul Simon saw it, ordered it, and the rest is history. Whether or not this is true doesn’t matter much as the song is a classic, and apparently, Simon is one of the first white musicians to use the reggae beat, so props to the Paulster right there. Though the lyrics are a bit of a mystery, the mother in this case is dealing with potential death and definite longing. But fear not, oh mother, your reunion is only a moment away.
THE SUPPORTIVE MOTHER
“Hey Mama” – Kanye West
We all know the famous story of how a botched plastic surgery incident unfortunately took the life of Kanye’s mother and it’s almost a shame that that’s how Donda West will be remembered in the public eye. Luckily, we have this singable homage off Kanye’s 2005 record Late Registration written seven years prior to Donda’s death. The mother here is in constant support of her son: you work late nights just to keep on the lights / Mommy got me training wheels so I could keep on my bike. Without Donda, there’d be no Kanye, and without Kanye, there’d be no Kimye baby.
THE ANXIOUS MOTHER
“Upward Over the Mountain” – Iron & Wine
What you get from early 2000s Iron & Wine is kitchen recordings that sound more like perfect first takes than the clean and polished work he’s putting out today. Sam Beam has delivered mostly poetry in his time under this moniker, but none so gutting as this gem. Repeating the line mother don’t worry over and over as though it never became true. The mother here always scared of what her son might be up to, waiting behind the front curtains for his early return from a night out. But as he reminds her, he is just up the street, with his coat and some friends on the corner, and will be home soon.
THE LIBERATING MOTHER
“Mother Mother” – Tracy Bonham
Upon first listen, you hear Tracy Bonham ringing up her mother and screaming into the telephone and you’re all, whoa this girl has major mommy issues. Weirdly enough, the mother in the video is Tracy’s actual mother which turns it into whoa maybe they’re super cool with each other. Her mother may have doubted Tracy’s ability to become something but set her free and let her live out her dream. Tracy’s just calling her to tell her mom what’s up and maybe things aren’t perfect: I’m freezing / I’m starving / I’m bleeding to death, but she’s making her own mistakes, one screaming chorus at a time.
THE YOUNG MOTHER
“Little Green” – Joni Mitchell
In 1964, Joni gave her baby up for adoption and bronzed the story in this song. She was 21 and simply not ready to take care of a child. Decades later, she and her daughter Kilauren Gibbs were reunited, thanks to the wonders of the Internet. While much of this story is both brave and sad (call her green and the winters cannot fade her / call her green for the children that made her… / little green have a happy ending), Joni can keep her head up and look forward and ahead to grandchildren. It’s as though she knew the day would come.
THE REALISTIC MOTHER
“Mama Said” – The Shirelles
You might not meet Mr. or Ms. Right in high school, fall in love, stay together through college, then get married in your late 20s followed by a high-paying job in the city and a house on Long Island; it just might not be in the cards for you. But please note: something will happen, you’ll take the rocky road like most people take who are living real life and you’ll deal with good times and bad and you’ll get through it. Mama knows best, dear.
THE ENCOURAGING MOTHER
“Look What You’ve Done” – Drake
It’s one thing to work two jobs and late nights to support your child financially and it’s another thing to say to your child: you are amazing (Disclaimer: I am not a parent and know nothing about what it’s like to be a parent.). Drake sings: but I could do anything / you said that / and you meant that / you took me places / you spent that / they said no / we went back / checks bounced / but we bounced back. Here I think is the crux of the song. When the money isn’t there, Drake and his mother figure it out and they figure it out as a team. Words of encouragement, in both directions, can go a long way.
THE DOGMATIC MOTHER
“Mama Says” – The Beach Boys
Not to be confused with The Shirelles past tense title, The Beach Boys’ mothers are present tensing lessons all over the place. With just a few brief directives to their sons repeated five times in just over a minute: eat a lot / sleep a lot / brush ‘em like crazy / run a lot / do a lot / never be lazy, these mothers mean business. It evokes the “How many times do I have to tell you?!” charm of motherhood. God only knows what I’d be without my mom reminding me to clean my room, again and again. Probably doing the same thing I am today but with a totally messy room!
THE HONEST MOTHER
“Alive” – Pearl Jam
Part autobiographical and part fiction, Eddie Vedder sings the story of a son who is told by his mother that his father is not really his father but his stepfather. It gets very As the World Turns up in here. But isn’t this part of being a parent? Being completely open and truthful with your child will only facilitate communication, not hinder it, right? Granted, this secret is a soapy one but better now than later, when he’s 35, and his children find out on the Internet that their real grandfather is some crystal freak who was on season one of Hoarders.
THE SWEET MOTHER
“Song for Mama” – Boyz II Men
And finally, one of the greatest bands of all time singing about the greatest female love of their lives. Their moms, duh. A tender little number with lyrics like: you were there for me / to love and care for me / when skies were grey. While the words are for sure worthy of your run-of-the-mill Walgreen’s greeting card, the sentiment is supes cute. And here I am thinking we the fans were responsible for turning these boys into men, when in fact, it was their mothers all along.