It’s Father’s Day on Sunday, which means there’ll be much breaking out of Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son” and Will Smith’s “Just the Two of Us” across the Internet. Since you’ll surely be getting your dose of sentimentality elsewhere, here are handful of significantly less wholesome songs about fathers. There are plenty that spring to mind (although the, ahem, daddy of the lot — Korn’s “Daddy” — turns out to not in fact be about Jonathan Davis’s father at all, hence its absence from this list). But still, there are plenty of other candidates, and all of them are better than anything that involves Will Smith. Here goes.
Johnny Cash — “A Boy Named Sue”
Sure, this is hilarious — but beneath the comedic value of a boy whose father names him Sue, there’s a rather sad tale of parental abandonment and how much of a struggle it can be to grow up without a father (even if your name doesn’t happen to be “Sue”). Also contains the immortal line, “Kicking and a-gouging in the mud and the blood and the beer.”
George Michael — “Father Figure”
Ewwwwwwwwwwwww. No you won’t.
LL Cool J — “Father”
And if the original “Father Figure” weren’t disturbing enough, LL Cool J sampled it for this track, which narrated how his biological father abused him as a child and shot his mother and grandfather when she attempted to leave, and also the subsequent abuse he suffered at the hands of his stepfather. The song is both hugely disturbing and genuinely sad (especially the refrain “All I ever wanted was a father,” and LL’s narration at the end).
Happy Mondays — “Kinky Afro”
“Son, I’m 30/ I only went with your mother ‘cos she’s dirty.” Gee, thanks, Dad.
Eric Clapton — “My Father’s Eyes”
Growing up believing that your grandmother was your mother and your mother your sister isn’t exactly a recipe for being well-adjusted. (See also: Jack Nicholson.)
Morrissey — “The Father Who Must Be Killed”
Moz isn’t exactly known for his cheeriness, but even so, this is a particularly bleak number, the tale of a young girl who kills her stepfather and then herself. Her motives aren’t entirely clear (Abuse? Jealousy? Plain old rage?) but whatever the case, the results are bloody and — as ever with Morrissey — somehow darkly comic.
Leonard Cohen — “Story of Isaac”
The biblical story of Abraham and Isaac is disturbing enough: man hears voices in his head telling him to sacrifice his son, so, um, he does — or, at least, he’s perfectly prepared to do so until an angel appears ex machina and tells him to sacrifice a lamb instead. Cohen’s retelling of the tale from Isaac’s perspective is even more disturbing, mainly because of the disconcerting air of utter resignation with which it’s related: “My father built an altar,” sings the narrator calmly, “He looked once over his shoulder/ He knew I would not hide.”
The Decemberists — “Daddy, Please Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas”
The title rather speaks for itself, doesn’t it? And yes, pedants, we know this a John Denver song — we went with this version because a) we like it and b) we couldn’t find the original on YouTube.
Violent Femmes — “Country Death Song”
This isn’t so much a song about a father, but it’s certainly one of the most disturbing songs ever written from the viewpoint of a father — a bleak Dust Bowl ballad about a father who is driven by poverty and deprivation into infanticide and, subsequently, suicide. Cheers!
Pulp — “A Little Soul”
Similarly, this is written from the perspective of an errant father, but it’s hard not to relate it to Jarvis Cocker’s own life story — his father abandoned him as a child, and only resurfaced when Cocker emerged as a successful and famous musician. Unsurprisingly, Jarvis was rather nonplussed by this, although, as he said at the time, “I don’t feel any bitterness towards [my father] at all. I feel sorry for him.”
Martha Wainwright — “Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole”
We’re very glad we weren’t in Loudon’s shoes when he heard this the first time.