The Dedicated Playlist: Father's Day Edition
Songs for Dad: Springsteen, Lennon & others riff on complicated familyrelationships
I know you might be expecting a list filled with tried-and-true, inspirational odes to Dear Old Dad. I was fortunate to get along great with my Dad, but there is no doubt that the father-child relationship can be a mighty complicated one. The songs I’ve chosen here are my favorite songs about fathers, even if they don’t always paint a rosy picture. In other words, anybody expecting “Butterfly Kisses” should look elsewhere.
“Tears Of Rage” by The Band
Richard Manuel sang the version that kicks off The Band’s debut album, but Bob Dylan contributed the pained lyrics. Dylan actually writes from the Dad’s point of view and expresses the hurt inflicted by an ungrateful daughter who has grown beyond his command. Manuel’s vocal is an absolute spine-tingler.
“When The Tigers Broke Free” by Pink Floyd
While Roger Waters based some of the character Pink from The Wall on Syd Barrett, he also included bits of his own autobiography, such as his father dying in World War II. This track, which recounts the details’ of Waters’ father’s demise at the Anzio Bridge, made the film but not the album, and it’s a harrowing and riveting track.
“My Three Sons” by Elvis Costello
OK, it’s time to lighten the mood just a bit. While Elvis admits to some of the mistakes that he’s made in his past life, he pledges to make amends to his progeny. It may be startling to some to hear the Sultan of Sneer getting all sentimental, but he does it in typically eloquent Costello fashion.
“Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” by The Temptations
Of all the vocal groups to come out of Motown, perhaps none was more versatile than the Temps. Yes, they could drip some sugar if need be, but on this scorching classic they proved just how gritty they could get as well. It’s a terrific put-down of one of the all-time ne’er-do-well fathers in music history.
“She’s Leaving Home” by The Beatles
I know that the focus of this Sgt. Pepper’s beauty is the runaway girl, but the father’s righteous anger followed by the eventual realization that he’s pushed his daughter away is the real heartbreaker. Notice that the parents do all the talking in the song while the girl never actually speaks; it’s symbolic of the communication struggles that likely led to her departure.
“Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own” by U2
Even though it won a Song of the Year Grammy, this isn’t really known as one of U2’s classics. It really should be. Bono wrote it as a tribute to his father and played it at his Dad’s funeral. It’s a towering song about how two people can be so much alike and not really know a thing about each other.
“Ships” by Ian Hunter
You get twenty demerits if you only know the Barry Manilow version. This song was written and first performed by Hunter, the former lead singer of glam rockers Mott The Hoople. The nautical metaphor is the perfect way to describe a father and a son who have drifted far from each other and can’t quote reconnect.
“Biological Didn’t Bother” by Shaquille O’Neal
Honestly, I had intended to include this one even before Shaq Diesel’s retirement, but the timing is certainly serendipitous. Say what you want about his extracurricular activities outside of hoops (Kazaam, anyone?), but there is no doubting the heartfelt emotion behind this ode to his adoptive father.
“Independence Day” by Bruce Springsteen
Nobody has written more songs about the frayed bonds between father and son than The Boss. This song, found on 1980’s The River, is my personal favorite from that esteemed group. Springsteen manages to balance out his hurt feelings with hard-won understanding about his father’s burden in life.
"Old Man” by Art Garfunkel
Randy Newman wrote it, but his own pitch-black version of a son watching with cold eyes as his father withers away in a hospital bed is a tough pill to swallow. Garfunkel manages to leaven the bile with his gorgeous vocals, and somehow he manages to find some empathy in those lyrics that look so bitter on the page.
“Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)” by John Lennon
It’s always impossible to separate the songs on DoubleFantasy from Lennon’s murder shortly after its release. Every song becomes almost unbearably poignant in context. This lovely ode to his then 5-year-old son Sean told his audience everything they needed to know about John’s new priorities in life, even though he didn’t get the chance to follow through with it.
“Dinner At Eight” by Rufus Wainwright
The story goes that Rufus got into a row with his father Loudon, a folk singer of renown in his own time, during a photo shoot for a magazine (“It was great until those old magazines/Got us started up again.”) The resulting song features what sounds like a lifetime of pent-up frustration from Wainwright set to a hauntingly beautiful melody.
OK, Know-It-Alls, which odes to Dad did I omit that should have made the list?