Dad: He’s the guy who taught you how to drive, how to throw a baseball… and perhaps how to chug a beer and stand up to the mean kids on the playground, as well. He’s often the good cop to Mom’s bad cop and the Batman to your Robin. And no other genre of music celebrates him better than country.
In honor of Father’s Day, Rolling Stone Country presents our favorite 15 songs about fatherhood— some from the kid’s perspective, others from the dad’s, and all that pack a sentimental punch.
Gary Allan, “Tough Little Boys”
It’s easy to get caught up in country’s requisite machismo, and no one (well, except Hank Williams) wants to cop to spilling tears in their ice-cold beers. But there’s one topic that turns even the manliest cowboys to mush: their kids. Such is the case on Allan’s “Tough Little Boys,” the first single from 2003’s See If I Care and the Californian’s second Number One hit. “Your first day of school, I cried like a fool,” Allan sings in a voice that, through its subtle rasp and delicate cracks, artfully mirrors the fragility and fear of parenthood. He may have weathered fistfights with calm composure, but nothing gets a dad in the gut like the “little blonde curls” of his daughter.
Conway Twitty, “That’s My Job”
The Eighties probably wasn’t Conway Twitty’s strongest decade: though plentiful, his recordings were often washed out by the era’s neon sheen and glossy production. But “That’s My Job” is a unique jewel that pairs his rich vocals with a heart-wrenching illustration of both the everlasting duty and promise of fatherhood. Written by Gary Burr, off of the 1987 album Borderline, the song captures the aching moment every child realizes his parents are not immortal — and the daunting task of living up to their memory, once they’re gone. “That’s my job/That’s what I do/Everything I do is because of you,” reassures Dad to son, a couplet which Twitty will repeat to himself later as he reflects on the legacy left behind.
Jamey Johnson, “The Dollar”
It was the experience of being separated from his young daughter while he worked a construction job that inspired Johnson to write “The Dollar,” which he reimaged through the eyes of a boy and paired with a chugging melody to make sure the impact wasn’t too sentimental. The song, off of his 2005 debut of the same title, reached Number 14 on the charts — and introduced an artist who could meld syrupy lines with honkytonk rhythm in a balance not often seen on country radio. “How much more does Daddy need to spend some time with me?” asks a son to his mother, counting pennies in hopes he can afford to keep his father home — and showing how being the provider comes with the even greater cost of time.
Brad Paisley, “He Didn’t Have to Be”
The song that gave the future superstar his first Number One hit was this collaboration between Brad Paisley and his frequent co-writer, Kelly Lovelace, off of his 1999 debut Who Needs Pictures. Based on Lovelace’s relationship with his own stepson, “He Didn’t Have to Be” tells the story of a boy who gains a father when his single mother settles down with a new man. “A few months later I remember lying there in bed/I overheard him pop the question and prayed that she’d say yes,” sings Paisley in a tale that shows how, sometimes, it’s not blood that makes a parent — it’s what you do in the trenches.
Holly Dunn, “Daddy’s Hands”
Though Dunn has since retired from country music to focus on her painting career, it was this 1986 single from her debut album that showcased her unique, bluegrass-steeped voice and deft, illustrative songwriting, and earned her a Grammy nomination. “Daddy’s hands were soft and kind when I was cryin’/Daddy’s hands were hard as steel when I’d done wrong,” she sings about her preacher father, tracing the complicated task of parenthood and the multiple men we all demand our dads to be. The song would go on to become a classic from the now-mysterious star, as would a duet version she performed with Dolly Parton on her defunct Dolly show.
Alabama, “Roll On (Eighteen Wheeler)”
Written by Dave Loggins and released on Alabama’s 1984 album of the same name, “Roll On” became the anthem for every family with a big-rigging daddy who was double-shifting down the interstate. The chart-topping single chronicles the story of a truck driver who becomes lost after his semi jackknifes into a snow bank. Back home, Mama and the kids stay up all night praying and singing his song, “Roll on highway, roll on along, roll on Daddy ’til you get back home.” And wouldn’t you know it, Daddy calls the next morning to report he’s safe and sound. Thanks, man upstairs. Roll on.
Cross Canadian Ragweed, “Daddy’s at Home”
CCR frontman Cody Canada didn’t step away from the microphone often, but he did for “Daddy’s at Home” on the 2006 album, Back to Tulsa — Live and Loud at Cain’s Ballroom, so drummer Randy Ragsdale could try his hand at lead guitar and vocals on the song he wrote for his father, who had recently passed away. Ragsdale penned the tribute to his mentor for “inspiring me to play and bug the hell out of the rest of the guys to get them to come over and start the band.” From 1994 until they broke up in 2010, CCR proved that Ragsdale’s father was correct: practice makes perfect.
