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Your Mother Should Know

Your Mother Should Know

I miss my mom. She died five years ago, and I’m still working through it. I have a lot of guilt about all the things I could’ve said and done before she was gone. But she had a very good life and seemed to be happy with the way things turned out for her, and I have to believe she understood and forgave my failings as a son

Let’s look at a few sons’ musical tributes to moms.

bb king

“Nobody Loves Me But My Mother” This little minute-and-a-half-long ditty opens Riley “B.B.” King’s Indianola Mississippi Seeds album of 1970. It’s just B.B. on piano and vocals, and features the great one-liner “Nobody loves me but my mother and she might be jivin’ too.”

After that opener, B.B. is joined by a band that includes another King, a most unlikely one—Carole—on piano on several tracks. Leon Russell does the keyboarding on the ones Ms. King sits out on. It’s a nice album, B.B. King’s favorite of his works, and capitalizes on the bluesman’s newfound popularity following the surprise hit “The Thrill is Gone.” The album is named for King’s official hometown (his birth certificate is reproduced on the inside jacket), but King says in the recent documentary The Life of Riley that he was actually born on a plantation outside of Itta Bena.

B.B.’s mother may have been jivin’ after all, since she left young Riley to be raised by her mother.

Mr. Mingus

Mr. Mingus

“Exactly Like You” This Dorothy Fields-Jimmy McHugh song comes from the same 1930 musical, Lew Leslie’s International Review, that featured “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” The singer proclaims of his mama that she “meant me for someone exactly like you.” Now, that’s an ideal: mom’s choice.

It’s been recorded by many artists, including Frank Sinatra, but, again, my favorite is an instrumental: Charles Mingus interpolates “Exactly Like You” with “Take the ‘A’ Train,” to perfection.

Dorothy Fields’ father Lew was an actor and theatrical producer, but her mother Rose was not enthusiastic about Dorothy going into show business, telling her and her siblings, “You children must be extra polite to strangers because your father’s an actor.”

“Your Mother Should Know” Paul McCartney’s light ‘n’ airy number that was included on the Magical Mystery Tour album is in the line of dance-hall nostalgia numbers that includes “When I’m 64” and “Honey Pie.”

Paul’s mother Mary died in 1956, when he was fourteen. It was a connection Paul had early on with John, whose mother died when he was seventeen.

magical

“Mother ” John Lennon’s opener for John Lennon/ Plastic Ono Band, his “primal album” from 1970, is anything but light ‘n’ airy. He’s mad at his mother, and wants to let it out. “Mother,” he wails, “you had me, but I never had you.” John and Yoko had spent some time in therapy with Mr. Primal Scream, Arthur Janov. The album is raw and emotional, a world away from The Beatles’ slick productions. The band comprised Ringo Starr on drums and one of the many “fifth Beatles,” Klaus Voorman, on bass.

Many of the song titles are single words: “Remember,” “Isolation,” “God,” “Love.” They’re loose but not lax, and it remains among my all-time favorite albums. It was Village Voice critic Robert Christgau’s choice in 1970 as Album of the Year.

My wife Sweets grew up with parents who spent several years wallowing in Arthur Janov and his primal scream theories. There was a lot of confrontation and yelling in the household, and Sweets and her two sisters couldn’t wait to flee the coop. John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band is not one of my wife’s favorites.

n young

“New Mama” “New Mama’s got a son in her eyes.”

Neil Young’s equivalent to Lennon’s primal album is Tonight’s the Night,” the anti-Harvest. Neil, in this tribute to fallen junkie music associates, is rough, occasionally out-of-tune, tequila-soaked, and fearless. Even the most low-fi of these songs is darkly beautiful, from bleary, drug-saturated “Tired Eyes” to the acoustic trippiness of “Albuquerque” and “New Mama,” which both sound like late-night-long-after-the-show CSNY sing-alongs, hoarse and coarse and lovely. Tonight’s the Night is another all-time favorite album.

Neil lived with his mother after his father left her.

duke

“Reminiscing in Tempo” For years, I sang Duke Ellington’s “Solitude” thinking it was a song Duke, who was very close to his mother, had written for her in his grief following her death. I later learned that wasn’t true—he wrote “Solitude” shortly before she died. Ellington biographer Terry Teachout says that the song Duke wrote while grief-stricken over his mother was actually the extended form “Reminiscing in Tempo.” It has no lyrics, but its music was inspired by mother Daisy. In his memoir Music Is My Mistress, Duke wrote of “Reminiscing in Tempo” that “every page of that particular manuscript was dotted with smears and unshapely marks caused by tears that had fallen.” This is a man who missed his mother.

