Having been away from home for a year now, I’ve found myself searching for a connection to my childhood through songs that I associate with my mother. When I’m feeling nostalgic, I’ll turn on Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl” and remember driving down the Rhode Island coastline, laughing as my mom sang the lyrics that her college sorority made up to the tune of the song. When I find myself wondering whether to take a risk, I remember my mom telling me how Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance” captures everything that she hopes for me as I head off to college.
I started thinking about how artists portray motherhood in music. Like any professional researcher, I started my investigation by stalking various mother–themed Spotify playlists. As I scrolled through the app, I came across playlists made by all sorts of people, from anxious 40-year-old mothers wondering how they could relate to their children to angsty pre-teens counting down the days before they leave home. To spare you the agony of perusing through some abysmal music selections, I’ve compiled a list of quintessential songs about mothers and motherhood.
1. “Slipping Through My Fingers” by ABBA: This song absolutely destroys me whenever I listen to it. Yet, I inevitably blast it repeatedly on the three-hour drive from home in Scranton, Pennsylvania to Yale. There is something about hearing Agnetha Fältskog say, “Sometimes I wish that I could freeze the picture and save it from the funny tricks of time,” that strikes the right melancholic note as I kiss my mother and dog goodbye. Or maybe I’m just dramatic.
2. “Where You Lead” by Carole King: With the strength of the Yale-Gilmore Girls connection, I would be remiss if I didn’t include this iconic song. I cannot separate this catchy tune from the memories of sitting on my couch with my mom after I got into Yale, watching Gilmore Girls from start to finish. 10/10 recommend listening to this song before you call your mother.
3. “Reaper” by Clairo: I will never forgive the imbeciles who called Clairo’s latest album, Sling, boring. It is objectively a work of art, and “Reaper” serves as one of my main pieces of evidence. This song unpacks Clairo’s fears about motherhood through the lens of her adopting her dog Joanie. Clairo sings, “I’m born to be somebody then somebody comes from me,” reckoning with societal expectation that all young women will become mothers.
4. “Class of 2013” by Mitski: Including this song on the list feels dangerous given the horrors that it can unleash upon one’s mental health, but it is nonetheless one of the most moving songs about a mother-daughter relationship. This song captures the depths of pain that come along with longing for simpler times. Listen at your own risk.
5. “My Mother & I” by Lucy Dacus: In this ballad, Dacus delves into how mothers inadvertently pass their own insecurities onto their children. This song is just as gut-wrenching as “Class of 2013,” but Dacus ends the song on a positive note, thanking her mother for all that she has given her.
6. “Stacy’s Mom” by Fountains of Wayne: No list would be complete without it. Songs that remind you of your mother can conjure all sorts of emotions. Sometimes, it’s more fun to not feel at all and blast this iconic bop about someone else’s MILF.