George Strait, “The Best Day”
It’s bittersweet to hear George Strait sing about parenthood; the King of Country tragically lost his daughter in a car accident when she was 13 years old. Though 2000’s “The Best Day” is seen through the eyes of a son to his father, it’s hard no to think about Strait’s own suffering — which he transmits in a gentle vocal delivery that is at once strong but intensely tender. When he sings, “Dad, this could be the best day of my life,” it’s clear it doesn’t matter if they’re camping, tinkering with a new Corvette or at the church for the boy’s wedding: the best moments are simply when they are together.
Robert Earl Keen, “Daddy Had a Buick”
Singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen became Texas country music’s new favorite son with his 1993 album, Bigger Piece of Sky. Sandwiched in between favorites “Blow You Away” and “Corpus Christi Bay,” Keen penned the patriarchally pleasing “Daddy Had a Buick,” which recounts the feel-good story of “Daddy at the wheel and Mama by his side/Daddy had a Buick and Mama loved to ride.” The idyllic ride comes full circle as the singer inherits his Daddy’s keys and finds a good woman of his own who loves to fly down the highway. Daddy taught him well.
Darius Rucker, “It Won’t Be Like This for Long”
This song is a broken record for new parents, as sleep-deprived moms and dads hear “it won’t be like this for long” all the time. But Rucker turns those words of comfort into words of warning by the end of this touching song, as its lyrics progress from his baby girl’s middle-of-the-night crying, to his toddler’s separation anxiety, to his teenager’s inevitable flight from the coop. Rucker, a father of two daughters and a son, co-wrote the tune with Chris DuBois and Ashley Gorley for his first country album, released back in 2008. “It Won’t Be Like This for Long” was the project’s second radio single and second Number One hit.
Johnny Cash, “A Boy Named Sue”
No list about dads would be complete without “A Boy Named Sue,” a poem written by Shel Silverstein and recorded by Cash live at San Quentin State Prison in 1969. The anecdotal song features a young man who goes on a vengeful search for his deadbeat dad for bestowing on him a feminine moniker. After a fracas ensues, the tale of revenge turns to reconciliation as the son learns of his father’s “get tough or die” life lesson. Sue warms up to Dad and even decides to name his own son, “Bill or George! Anything but Sue! I still hate that name!”
Alan Jackson, “Drive (for Daddy Gene)”
You couldn’t turn on the radio in 2002 without hearing Jackson’s chart-topping “Drive,” a song he dedicated to his father, who passed away in 2000. Jackson’s heartfelt lyrics recount his boyhood memories of learning to steer an old plywood boat and driving along a dirt road in a beat-up truck with his father. In the final verse, Jackson takes the song roundtrip by describing how he taught his daughters to drive his old Jeep, hoping that “Maybe one day they’ll reach back in their file/And pull out that old memory/And think of me and smile.” It’s hard not to smile when you hear this song.
Guy Clark, “The Randall Knife”
Guy Clark admired his father — “a lawyer by his trade,” who led the future master song-crafter through readings of Dylan Thomas over the dinner table. “The Randall Knife” showcases the Texan’s extraordinary gift for truthful storytelling through lyric, connecting the complex emotions that come with the death of a parent. It was originally released on 1983’s Better Days, but a slowed down, more contemplative version appeared on 1995’s Dublin Blues, where Clark lets the words ooze out in smooth spoken-word as a simple guitar-plucked eulogy. “I’d cried for every lesser thing/Whiskey, pain and beauty/But he deserved a better tear/And I was not quite ready,” sings Clark, finally brought to tears by his dad’s prized Randall knife, revealing how mementos can hold emotional memories.
Trace Adkins, “Just Fishin'”
Written by Casey Beathard, Monty Criswell, and Ed Hill, “Just Fishin'” was recorded by Trace Adkins on his 2011 album Proud to Be Here. The song chronicles a father and young daughter who spend the day fishing. Although the little girl is concerned with catching dinner, Dad knows that they are really fishing for memories, singing “And I better do this every chance I get/’Cause time is ticking.” The Grammy-nominated song was brought to life in a video with Adkins and his youngest daughter, Trinity, who will surely cherish the memory.
Red Sovine, “Daddy’s Girl”
Little girls are made of sugar, spice, everything nice … and some sort of magic potion that automatically wraps itself around Dad’s finger. Sovine sings from the perspective of a father who was initially disappointed in his newborn baby’s gender but learns to compromise: They go to a ballgame but play with dolls in the stands; they go fishing but end up chasing butterflies. “I know I’m Daddy’s Number One/For he loves me like I was his son,” Sovine sings in the 39-year-old song that ‘s a bit politically incorrect, but still worthy of a modern-day Hallmark card.