Mothers Day Music Mix: Our heartwarming playlist

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5 May 2024

Reading Time: 5 minutes

From Anika Moa to Dolly Parton, Victoria Spence dives into a musical exploration of “mother” and creates a playlist of songs that go straight to the heart for Mothers day.

You can go very deep when you start examining the notion of motherhood, but I’m not here to lay down a treatise on the Cult of Domesticity or third-wave feminism. Instead, let’s make a musical exploration of “mother”, lending our ears to the textures of verb, noun and social construct. This month’s lovingly curated playlist mines the rich seam that nourishes (if we’ve been lucky). With hanky tucked in bra, we’ll traverse the emotional landscape of coming home, coming out, birthing, ageing and grieving. Some tracks I’ll hold forth on – others I’ll leave you to discover for yourself.

Click here to check out our Mother’s Day playlist

To begin, we must grasp the nettle and deal with that Kate Bush ugly-crying classic This Woman’s Work. Unscientific polling puts this at the top of the “songs about motherhood that get you in the feels” list. I know I put in the hours in 1992, lying on the dusty floor of our flat, swollen legs up the wall, desperately trying to commune with my unborn child. For the 1988 John Hughes movie She’s Having a Baby, the burning Bush (as she was once described) had to write it not just from a male perspective, but also around previously filmed scenes. Take a moment if you need to.

Kate Bush’s This Woman’s Work, the ultimate ode to motherhood, tugs at the heartstrings every time. IMAGE: GETTY

The Goddess is alive and magic is definitely afoot when Chrissie Hynde gently implores “Let me inside you…” on Hymn to Her. Littered with gynaecological imagery and pagan references, it excited male music critics who frothed about “the eternal feminine” (gag) and “the spirit behind the Mists of Avalon” (eye roll). It’s just a lovely song that always made me glad to have a couple of X chromosomes. Similarly defying a straight read is the Cocteau Twins’ For Phoebe Still a Baby. It’s wafty nonsense, and you’ll need to google the lyrics to understand a single word, but, oh, it’s glorious.

Tracey Thorn (the “girl” half of Everything But The Girl) has long been a musical spirit guide. She’s actually a close friend but just doesn’t know it. Since the early 1980s, she’s written about wanting babies, having babies, the babies leaving home, contraception and menopause. Her superb 2018 album Record gave up (surprise!) Babies, a thrumming gem that totally gets the full 3D experience of mothering “Lay your pretty head down, get the f**k to bed now.” Aotearoa’s Anika Moa has used motherhood to connect with a whole new audience – the babies of the world. Her smashing Songs for Bubbas recordings are not just for the kids – you can drop the metaphorical needle anywhere on these albums and be very happy. Her delicate reading of Hirini Melbourne’s Purea Nei fills the heart.

Another wahine for whom motherhood has brought a life change is Dame Hinewehi Mohi. Her daughter Hineraukatauri’s startling response to music was the inspiration to set up the Raukatauri Music Therapy Centre in Tāmaki Makaurau in 2004. Hineraukatauri lives with cerebral palsy and is named after the Māori Goddess of Flutes – the sound of which is the ethereal thread that runs through the song named for her.

A good son will pay tribute, such as the late Justin Townes Earle did in Mama’s Eyes. Lefty Frizzell’s 1951 devotional Mom & Dad’s Waltz is beautifully rendered by long-time fan Willie Nelson: “I’d fight in wars, do all the chores, for my mama and daddy”. Swinging into the early 2000s, the Elton-flavoured Take Your Mama chronicles a boy coming out to his mother, based on the Scissor Sisters’ lead singer Jake Shears’ personal experience. A woman is always grateful for an excuse to get “jacked up on some cheap champagne”, so come at me with your revelations, kids.

My Mr and I are fond of nerdy musings and we’ve been trying to settle on the meaning of Mott The Hoople’s I Wish I Was Your Mother – a Dylan-esque heartbreaker in which lead singer Ian Hunter (consensus would have it) lays out all the ways in which he is a terrible lover and generally unworthy. It’s not surprising to hear Marty Duda, MTH super-fan, describe whole audiences of grown men weeping along to this song as the lyrics alone belie the deep emotional well of the song. The night of the Christchurch mosque killings, visiting musician Alejandro Escovedo, empath to a tee, walked through the audience at Auckland’s Tuning Fork venue singing this song to connect with his shaken audience.

Comfort can come from strange musical origins – apparently born of a musing on life and death, Mother and Child Reunion correctly stays on the poignant side of maudlin. Freshly released from Simon & Garfunkel and reggae-curious, Paul Simon used Jimmy Cliff’s band for the music track and the backing vocalists included Cissy Houston, mother of the mega-famous Whitney. Legend has it that at the time of its release, this was a favourite of inmates in South African jails who, on the eve of an execution, would sing songs into the night. I know, sorry.

Let’s finish by taking a tour through the Mom-and-apple-pie world of Americana, starting at the source with Dolly Parton’s dirt-poor origin story Coat of Many Colors. Then hit the back roads with the Be Good Tanyas’ Draft Daughter’s Blues, a staple of road-trip playlists when the women in our whānau are on the hoof. The youngest would bellow out the order from the back seat to “PLAY THE SHEEP LADIES!”. Frazey Ford’s homespun vibrato is, erm, distinctive – everyone’s a critic, but don’t let that put you off. Head south to Lake Charles, Louisiana, to hear

Lucinda Williams’ heartbreak on Mama You Sweet. Approaching spoken-word poetry, Lucinda lays out a sensual invocation of her late mother bracketed in lyrical washes of melody. If, like me, your kids have all left home, then Emmylou Harris will have you on the floor with her a cappella version of Calling My Children Home, recorded live in Nashville’s hallowed Ryman Auditorium, aptly referred to as the Mother Church of Country Music. Of course, when the children do all come home, the glow lasts about 48 hours and then they revert to being horizontal teens, drinking all the good gin and asking vile questions like, “What’s for dinner?”

Music guides us through the rites of passage, from childhood into the whirlwind of adolescence, through love and heartbreak and then the lessons of parenthood and old age. In these times of hormonal and global brouhaha, a good song soothes the soul. Hallelujah, and pass the HRT.

Related article: The effect of music on your mental health

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