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Some of the world’s most powerful songs have emerged from life-changing moments. Heartbreak has inspired countless musicians to conjure up beauty in their breakdown, and as the world strides towards equality, music continues to be the rallying cry of the masses. And more intimate, personal moments carry similar weight, not least the miracle of a new life – something so universal yet so unique. For centuries, fathers and their children alike have utilised the art of music to put across both the overwhelming awe and the newfound uncertainty of nurturing a young ‘un. Here are fifteen of the best.
On his first solo album since departing The Maccabees, Orlando Weeks finds inspiration in the birth of his new son. Saint Thomas’, one of the record’s ethereal, dream-esque observations on fatherhood, sees Weeks return to the maternity ward. “Just a second…”, he sings softly, “before your eyes start opening.” The beauty of the moment is mirrored in the delicacy of the song’s melody. “Just you and me and our,” he concludes, looking towards a brand new future.
Another song that goes back to the very beginning, country signer and songwriter Sturgill Simpson captures the dawning of a new world in the aptly titled Welcome To Earth (Pollywog). The opening lyrics – “hello my son, welcome to earth” – are filled with an unparalleled love on a track that embodies both the scale and jubilation of fatherhood. A pollywog – by the way – is another word for a tadpole. Cute.
25 years after his untimely passing, Nat King Cole posthumously teams up with his daughter Natalie on the acclaimed remix of his 1951 track, Unforgettable. The song immediately takes on a new meaning, brilliantly celebratory and incredible moving, with father and daughter sharing their indelible love for each other.
Jay-Z penned Glory just two days after the birth of his daughter Blue Ivy. “The most amazing feeling I feel,” he raps on a song that introduces his first child to her heritage, and touches on the difficulties that came before. The song even features Blue’s first recorded heartbeats and includes a sample of her cries. “My greatest creation was you,” Jay-Z concludes triumphantly.
Released in 2003 with Luther Vandross in hospital following a stroke, Dance With My Father beautifully captures the bittersweet combination of love and grief. An ode to his own father, who passed when Luther Vandross was just seven years old, it recalls the simple family moments too often taken for granted. Ultimately Vandross’ wish is simple, to see his mother dance with his father one final time.
Stevie Wonder was so in awe of his new daughter, Aisha Morris, that in 1975 he recorded an original six-minute version of Isn’t She Lovely – an unambiguous declaration of love to his new child. Far too long for commercial success at the time, it took much negotiation with his record label for them to unveil the edited version that has since become an internationally acclaimed classic.
Fatherhood doesn’t come without its challenges. On the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens’ 1970 released Father And Son, he tells both sides of a classic tale – a father wishing the best for his son, and a son looking to make a life of his own. The song celebrated another lease of life in the mid-’90s when it was picked up by Boyzone and hit No.2 on the official UK singles chart.
Celebrated by widow and mother of his child Yoko One and bandmate Paul McCartney as their favourite John Lennon solo track, Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy) is a dedication to his son Sean. That it appeared on his final studio album, released only weeks before his murder in December 1980, adds extra poignancy – cementing it as both an expression of unfaltering love and an unexpected farewell.
Towards the end of the ’90s, Will Smith reimagined Grover Washington Jr. and Bill Withers’ duet into one about parenthood. Featuring a into by his first-born son Trey, the song sees Smith prepare for his life alongside his child. Hitting turbulence during Will’s divorce with Trey’s mother Sheree Zampino, the father-son relationship appears back on track with Smith releasing a video in 2018 following an emotional exchange between the two.
Appearing on 2016’s seminal Lemonade, Beyoncé looks back at her history with her own father, celebrating his empowering impact. As well as in part crediting her father for her inner strength, the track is also attributed to the subsequent trend of mixing country sounds into wider genres.
Another ode to a stern father, Papa Don’t Preach sees Madonna pair her rebellious spirit against the unconditional love of her parent. Controversial for its day, the song sees the protagonist turn to her dad for help following on unexpected pregnancy. “What I need right now is some good advice, please,” Madonna asks through her ever-present self-empowerment.
Not all father-son relationships are founded on love. On Caro Padre, Deaf Havana’s James Veck-Gilodi reflects on his troubled past with his dad. “He washed his hands of trust and left us penniless before my brain had chance to learn his foreign tongue,” he sings. The song delves into the power a father has over their child, whether present or absent, and the responsibility that comes with it. “It’s clear that you shine through me in every mistake,” Veck-Gilodi spits, urging all to take the role seriously.
Taken from Mayer’s 2003 album Heavier Things, Daughters also sees the singer and songwriter address the impact of a father’s behaviour on their children. Not an ode to his own daughter, it instead examines his relationship with a lover whose trust issues stem from the way she was treated growing up. “Fathers be good to your daughters,” he implores, “daughters will love like you do.”
Although it may seem more superficial than other songs about parenthood, there’s something undeniably sweet about Nizlopi’s JCB Song – a tale of a child who skips school to spend time with his dad on the road. Underneath the many references to a big yellow digger, there’s a bullied boy who finds genuine security from his father. Take a moment to soak these lyrics in and we dare you not to cry.
“This song’s not for you folks,” Nancy Sinatra states bluntly, “it’s for my dad.” The country song looks back at her time with her father Frank Sinatra, and the joy they shared. There’s a beautiful simplicity in both the song’s lyrics and its delivery, ending with the unequivocal: “I love my dad.”
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