Dad rock: The 25 best songs about fathers

In certain ways, it may have been easier to get gifts for your dad back in the day, as maybe there was a CD or cassette he was missing in his collection — or maybe he needed a quirky new hood ornament for his car or a glass of some very, very nice whiskey. Nowadays, dad doesn’t own a CD player and can’t figure out Spotify, or maybe he’s still working but isn’t commuting as much due to a global pandemic. No matter what, there are still some great songs about fathers out there: the ones dedicated to his love, the ones about a strained relationship and even the ones certain dads wrote about their newborn children.


1 of 25

Neil Young “Here for You” (2005)

Neil Young "Here for You" (2005)

? Rick Wood / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The creation of Neil Young’s 2005 album “Prairie Wind” was fraught with tragedy. In March of that year, Young was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm. He was treated for it but days later passed out on the street following post-surgery complications. He managed to recover, but a few months after that close cut with fate, his father Scott passed away at age 87. Thus, “Prairie Wind” is full of beautiful remembrances of his dad, best captured in the title track and the beautiful highlight “Here for You”. Depicting a bond and sweetness that lasts through the seasons, Young acquiesces to the inevitable, but not without his heart having a final say. “Yes, I’d miss you / But I never want to hold you down,” he sings over a gentle country amble. The sweetness of the melody almost undercuts how devastating the situation is, but it was one of the most honest, gentlest, and kindest tunes Young has ever penned.


Bruce Springsteen "My Father's House" (1982)

Mpozi Mshale Tolbert/IndyStar

Written about his strange compulsion to drive by his father’s house time and time again for years on end, Springsteen’s homage to his dad talks about the things he inherited and the things left unsaid between them. From his stripped-down 1982 masterpiece “Nebraska,” “My Father’s House” isn’t an easy listen, but it is a gorgeous, shining tribute to the memories he and his dad once had. “I awoke and I imagined the hard things that pulled us apart,” Springsteen sings in a low grumble, “Will never again, sir, tear us from each other’s hearts.”


3 of 25

Reba McEntire “The Greatest Man I Never Knew” (1992)

Reba McEntire "The Greatest Man I Never Knew" (1992)

Callie Shell / The Tennessean

Another beautiful song about a strained father-daughter relationship, Reba McEntire’s 1992 country classic is a striking ballad about all the ways to say “I love you” without ever saying “I love you.” “The greatest man I never knew lived just down the hall / And everyday we said hello but never touched at all,” McEntire sings over a plaintive piano and echoing drum fills. To some it may be sappy, but the song is so lyrically precise that its earnestness outweighs any sense of mawkish sentimentality, nailing down the feelings of millions with its stunning ending lines: “He never said he loved me / Guess he thought I knew.”


4 of 25

John Lennon “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)” (1981)

John Lennon "Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)" (1981)

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There’s a litany of great songs about fathers, but in equal measure, there are just as many great songs that fathers have written about their children. Taken from 1980’s “Double Fantasy,” the critically drubbed album that ended up being Lennon’s last full-length released before his murder, this song found new life following the outpouring of grief following his passing, soon turning its parent album into a commercial success and sentimental favorite. As such, a song like “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)”, a maudlin ode to his son Sean, was now being viewed as sweet and heartfelt beyond measure, with Lennon’s lyrics showing that all he wants to do is comfort his son after a nightmare. Even now, it’s hard not to hear this sweet, laid-back pop number and not get a little teary-eyed yourself.


John Mayer "Daughters" (2004)

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John Mayer’s sentimental favorite “Daughters” covers oh so much ground in its short four-minute runtime: supporting a girlfriend, watching how “girls become lovers who turn into mothers,” dealing with family walking out, how boys try to soldier on but can’t without “warmth from a woman’s good, good heart” — the list goes on. Yet its repeated plea in the chorus, where he sings “fathers, be good to your daughters,” is what has resonated for nearly two decades after the fact. Even if some of the lyrics jut out at awkward angles (“On behalf of every man / Looking out for every girl / You are the God and the weight of her world”), there’s still a pulsating heart underneath all these expertly placed guitar plucks, making for a daddy-daughter number that continues to radiate warmth all these years later.


