Family… can’t live with them, can’t live without them!
As you’d expect, there are many, many songs about family.
Many of them celebrate the good things about family relationships: the unconditional love of a parent or sibling.
But being a family member isn’t always easy. A number of the songs we include here are about broken homes, dysfunctional families, and difficult relationships with parents.
So buckle up, it’s going to get emotional!
Here’s our favorite songs about family…
Table of Contents
- “Family Affair” by Sly and the Family Stone
- “Daughters” by John Mayer
- “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge
- “My Father’s Eyes” by Eric Clapton
- “Dream Brother” by Jeff Buckley
- “Family Portrait” by Pink
- “Father And Daughter” by Paul Simon
- “Mockingbird” by Eminem
- “7 Years” by Lukas Graham
- “Mama Be Proud” by Elliott Smith
- “Papa Don’t Preach” by Madonna
- “Here For You” by Neil Young
- “Keep The Family Close” by Drake
- “Father To Son” by Queen
- “Hey Jude” by The Beatles
- “Breathing” by Kate Bush
- “Teach Your Children Well” by Crosby Stills, Nash and Young
- “Family Reunion” by the O’Jays
- “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” by The Temptations
“Family Affair” by Sly and the Family Stone
As a band, Sly and the Family Stone were the very essence of family.
The band included Sly’s younger brother Freddie and his sister Rosie. The rest of the band were just as close, and a mix of black and white, which was refreshing (and quite unique) back in the ’60s.
The band were a hit machine, with tracks such as “Everyday People” and “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”. This track “Family Affair” was from their stellar album “There’s A Riot Goin’ On” from 1971.
It features the classic line about nature vs nurture “One child grows up to be, somebody that just loves to learn, and another child grows up to be, somebody you’d just love to burn”.
“Daughters” by John Mayer
Messed up dads sometimes make messed up daughters is the message of this song.
It’s a pretty powerful statement, and one that’s not often discussed. Parenthood should be taken seriously, and dads (especially) need to wisen up!
The origins for this song come from a personal experience. Mayer allegedly had fallen for a girl who had issues with trust – all thanks to her lousy father – which served as the inspiration for this song.
“We Are Family” by Sister Sledge
A band made up entirely of family members, Sister Sledge were four sisters (surprise, surprise!) who were somewhat of a hit making team (and family business!).
Written by Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers of Chic fame, this catchy tune has become an anthem for unity (especially among women groups) and celebrates the importance of family bonds.
The song was remade for the terrorist attacks on the US in 2001, with a star-studded lineup, including Britney Spears and Steven Tyler. The music video shot by the great director Spike Lee.
“My Father’s Eyes” by Eric Clapton
It’s surprising the number of musicians who’ve had difficult upbringings, and Clapton certainly falls into this category (others include John Lennon, Dave Gilmour, and Jeff Buckley).
Clapton never met his father- even after he’d become famous – but Clapton asserts that, despite this, his dad was always there “bit by bit, I’ve realized, that he was here with me”.
It’s a sweet message.
“Dream Brother” by Jeff Buckley
Buckley’s dad divorced his mom about a month before Jeff was born. His dad’s absence had a lasting impression on him.
This song was allegedly written for his friend Chris Dowd (of the band Fishbone) who wanted to leave his pregnant girlfriend.
It’s a plea to a friend not to make the same mistake his own dad made. It’s a beautiful sentiment.
“don’t be like the one who left behind his name, ’cause they’re waiting for you like I waited for mine, and nobody ever came.”
For more on dreams and dreaming, check out our list of songs about dreams.
“Family Portrait” by Pink
Pink’s dad left when she was 9 years old, breaking up the family home. Pink wrote the track around the same time, but it would take her another 12 years before she recorded it.
For anyone who’s experienced the breaking up of a family at a young age (I include myself in this category, my parents split when I was 5), the song stirs up a lot of emotions.
Every child just wants normality, like every other kid. In the song, she says “in our family portrait, we look pretty happy” and she just wants it stay like this even if they have to “play pretend”.
According to a comment from Pink in Entertainment Weekly “my mom cried for four days when she heard it.”
“Father And Daughter” by Paul Simon
Many songs have been written about the father daughter bond. It’s one of the strongest there is.
Paul Simon was 54 when his daughter Lulu was born, and this moving song reflects the sheer love and awe he has for her.
Written so that a child can understand it, “Father And Daughter” reassures his daughter that he’ll always be there for her, in memory if not in the flesh.
He’ll always be there for her “standing guard like a postcard of a Golden Retriever”.
“Mockingbird” by Eminem
I mentioned dysfunctional families in the intro, Eminem has had his fair share of dysfunction.
“Mockingbird” is love letter to his daughter Haillie, much like Paul Simon’s “Father And Daughter”, and an apology.
It’s no secret that his ex-wife Kim had left. This song serves to reassure his daughter Haillie (and adopted daughter Alaina) that he’ll always be there for them.
The song is also an apology for how the things turned out. He feels a sense of guilt “and I know you miss your dad when I’m gone, but I’m tryin’ to give you the life that I never had.”
It’s a great piece of writing from a guy who takes being a dad really seriously. Good job Mr. Mathers.
“7 Years” by Lukas Graham
Raised in a Copenhagen commune, vocalist Lukas Graham Forchhammer had a pretty alternative – but by all accounts very happy – upbringing.
With the whirr of a film projector in the background, the autobiographical “7 Years” is a perfect song about growing up. It’s also a superb piece of writing about the importance of family and becoming a good father.