Honorable Mention: Sonny Bono had the cheekiness to write a song for Cher to sing about their divorce. “Now how should I put this? I’ve got something to say / Your mother is staying, but I’m going away.” It worked! “You Better Sit Down, Kids” was a hit, and it’s the last Cher song I ever liked.

Amazing Jimmy (“No such thing as a bad song”) Nominee: On the other hand, there’s Helen Reddy’s song of mother-daughter solidarity, “You and Me Against the World.” I guess it’s not really too horrible a song, but Helen Reddy on the vocals pretty much automatically consigns it to the “no” pile.

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About themesongsteve

Each of my blog posts focuses on a category and very subjectively winds through some of my favorite music that falls somehow into the category. Not meant to be all-inclusive, by any means, or even to determine “the best.” Just a side trip of anecdotes, factoids, and observations about an eclectic range of music, category by category. I invite readers to contribute their own subjective favorites to each post.

20 responses »

  1. I’m sorry to hear about your mom Steve.
    Nice idea for a post – what a contrast between the McCartney & Lennon mother songs.
    The first lyric that came to mind for me was “mama, ooooooooo” from Bohemian Rhapsody.
    Then The Police’s “mother” which is an endurance test of a listen!
    Bryan Adams’ “is your mama gonna miss ya?” is a good one, I like how he in-formalizes mother/going to/you all in one song title!

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  2. An absolutely beautiful post. I’m very sorry to hear about your Mom (5 years belated). Wanted to say you completely nailed it in your paragraph on Tonight’s The Night. Nailed. It. Hot damn I love that record (rough as it is to love such a gnarly thing 🙂 ). I always laughed at that B.B. song until I read a book about him, then I went ohhhhh.

    Tough subject, fantastic post. Well done, sir.

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    • Thanks so much. Funny thing about Tonight’s the Night. I used to only listen to it when I was drunk, late at night. It was only years later that it seemed just as perfect for bright and sunny sober mornings.

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  3. Great post, Steve. Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colours springs to mind. I believe that was for her mother. Though I might be wrong …

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  4. Being a Texas guy, you may well be familiar with one of my favorite Mom-themed songs, “Goodnight to a Mother’s Dream.” But I’m kind of surprised you didn’t include Paul Simon’s “Love’s Me Like a Rock.”

    And I hear you on the parental guilt thing. My dad’s been gone for a little over two years now, and I still feel like I should’ve done more to take care of him. Always will, I guess.

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  5. Great post. I’m sorry for your loss and was touched by the personal spin on your selection. So many songs can be heard as mother songs at the end of the day.

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  6. Great descriptions of two classics (both the songs and the albums), John Lennon’s and Neil Young’s. Pink Floyd’s Matilda Mother is a childhood-reminiscing tune that’s playful and spooky at the same time in a way only Syd Barett could achieve.

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  7. It’s no big deal, but I wonder why you didn’t wait until “Mother’s Day” (next May 10) for this theme.
    As for the musicians and songs, I can only claim to being acquainted with the names of some of them (B.B. King and the Beatles), but even in that regard I don’t recognize the particular songs you mention. “Sunny Side of the Street” is an oldie which several singers recorded, and I recall it as pleasant but not so much that I would buy the record. (You only mention it incidentally anyway.)
    How one can find songs sung by drunk dope-heads boggles my mind, too. I’ve had too many unpleasant experiences with people of that sort to find their treatment of ANY song even “darkly beautiful”.
    And it hurts when you put down Helen Reddy, to whom I got turned on through her “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” rendition. However, I do not claim to have a music critic’s ear; she could have missed a note here and there and I would not have noticed. Also, there’s the “everybody has his/her individual taste” position to reckon with.
    Too bad we’re not more in sync music-wise as we are on other matters, Themesong

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    • I’m afraid if we try to only listen to music-makers who are pure of mind and spirit, we’d wind up left with those with the blandness of, well–Helen Reddy to choose from. Got to have the emotional looseness of Neil Young, Jimmy Reed, Charlie Parker, and so on.

      But, yes, to each his/her own.

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