6 of 25

Madonna “Papa Don’t Preach” (1986)

Madonna "Papa Don't Preach" (1986)

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A genuine anthem (and worldwide smash) that still trades in ambiguities over three decades since it was first released, this controversial song has the central character pleading to her father about her decision to keep her child with the man she’s with right now. “Daddy, daddy, if you could only see / Just how good he’s treating me,” she wails on the bridge, desperate for her father’s approval, even ending the outro by cooing “don’t you stop loving me, daddy.” Not every father-daughter relationship is easy, and especially with a young pregnancy in the mix, the dynamics and emotions involved can get heated. One of the most psychologically complex chart-toppers of the decade, “Papa Don’t Preach” not only proved to be a feminist anthem but also gave certain dads a new perspective on their daughters’ struggles.


7 of 25

The Temptations “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” (1972)

The Temptations "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" (1972)

Walter Iooss Jr./Getty Images

When we’re talking about fathers, no one shares the exact same experience, and some people grew up not knowing their father at all. In The Temptations’ seminal soul-pop masterpiece “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” the group members try piecing together their father’s life following his passing, separating the rumors and town gossip from the truth — unless the rumors are, in fact, true. It’s a powerful, thoughtful number that ended up being a chart-topper for The Temptations, an incredible feat given the single edit was seven minutes long (and the album cut was close to 12 minutes).


8 of 25

Harry Chapin “Cat’s in the Cradle” (1974)

Harry Chapin "Cat's in the Cradle" (1974)

Vincent McEvoy/Redferns

If you’re looking at a list of songs about dads and fatherhood, by law, it has to contain Harry Chapin’s seminal folk-pop epic “Cat’s in the Cradle.” Depicting a busy father who keeps not making time for his son despite his child wanting to grow up to be just like him, only in retirement does the father realize that after reaching out to his child with nothing but time on his hands, his son simply doesn’t have enough spare moments to speak to his old man — making daddy realize that his son really did grow up to be just like him. Sure, they still love each other, but as the adage goes: “Like father, like son.” This song is single-handedly responsible for millions of emotional late-night phone calls between family members, each reaching out to each other in vulnerable moments. It remains not only Chapin’s unquestioned calling card but also one of the best songs ever written about fatherhood.


9 of 25

Loretta Lynn “They Don’t Make ‘Em Like My Daddy” (1974)

Loretta Lynn "They Don't Make 'Em Like My Daddy" (1974)

C. Thomas Hardin, The Courier-Journal., Louisville Courier Journal via Imagn Content Services, LLC

A beaming, loving ode to a daughter’s daddy, what made Loretta Lynn’s ’70s classic such a striking number was how despite the unabashed praise heaped upon her father, the song still managed to come off as even-handed, with the narrator noting that as a little girl, she was “Not old enough to understand the meaning of depression” and how they lived in a coal-mining town where “education didn’t count so much as what you had born in you.” Yet all of these asides help in humanizing the grandiose image of her father, one who “never took a handout” and was “just one heck of a man that worked for what he got.” When that swinging chorus comes around and Lynn sings about how “in a great big land of freedom / At a time we really need ’em,” unfortunately, “they don’t make ’em like my daddy anymore.” Maybe you haven’t heard this song before, but it is a stellar addition to any father-centric playlist.


10 of 25

Paul Simon “Father and Daughter” (2002)

Paul Simon "Father and Daughter" (2002)

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Released as the lead single to the soundtrack of “The Wild Thornberries Movie” of all things (although it would later make an appearance on his 2006 album “Surprise”), Paul Simon’s Oscar-nominated song about a dad’s love for his daughter is breezy, refreshing and genuinely sweet. With lithe guitar work and a relatively unadorned presentation, the strength of “Father and Daughter” comes from its chorus, which ends with a sweetly cooed admission that “There could never be a father / Who loved his daughter more than I love you.” It might be overly sentimental for some, but it’s undeniably effective.


11 of 25

Luther Vandross “Dance with My Father” (2003)

Luther Vandross "Dance with My Father" (2003)

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY NETWORK

Luther Vandross’ father passed away when he was 7 years old, and throughout his long career as one of the most sought-after R&B crooners, Vandross never really addressed this personal issue before — at least until he started working on a new song with Richard Marx. The resulting adult contemporary slow-burn circles around a simple plea: asking for more time with your dad, of playing a song “that would never ever end,” just so he could dance with his father again. A chart hit and a Grammy winner, it marked a late-career milestone for Vandross shortly before his passing in 2005.