In the song, he says the true test of being a good dad is whether your kids will want to see you when you (and them) are older.
“Soon I’ll be sixty years old, will I think the world is cold, or will I have a lot of children who can warm me”
Were you there to see your kids grow? Did you spend time with them? You’re gonna miss them when they’ve moved out, and it will be too late to make amens.
It’s a real tear jerker.
“Mama Be Proud” by Elliott Smith
Making your parents proud. Not something you’d expect the great indie songwriter Elliott Smith to care about.
There is a lot of irony here, of course.
In a sense, the song is about selling your soul for commercial gain, which possibly is a nod to his record deal with Dreamworks: “a silver lining in the corporate cloud”.
Smith was the perennial outsider until his tragic death, and perhaps his new found stardom (bigger record deals, bigger budgets) put a lot of pressure on this reclusive genius.
Who knows, but it’s a great song, and we miss him.
“Papa Don’t Preach” by Madonna
Up until “Papa Don’t Preach”, Madonna was known for feel-good party songs like “Holiday” or “Lucky Star”.
“Papa Don’t Preach” still sounded like a pop song, but the theme is actually that of teenage pregnancy which understandably stoked a lot of controversy.
In this song about having a baby, she stands up to male authority and tells her dad not to preach to her about abortion.
She tells her papa in no uncertain terms: “I’ve made up my mind, I’m keeping my baby”.
“Here For You” by Neil Young
There are plenty of good role models in the music world, and Neil Young is one of them.
By all accounts, he’s been a great dad, and certainly hasn’t had it easy with two kids (Zeke and Ben) with cerebral palsy.
“Here For You” is a sweet, sincere song about a father’s devotion to his child and his unconditional love.
“When your summer days come tumbling down, and you find yourself alone, then you can come back and be with me”
It’s also a song about change and loss “Yes I miss you, but I never want to hold you down”
“Keep The Family Close” by Drake
We all value friendship. As Freddy Mercury sang in Queen’s superb song about friendship, “friends will be friends, right ’till the end”.
But sometimes friends let you know and you need your family to pull you through.
That’s the subject of Drake’s “Keep The Family Close”.
“All of my “let’s just be friends”, are friends I don’t have anymore, guess it’s what they say you need family for”.
“Father To Son” by Queen
This rocker of a track, written by guitar genius Bryan May, is from the album “Queen II” and inspired by May’s own relationship with his father.
It’s been documented that his dad wanted May to follow a more traditional path (no surprise there) rather than pursue music. However, he did end up completing his PhD in astrophysics from Imperial College years later.
There’s a wonderful verse in the song where the dad hands a note to his son, knowing that the son won’t understand it now, but will write it for his own son one day:
“Take this letter that I give you, take it sonny, hold it high, you won’t understand a word that’s in it, but you’ll write it out again before you die”
It seems we all have to make our own mistakes in life.
“Hey Jude” by The Beatles
One of the best songs in the Beatles later period, “Hey Jude” is a Paul McCartney penned song designed to comfort and reassure John Lennon’s son Julian, who was just 5 years old.
At the time, Lennon and his then wife Cynthia were in the midst of a divorce, and Lesson had started seeing Yoko One. McCartney, the sensitive guy he is, felt bad for the young Julian and the classic song was born.
Julian didn’t realise the song was about him until years later.
“Breathing” by Kate Bush
Has anyone ever written a song from the point of view of a baby in the womb?
I certainly can’t think of any.
But then again, we’re not dealing with any old writer here, it’s the genius songwriter Kate Bush who appeared to be operating on a different level to most of her peers in the ’70s and ’80s.
The theme of the song is actually about the destructive tendency of humans.
She is “breathing her (mum’s) nicotine”.
There’s also a strong theme around the nuclear bomb, a recurring theme in ’80s music with tensions between the US and Russia worryingly high (songs like Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Two Tribes” were also popular).
There’s an apocalyptic vision that “after the blast, chips of plutonium, are twinkling in every lung”.
It’s a horrible, sobering thought.
“Teach Your Children Well” by Crosby Stills, Nash and Young
Here’s a song about children from ’70’s supergroup Crosby Stills, Nash, and Young.
It’s a sweet, personal song (in the country music vein) about the importance of being a positive father figure for the good of not only the kid but the whole human race. It was written by Graham Nash, who’d had his own issues with a father in jail.
It also features Jerry Garcia (of The Grateful Dead) on pedal steel guitar (they returned the favor and gave him harmony lessons).
“Family Reunion” by the O’Jays
The American R&B group from Canton, Ohio could no wrong in the ’70s.
They had a massive hit with their classic song about money “For the Love of Money”, better known these days as the theme tune to The Apprentice (the US version)
“Family Reunion” is one of best songs about the joy of family ever released, and celebrates the good things.
A song about bringing the family back together, “Family Reunion” celebrates the joy of seeing all our loved together:
“It’s been a long, long time, since we’ve had the chance to get together, nobody knows the next time we see each other, maybe years and years from now”
It’s one of the those uplifting, wonderful songs that makes you look forward to seeing your cousin twice removed.
“Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” by The Temptations
Written by Motown songwriters Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield, it’s a song about a no-good, freewheelin’ dad who never worked a day in his life: “wherever he laid his hat was his home”.
The song is a conversion between a son and his single mom. He asks her questions and she replies.
The song features the line “It was the 3rd of September, that day I’ll always remember, ’cause that was the day, that my daddy died”.
The story goes that this line incensed lead singer Dennis Edwards, as his dad died on that date. In actual fact, his father had died on the third of October.