Discussion: Songs About Mama

I went on a long road trip this summer up the west coast of the United States. To keep me company, I threw in a few books on disc, and a bunch of random CDs. About a day or so into the trip I realized that I had an interesting theme going—songs involving “mama.”

The following songs showed up on my playlist more than once:

  • Don’t Tell Mama, Gary Allan, Smoke Rings in the Dark
  • Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, Waylon and Willie
  • Mama, I’m Alright, Miranda Lambert, Kerosene
  • Mama Tried, Merle Haggard, Mama Tried
  • Papa Loved Mama, Garth Brooks, Ropin’ the Wind

Country music has never shied away from writing about the folks. Do you have any favorite songs about “mama” and/or “papa” to add to my list?


  1. I only put up the versions I listened to, but after listening to Ty Herndon’s version, I definitely prefer Gary Allan’s take on the song.

  2. I hate to be pigeonholed, but…

    Patty Loveless, “How Can I Help You Say Goodbye”

    And for dad, “Drive” by Alan Jackson

  3. “Mama Liked The Roses”–Elvis Presley

    “The Sweetest Gift (A Mother’s Smile)”–Linda Ronstadt w. Emmylou Harris

    “This Is To Mother You”–Linda and Emmylou (again)

  4. I think Gary Allan’s version of “Don’t Tell Mama” is easily the best. We did a Mother’s Day playlist last year that has a few songs about Mama and there are a few comments mentioned more. For something more recent, Ralph Stanley II has a song called “Moms Are The Reason Wildflowers Grow” on his recent album.

  5. “Pray for you” and “You’ll always be my baby” are nice mother & father songs by Sara Evans. Chely Wright had an interesting song about her relationship with her mother called “Between a mother and child”.

  6. from the top of my hat, with lump in my throat:

    toby keith’ “heart to heart”
    dolly parton’s “coat of many colours”
    melba montgomery “no charge”

    sawyer brown’s “the walk”
    ricky van shelton’s “keep it between the lines”
    confederate railroad’s “daddy never was a cadillac man”
    randy travis’ “the box”
    paul overstreet’s “seeing my father in me”

  7. I’ve never really been big on “Don’t Tell Mama”, but if I had to choose, I dfinitely agree that Allan’s version is the superior version. I think initially hearing Ty’s version is what made me not like the song in the first place. It’s not that his is horrible, but pretty boring.

    Lynn, I like your list. Blake’s is my favorite too. I wrote about it for last Mother’s Day and I believe that there’s a lot that goes on in that song that is touching.

    Tom, I really like “Heart To Heart” too. That’s the side of Toby that I really appreciate.

  8. It’s already been mentioned, so I’ll throw my weight behind “Coat of Many Colors.” If I ever do a Greatest Songs of the 1970s list, it will be a serious contender for #1. Just thinking about it makes me want to do a Dolly Parton Favorite Songs list.

  9. Johnny Seay had a great song titled “Mama When I’m Gone (Don’t Cry For Me)” that was released on Columbia back in 1968.

    Going way back, Jimmie Rodgers had several songs about Mama including one of my favorites “Mother, The Queen of My Heart” which Stonewall Jackson covered on a late 60s album titled THE GREAT OLD SONGS

  10. till this day “coat of many colors” gets me every time i hear it and that’s been for three decades or so, already.

    in the mid-seventies, actually, our moms produced trousers of many colors. it was the time, when we outgrew our jeans almost faster than you could blink. thank god, there was the bay city rollers, a scotish pop boy-group that pimped their outfits with tartan extensions and add-ons. there was a real hype among us young high-school kids about them, but their biggest, though secret, fans probably were moms with fast growing boys.

    a year later, the legs of the jeans had to be rolled up once, like the duke used to wear it – and the moms kept on praying for another budget-friendly fashion-hype.

    stories like that are also the essence of “don’t tell mama” so don’t worry if the song doesn’t do much for you, leeann, you’re a girl. :)

  11. George Strait has released three great songs about being a papa: “Love Without End, Amen,” “The Best Day,” and “I Saw God Today.”

    I would also mention Brad’s “He Didn’t Have to Be” and Cash’s cover of (I believe) the Hank Williams song “On the Evening Train” from American V always gives me chills.

  12. Kind of a mama song, sung BY mom in this case: “In My Daughter’s Eyes” by Martina

    Regarding songs about dads: “The Greatest Man I Never Knew” by Reba and Crystal Shawanda’s “You Can Let Go Now, Daddy”

    Oh, and maybe “How High’s the Water, Mama?” by Johnny Cash

  13. Iris DeMent’s “Mama’s Opry” is, IMO, the finest song about the legacy and the dreams that our family can give us. And in a strange broad way, the Dixie Chicks’ “Home” and Marty Stuart’s “The Pilgrim” are albums that affirm/confirm the theme. I listen to those, capped with some Carter Family and I’m weepy!

  14. for mom:

    “Letting go” suzy bogguss
    “Mama donr Forget to Pray for me” Diamond Rio
    “Coat of many Colors”–dolly Parton

    For Dad

    “Daddy’s Hands”–Holly Dunn
    “Daddy Never Was The Cadillac Kind”–Confederate Railroad
    “”You can let go” Crystal Shawanda

    And for all the daddies who made mistakes and reformed themselves…”Busy Man” by Billy Ray Cyrus

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