12 of 25

Tori Amos “Winter” (1992)

Tori Amos "Winter" (1992)

Mick Hutson/Redferns

“You must learn to stand up for yourself / ‘cos I can’t always be around,” says the father at the center of “Winter,” Tori Amos’ breakthrough single in the U.K. A piano ballad that hits a seismic crescendo, Amos’ swirling number traces a family throughout time, with boys and girls learning to group up and be responsible, their parents overwatching and overseeing them. While the “father” figure is featured in only the first verse, there are still echoes of him all around but particularly near the song’s end, where after years have passed and age has set in, the narrator relates a conversation: “You say ‘I wanted you to be proud of me’ / I always wanted that myself.”


13 of 25

Will Smith “Just the Two of Us” (1998)

Will Smith "Just the Two of Us" (1998)

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc

Effectively changing the original Bill Withers/George Washington Jr. song to be more about a father-son bond than a romantic relationship, “Just the Two of Us” came out right as Will Smith was at the height of his popularity as a musician and showed a tender side of the already charismatic multi-hyphenate. From describing sweet moments of going to his baby’s crib to describing how funny his son is even when he’s disciplining him to dropping some harsher advice about not worrying about people who “make you mad” because “hate in your heart will consume you too,” Smith covers a lot of territory in the song’s brisk runtime. Pleasant, breezy, and full of heart, Will Smith has created one of the finest modern tributes to that special connection between father and son.


14 of 25

Gladys Knight and the Pips “Daddy Could Swear, I Declare” (1973)

Gladys Knight and the Pips "Daddy Could Swear, I Declare" (1973)


Released during the Pips’ prime when they signed to Soul Records, the acoustic guitar-led “Daddy Could Swear, I Declare” is an honest and funky tune about growing up with a father who was a “heck of a man,” and although he couldn’t read or write, boy could he swear. With a short temper but a loving demeanor, this sharp song (co-written by Knight herself) simply has the narrator noting how no matter how angry he gets, she only wishes that “The Good Lord will understand / That my daddy is just bein’ my dad.” It’s certainly not the first song one thinks of when opening up the Fathers and Dads Songbook, but it is a sharp, fun gem that deserves a bigger audience.


Dolly Parton "Daddy's Working Boots" (1973)

Michael Patrick/News Sentinel

An album track off her 1973 rootsy throwback “My Tennessee Mountain Home,” “Daddy’s Working Boots” features Parton’s sharpened eye for lyrical detail, telling of her hard-working papa through the story of his boots. They’re “just like him, they’re tired and worn,” and have walked “a million miles or more.” So appreciative of his sacrifice to provide for his family, Parton simply notes that “Dear Lord above, I know up there my Daddy’s got a mansion” and that one day he’ll have golden boots to walk those golden streets. The sentiment is simple but deeply effective, honoring assiduous daddies everywhere for their efforts.


16 of 25

Gil Scott-Heron “Your Daddy Loves You” (2014)

Gil Scott-Heron "Your Daddy Loves You" (2014)

Krista Kennell/Sipa Press

Of all the songs on this list, it’s fair to say that this Gil Scott-Heron album cut, initially appearing on his 1974 collaborative record with Brian Jackson called Winter in America,” is not only the least well known but also arguably the best song of the bunch. While it was revised for his 1980 solo effort, “Real Eyes,” and dedicated to his daughter Gia Louise, we’re suckers for a stripped-down piano-and-voice version featured on the 2014 compilation “Nothing New.” Scott-Heron’s gruff and earnest voice plays against the breezy, simple jazz chords to create a genuinely sweet, sentimental moment that serves as a sharp contrast to the political rhetoric he is best known for. “Me and your mama had some troubles,” he sings to Gia, “There’s been a whole lotta things on our minds / But lately when we look at you / We know that we’ve been wastin’ time.” When he loops through thetitle over and over again at the song’s end, you can hear the warmth pouring out of his voice and it’s a beautiful, heart-rendering moment that simply cannot be bettered.


