It’s one thing to be a terrible dad and have your kid tell the world in a book or magazine article. It’s a whole other deal when you’re such a bad dad that your kid writes a song about it and it becomes a major hit. Even it’s only a mild success, you’re still made to look like a fool to the tune of music. Eh, you probably deserve it for being such a terrible father.
Here are some great songs about being a bad dad. Some are sung from the main view point of the child, some are from an outsiders point of view and some are even sung from the point of view of the old man.
Papa Was a Rolling Stone – The Temptations
The song was written by Motown songwriters Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong as a single for the group The Undisputed Truth. The original version was released as a single and peaked at number sixty-three on the pop charts and number twenty-four on the R&B charts. A year later Whitfield remade the song into a 12-minute version with the Temptations. The song chronicles siblings questioning their mother about their now-dead father. Her best answer to each question is the song’s chorus, that “Papa was a rollin’ stone/wherever he laid his hat was his home/and when he died, all he left us was alone.” The song is a sad reflection of life as a child to an absent father who all they know is the bad he did while still alive.
Success: The song was an #1 hit on the Billboard charts and earned the Temptations three Grammy Awards. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked it as the #168 greatest song ever recorded in it’s 500 Greatest Songs of All-Time list.
Papa Don’t Preach – Madonna
Largely dealing with the bigger picture of teen pregnancy and abortion, Papa Don’t Preach also touches on the relationship of a father and daughter during an incredibly difficult time in a young girl’s life. While the father might not be a “terrible” in reality, the focus of the song is scared of his reaction to the fact she is pregnant and keeping her child even though she is a child herself. The main character would rather just have her fathers help and not the lecture and consequences that come with the problem and decision. Guess we will never really know if he was a “bad” dad or not.
Success: Papa Don’t Preach debuted on the Billboard charts at number forty-two and hit the #1 spot eight weeks after it’s release. It was certified gold in 1998 after selling 500K copies.
A Boy Named Sue – Johnny Cash
Father’s can do some terrible things but naming a young boy a girls name is a pain that can last for the rest of a kid’s life. Unless he changes it, but then there would be no song. A Boy Named Sue was written by Shel Silverstein (Yes, THAT Shel Silverstein) and was made popular by “The Man in Black” Johnny Cash. The song is the tale of a young man’s quest for revenge on an absent dad whose only contribution to his entire life was naming him Sue, a woman’s name, which regularly resulted in the young man suffering from ridicule and bullying. After finally finding his old man and fighting him to the death, the old man explains that he knew he wouldn’t be around to raise the boy and naming him Sue was his way of making him tough and street smart. Sue becomes grateful in a way and forgives the old man. He still thinks it a crappy thing to do and vows if he ever has a kid he’ll name him something much more masculine.
Success: The song was Cash’s biggest hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and his only Top 10 single. It spent three weeks at #2 in 1969. It topped the Billboard Hot Country Songs and Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks that same year.
Cats In The Cradle – Harry Chapin
The “grand daddy” of all crappy dad tunes, the song is about a father who often neglects his song because he is “too busy” doing other things like working or other adult activities. The father makes excuses to the young boy about why they can’t spend time together. In the end, the father gets a taste of his own medicine when a grown-up son (now with a family and responsibilities of his own) says he is “too busy” to spend time with his father but promises they will “get together soon.” It’s the same line the father used on his son when he was young.
Success: Cats In The Cradle is the only #1 hit for singer-songwriter Harry Chapin. The lyrics were originally a poem written by Chapin’s wife Susan, and were about her son’s relationship with his birth father.
Weekend Daddy – Buck Owens
Perhaps one of the first tales of joint custody, Weekend Daddy is the story of a father explaining to his young son that even though he wants his dad to be home for good, Daddy can only see him on weekends because Mommy doesn’t want him around. And why does she want him gone? Because of “the things that he has done wrong.” We can all take a pretty good guess at what he has done wrong.
Success: While the song itself wasn’t a success, Owens had 21 number one hits on the Billboard country music charts with his band, the Buckaroos. He was also the co-host of the TV series Hee Haw from 1969 until 1986.
Hungry Heart – Bruce Springsteen
Originally written for The Ramones, Springsteen was convinced to keep the song and record it himself by his producer and manager Jon Landau. While usually not remembered as a song about a father/husband (since it’s so upbeat), the first few lines talk about the main character being unhappy with his home life and just up and leaving one day.
Success: “Hungry Heart” reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in late 1980. In the Rolling Stone Readers’ Poll that same year, “Hungry Heart” was voted Best Single for the year. On the day of his murder in 1980, John Lennon said he thought “Hungry Heart” was “a great record.” That’s as good as a gold album.
Janie’s Got a Gun – Aerosmith
One of the few Aerosmith songs to take on a heavy issue, Janie’s Got A Gun is about a young girl who takes revenge on her father after being sexually abused as a child. It had taken nine months to finish the lyrics and a Newsweek article about gunshot victims actually inspired Tyler in some of the lyrics. The original lyrics where incredibly explicit and changed for radio airplay and the video received criticism for it’s allusion to child rape and gun violence.
Success: The song peaked at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1990, and made it to #2 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. It was chosen as the 37th greatest song of the 80′s by VH1.