That’s the cowboy’s cowboy, Roy Rogers, reminding us that today is Mother’s Day. His rambling, cynical commentary is missing the history of our annual observation of maternity, even if its elsewise right on the mark:
Well we’ll just give her a day and it will be all right with Mama, and then in return she’ll give you the other 364.
You may have already heard a story on the radio or read something in Reader’s Digest about the history of Mother’s Day. The American Mother’s Day begins with an 1870 essay by Julia Ward Howe, inspired in part by the savage violence of the Civil War. It is both a pacifist document and a feminist document. I heard Julia Ward Howe also called for the government to require the use of compact florescent lightbulbs and low-flow toilets. Woodrow Wilson was the first President to recognize the day, and as his long form birth certificate remains hidden from the public, it seems only reasonable that we examine the ancestry of his mother. Jessie Janet Woodrow was, in fact, not an American mother at all but one of English descent – That’s right, the United Kingdom, where some still have the audacity to recognize “Mothering Sunday”, and place the Holy Virgin Mary above your mother. Your mother.
This second track you’re hearing is “Love Your Mother” by Johnny Prophet with the Tommy Oliver Orchestra. I’ve been saving this single on Bee Records for ages just so it could be included in this post. I’ve also been saving this promotional album called M is for Mother’s Day, but when I finally played it this afternoon I found that most of the songs are instrumentals.
M is for Mother’s Day did contribute this next track to our playlist, which I guess justifies all the months it spent tucked behind the counter at the record shop. This is the Banjo Barons performing “My Mother’s Eyes / M-O-T-H-E-R”:
Everybody knows that country music is all about lovin’ yer mama. From Hank Williams’ “I Dreamed About Mama Last Night” (Recorded as Luke the Drifter) to Johnny Paycheck’s “I’m the Only Hell Mama Ever Raised”, every great country songwriter had something to say about his mama. We’re including a recording of Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” for all of our lonely readers in prison – Heard here as performed by the Grateful Dead on the self-titled live album (In my own system of naming untitled records by what’s on the cover this one is Skeleton and Roses).
Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors” is one of the best country songs ever written about anybody’s mama. Folksy, yet epic in its biblical illusions, this simple song written on Porter Wagoner’s tour bus ends with a moral only Dolly could deliver without irony:
One is only poor / Only if they choose to be
You can, incidentally, see the coat itself, along with the dry cleaning receipt on which it was written, if you go to Dollywood. Maybe that’s where you’ll take Mama next year.
When I was a kid my mother let me have any record from her collection I wanted (I didn’t want very many of them at twelve years old). Even now I still have copies of Alice’s Restaurant and Teaser and the Firecat with her familiar handwriting on them.
I am pleased to present a song from this album, There Will be a Light, by Ben Harper and the Blind Boys of Alabama, because its a favorite of mine. This 2004 disc was included in the recent vinyl reissue of Ben Harper’s catalog, but the LPs have become hard to find over the past couple years. If you bought an LP reissue of There Will be a Light (I could only afford one and chose Welcome to the Cruel World) you’re always welcome to come into Hymie’s and play it.
“If I Could Hear my Mother Pray” was written by John Whitfield Vaughn based on a piece by an English settler named James Rowe. A 1934 recording by Thomas Dorsey established it as a standard in gospel music. Pretty much everything Dorsey touched was gospel gold, and he is fairly regarded as the father of American gospel music. Meanwhile, although There Will be a Light is a very traditional gospel album, this is the only standard included. Most of the remaining songs are originals written by Ben Harper.
The next song on our Mother’s Day playlist is by Bill Withers, one of Ben Harper’s key influences. His heartfelt song is not about his mother, but his grandmother. Grandmothers are, of course, mothers too. Here is his live recording of “Grandma’s Hands”:
Bill Withers Live is one of the best live albums you’re ever going to find.
Grandmothers are mothers, too. There are a lot of other people who have to take on the roll of mother and hopefully there’s a special gift of homemade card greeting them this morning too. This last song by Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt (Originally by Sinead O’Connor) expresses not only the love of a surrogate mother but of any mother.
This whole playlist is dedicated to my mother, who probably isn’t interested in most of these weird songs. I think she would rather hear one of the Cat Stevens records she let me have when I was a kid.