The perfect country song, according to David Allan Coe’s hilarious classic “You Never Even Called Me By My Name,” requires that you refer to trains, trucks, prison, gettin’ drunk and – of course – mama. By those standards, none of these songs are perfect, but they’re all at least very good at paying homage to Mom as we slide into Mother’s Day.
It’s probably not the definitive list – you could argue that others, such as Merle Haggard’s “Mama’s Hungry Eyes” – belong here, but it’s good enough to give you a full-bodied picture of your mom, my mom, somebody’s mom.
In no particular order, here are 20 country songs – and one bonus title – for moms everywhere:
“Mama’s Song,” Carrie Underwood (2010) – A rolling music bed and Carrie’s own romantic storyline with hockey player Mike Fisher form the backdrop for a song that shows a mother just what a great job she’s done. She parented a daughter who picks the right kind of partner.
“The Hand That Rocks The Cradle,” Glen Campbell with Steve Wariner (1987) – “There ought to be a hall of fame for mamas.” Well, there’s not, but there is this nifty little duet built around the psychologies of birth, breast feeding and teaching life lessons.
“Mama Don’t Forget To Pray For Me,” Diamond Rio (1991) – In many families, Mom is the one who provides the strongest moral compass. In this case, she gets a phone call from her adult son, looking for advice from his best-loved guidance counselor.
“So Much Like My Dad,” George Strait (1992) – “Mom, can we talk?” George is as good at anyone at delivering a song that’s essentially a conversation set to music. In this case, it’s a mother/son chat as he tries to figure out exactly why his own household is falling apart.
“Mama Tried,” Merle Haggard (1968) – Perhaps the hardest part of the job for mothers: You can do everything right, and the kid insists on messing up anyway. In this mostly autobiographical account, the adult Merle takes responsibility for ignoring Flossie Haggard’s wisdom and ending up in prison by age 21.
“The Sweetest Gift,” Linda Ronstadt & Emmylou Harris (1976) – This duet works as an unintended companion piece to “Mama Tried.” First recorded by James and Martha Carson in the 1940s, it has Mom visiting her son in prison, offering nothing but a smile. One appropriate piece of trivia: When The Judds were living in Kentucky and had no money, they sang it as a Mother’s Day present to Naomi’s mom in 1975. Here’s a version we found of Linda & Emmylou singing it, with their Trio partner, Dolly Parton.
“I.O.U.,” Jimmy Dean (1976) – The biggest investments a mother makes are her time and her heart. If she’s doing her job the right way, all she asks for in return is love. Mom got it in a big way in this recitation that’s essentially a laundry list of all her sacrifices and expressions of dedication to a son.
“Mama He’s Crazy,” The Judds (1984) – Kinda, sorta like “Mama’s Song,” except it’s delivered by a real-life mom and daughter team.
“In My Daughter’s Eyes,” Martina McBride (2003) – Moms leave two kinds of trails: one is genetic, the other is character. It’s the latter that Martina embraces in this piano-driven ballad.
“Teenage Daughters,” Martina McBride (2011) – Seventeen years of changing your diapers, feeding you, hauling you around, and the reward is you ask for money and roll your eyes at me. Martina documents a real “special” time in parenthood.
“Don’t Take Your Guns To Town,” Johnny Cash (1959) – Was Mom a nag? A worry-wart? Or wise beyond her years? The cowboy in this spare, dark production changed his point of view just before drawing his final breath in a pool of blood on a barroom floor.
“I’m The Only Hell (Mama Ever Raised),” Johnny Paycheck (1977) – “Mama Tried,” the outlaw version.
“Roses For Mama,” C.W. McCall (1977) – A little boy puts flowers on his mom’s grave, inducing guilt in a man who’s taken his own mother for granted. It’s cheesy and contrived, but if you don’t feel at least a smattering of emotion over it, your own mama probably doesn’t like you.
“Hot Mama,” Trace Adkins (2003) – Child birth and the stress of raising kids can take its toll on the body. Worried about it? Not an issue to Daddy Trace: “Let’s… turn this room into a sauna.”
“No Charge,” Melba Montgomery (1974) – An enterprising kid figures out a way to make money from Mom, and hands her a $14.75 bill for doing all his chores. Her response is to remind him of the labor pains, the worry, the food and the clothes, all of which she’s provided at “no charge.” He, of course, zeroes out his invoice. Has this ever worked with the phone company?
“Don’t Forget To Remember Me,” Carrie Underwood (2006) – Whether it’s her little girl’s first apartment or her departure for college, it’s a good bet that Mom will still be there for support. That $50 bill in the ashtray isn’t just a gesture of love; it’s also a token of Mom’s ability to plan ahead.
“To Daddy,” Emmylou Harris (1977) – Dolly Parton wrote an enormously sad song that unfolds as if she were a child reporter, detailing the facts about her parents’ relationship. Mom does her family chores while Dad treats her more like an employee or a possession than a mate. When the child-rearing is done, it’s goodbye to Daddy.
“Mama Knows,” Shenandoah (1988) – Is it a sixth sense or the eyes in the back of her head? Yup, Mom knew about the cigarettes and the first love. And Marty Raybon and crew wish she was still around.
“26 Cents,” The Wilkinsons (1998) – Two coins, a letter and a visceral umbilical cord. Oddly enough, this tribute to Mama was delivered by a family trio – a dad, a son and a daughter – without Mom.
“Somebody’s Hero,” Jamie O’Neal (2005) – “The keeper of the Cheerios.” That’s just one of the roles Jamie laid out for moms in this sentimental effort that examines mothers in multiple situations: parent to a toddler, mother of the bride and caretaker of her own elderly mom.
“Pistol Packin’ Mama,” Al Dexter (1944) – The woman in this bonus song may not really be a mother; nowhere in the lyrics is there a reference to a kid. But it does show an adult woman protecting her home turf, disciplining a cheatin’ husband with a fatal gunshot. It was one of two versions of the song that put the word “Mama” on the very first Billboard country chart; the other featured Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters.
What did you think of our list? Did we forget any? Let us know your favorite songs about Moms by leaving a comment below!