Rock musicians, like just about everyone else, have a range of feelings about their fathers: plenty good, some conflicted. (After all, dads are the original authority figures.) To celebrate that central relationship, we put together this list of songs about fathers and their children. From tender odes by rock legends to sarcastic punk potshots, these selections just about cover the gamut of paternal emotions.
L.A. punk rockers Angry Samoans deliver a raging, snide piece of father's day fatalism with this 1982 screed, in which they bemoan the fact that "My old man's a fatso/but you know he owns this house." Respect must be paid! (Sorta.)
Country music songs about dads are a genre of their own, and Drive-By Truckers deliver a lovely modern entry of their own into that particular canon with the stately "Outfit." Sung by Jason Isbell, the lyrics deliver a series of homespun and gimlet-eyed practical advice: "Have fun but stay clear of the needle/Call home on your sister's birthday."
Ian Dury stood out amongst his English punk and new wave peers for a lot of reasons — he didn't actually play punk, for one — but his gift for sharp lyrical observation truly set him apart from nearly any songwriter of the late Seventies and early Eighties. On "My Old Man" he gets across both the affection and sympathy he feels for the song's resolutely working-class father figure.
Bob Dylan casts a giant shadow as an artistic firebrand and iconoclast, but he's also written some of music's most tender songs. "Forever Young," a series of hopeful wishes from parent to child, is among his most beautiful and heartfelt work.
Everclear frontman Art Alexakis has often dipped into the family well for song subjects, and 1997's "Father of Mine" is perhaps his best effort in that area. The singer's gritty Cali-guy vocals convey real regret and anger, and the chugging guitars provide nicely coarse complement. "I never understood you then/And I guess I never will," is a killer, and universal, line.
For all its sarcasm and irony, Father John Misty's gorgeous 2012 folk-rock epic "Only Son of the Ladiesman" resolves itself into a touching ode about the aversion and attraction of following in your old man's footsteps. We are what we are, for better or worse.
She might be wildly unpredictable outside of a recording studio, but this Lindsay Lohan pop-rock confection feels almost uncomfortably true-to-life. "Confessions" is a prime trust-the-song-not-the-singer example.
It was unlikely Madonna was going to listen to Mr. Ciccone no matter what he said, but the fundamental point of "Papa Don't Preach," as it is with most paternal advice, is that dads just wants what's best for their kids.
Easily the most epic song on this list, Queen's majestic 1974 saga "Father to Son" would be amazing to listen to with your pops while, say, shooting hoops in the driveway or slaying a horde of fire-breathing dragons in the backyard.
Bruce Springsteen's greatest gift, apart from his preternatural ability to play epic-length and uncannily high-energy concerts, is the depth of his songwriting sympathy. "Independence Day," from 1980's The River, is about the slow, inevitable rifts that form between fathers and their children and yet manages to not blame either party. It's a sad song, but also a beautiful one.
Cat Stevens' gorgeous folk-rock gem starts off as a wise monologue from a father to son, then shifts to the latter's perspective. It's a simple lyric, but "there's so much you have to go through" is not at all bad as a sort of stoic worldview.
The Temptations' ominous 1972 filial lament is as funky as father-related music gets. It's also kind of a downer best reserved for deadbeat dads, who, we guess, deserve their own songs too.
If there's a better song for the father-daughter dance at a wedding than Luther Vandross' lush R&B tearjerker, we don't know what it is.