It’s not difficult to find songs about fathers, but finding one about a great dad? Keep looking. In the world of rock and roll, it’s a rare father who reads their kid bedtime stories, holds their hand when they’re scared, or picks them up when they fall. Then again, there’s only so much material you can get from a nice, healthy relationship. A messed-up relationship with an absent dad, a bad dad, or even a dead dad, on the other hand, is the gift that just keeps on giving. If you want to feel better about the relationship you’ve got with your own dad, here are ten songs about fathers to help you appreciate what you’ve got.
10. Mike and the Mechanics – The Living Years
Don’t listen to Mike and the Mechanics’ 1989 hit The Living Years without a box of tissues to hand. Written by B.A. Robertson and Genesis guitarist Mike Rutherford shortly after the death of both of their fathers, the song addresses the regret of a new father about never resolving a conflict with his own father before he died. Despite the sad subject matter (not to mention the slightly weird decision to bring a children’s choir into the mix), the song became a huge international hit, topping the charts in the US and Australia and spending several weeks at number 2 in the UK.
9. Paul Simon – Father and Daughter
On this beautiful ballad from the soundtrack to 2002’s The Wild Thornberrys Movie, Paul Simon sings about his love for his daughter Lulu, and all the hopes and dreams he has for her life. Lulu was seven at the time of the song’s release; at three years her senior, her 10-year-old brother Connor was judged old enough to help Simon lay down the harmonies on the song’s chorus. As well as becoming a top 40 hit, the song also bagged nominations for the Academy Award for Best Original Song and the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song
8. Billy Joel – Lullabye (Goodnight My Angel)
Billy Joel was inspired to write Lullabye (Goodnight My Angel) for his and Christie Brinkley’s daughter Alexa Ray Joel. Described by the Gavin Report as a “sweet and tender ballad that is bound to touch the hearts of all who hear it.,” the song charted at number 77 on the US Billboard Hot 100 in 1993. Over a decade later, it served as the inspiration (and title) for Billy Joel’s first children’s book.
7. Bruce Springsteen – Independence Day
As Rolling Stone writes, when Bruce Springsteen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999, he spent a good part of his speech speaking about his dad, who’d just recently passed away. “I’ve got to thank him,” he said “What would I conceivably have written about without him? Imagine that if everything had gone great between us, we would have had disaster. I would have written just happy songs . . . He never said much about my music, except that his favorite songs were the ones about him. And that was enough.” If Springsteen Senior’s favorite songs were about him, we’re guessing he had a fondness for 1980’s Independence Day, in which Springsteen reflects on the pair’s complex relationship and concludes “we were just too much of the same kind.”
6. Eric Clapton- Tears in Heaven
Written about the death of his four-year-old son Conor, who died after falling from an apartment window in 1991, Tears in Heaven gave Eric Clapton his biggest hit in years and one of the most affecting songs in his entire catalog.
5. John Lennon – Beautiful Boy
John Lennon might have played the absent dad with his first son, Julian, but when his first child with Yoko Ono was born in 1975, he put his whole life on hold to look after him, spending five years away from the recording studio to take on the role of house husband and doting dad. When he finally started writing songs again in 1980, it was only fitting that one of the first (and loveliest) was written for Sean.
4. Eric Clapton – My Father’s Eyes
Another song from Eric Clapton next, this time the deeply moving My Father’s Eyes. Recorded for the 1998 album Pilgrim, the song reflects on Clapton’s complex feelings about his father, who he never met, and his son, Conor. “In it, I tried to describe the parallel between looking in the eyes of my son, and the eyes of the father that I never met, through the chain of our blood,” he explained in his autobiography. Anyone who can listen to it without tearing up either isn’t paying attention or has a stone for a heart.
3. Luther Vandross – Dance With My Father
If you’re in the mood to bawl your eyes out, pop on this tearjerker from Luther Vandross. Written as a tribute to Luther Vandross, Sr, who died when the singer was just 7 years old, it finds Vandross recalling the times his father would dance with him and his mother around the house. Vandross was in hospital at the time of the song’s release in 2003, but even though he wasn’t able to promote it, it still managed to pick up Grammy Awards for Song of the Year and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.
2. Cat Stevens – Father and Son
In Father and Son, Cat Stevens sings from the perspective of two generations, the father, who can’t understand his son’s desire to break free, and the son, who wants to forge his own path in life. Most people have assumed the song contains autographical elements, but according to Stevens, it doesn’t reflect the relationship he shared with his father. “I’ve never really understood my father, but he always let me do whatever I wanted—he let me go,” he’s said. “Father And Son is for those people who can’t break loose.”
1. Harry Chapin – Cats in the Cradle
Another tearjerker to close things off, this time in the form of Harry Chapin’s Cats in the Cradle. The song, which tells the story of a father who never made time for his son during his childhood and the son who never makes time for his father in old age, was inspired by Chapin’s wife Sandy, whose first husband had an awkward relationship with his father. “My wife really came up with the basic concept and many of the key lines of this song,” Chapin said. “As Stravinsky once said, great artists steal, bad artists borrow. I desperately want to be a great artist, so I stole this from my wife.” It became his first number one hit, and was later inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.