17 of 25

Darius Rucker “It Won’t Be Like This for Long” (2008)

Darius Rucker "It Won't Be Like This for Long" (2008)

Courtney Pedroza / The Tennessean , Nashville Tennessean via Imagn Content Services, LLC

In a list full of songs about dads and fatherhood, a couple of thematic tropes emerge. The biggest and most obvious one? A dad looking at his child and realizing just how fast their life is going to go by. With “It Won’t Be Like This for Long,” Darius Rucker trods familiar territory but still nails the landing, each verse catching his daughters at various ages and noting that “this phase is going to fly by,” which in turns leads him to want to hold onto every precious moment, even though “at times he’ll think she hates him” before he later walks her down the aisle. It’s a pitch-perfect sentiment that ended up giving the former Hootie & the Blowfish frontman some real country credentials.


18 of 25

2Pac “Letter 2 My Unborn” (2001)

2Pac "Letter 2 My Unborn" (2001)

Columbia Pictures/Entertainment Pictures via USA TODAY NETWORK

Based on a sample of Michael Jackson’s “Liberian Girl,” 2Pac’s momentous track is actually the third single off of his third posthumous record, “Until the End of Time” and it’s a lyrically striking gem. Although he had no child in any way shape or form at the time it was recorded, the sentiment inside is still stunning in its conviction, as he simply wishes the best for his kid’s life. During the third verse, he asks God what to say to his “unborn seed in case I pass away,” asking “Will my child get to feel love? / Or are we just cursed to be street thugs?” A lot of 2Pac’s biography is wrapped up in this number, but its sentiment is genuine, still speaking volumes nearly two decades after its release.


19 of 25

Beyoncé “Daddy” (2003) + “Daddy Lessons” (2016)

Beyoncé "Daddy" (2003) + "Daddy Lessons" (2016)

Richard Lui, The Desert Sun-USA TODAY NETWORK

What flavor would you like your song about your relationship with your father? With Beyoncé, she has it several ways, ranging from loving to ominously critical. On “Daddy,” the closer to Bey’s solo debut “Dangerously in Love” from 2003, she has nothing but unequivocal praise for her father Matthew Knowles — who also happened to be her manager at the time. “I want my unborn son to be like my daddy / I want my husband to be like my daddy,” she sings with a smile on her face. Yet after firing her dad in 2011 (allegedly due to bad blood between him and her husband Jay Z), she revisits the relationship in the standout “Lemonade” album track “Daddy Lessons,” which repaints their relationship as that of a gunslinger of a daddy with his daughter learning his ways. It’s a colder, darker take on their relationship, with the aging father figure giving her a plan of what to do “When trouble comes in down / And men like me come around.” It’s striking seeing two songs written about the same man nearly 15 years apart that feature such drastically different perspectives. Yet if anyone can pull off such a dangerous tautology — it’s Beyoncé.


20 of 25

Harry Nilsson “Daddy’s Song” (1968)

Harry Nilsson "Daddy's Song" (1968)

Stan Meagher/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Prominently covered by The Monkees and featured in their psychedelic nonsense of a film “Head,” Harry Nilsson’s ode to fatherhood starts off as utterly charming before descending into psychologically taxing territory, all while the big wah-wah horns float and scuffle all around this jaunty little pop tune. While the first verse is sweet and paints a picture of a loving family, the second verse has daddy leaving and his mom trying to explain his absence, even as the child at the center of it all “just couldn’t understand / Why his father was not a man,” and later wishes for his own offspring to have “all that sadness pass him by.” Clocking in at barely over two minutes, a lot of ground is covered in this wild pop fantasia, but for some, this may very well be the exact experience they had with their dads.


21 of 25

Yusuf / Cat Stevens “Father & Son” (1970)

Yusuf / Cat Stevens "Father & Son" (1970)

Kristoffer Tripplaar/ Sipa Press

“You will still be here tomorrow / But your dreams may not,” a father advises his son on Cat Stevens’ seminal classic, and half a century later, it still rings beautifully. With the father advising the son to settle down while the son is adamant about charting his own course in life, the central theme here strikes a recognizable chord. There’s a dynamic tension between the two, as this very conversation has played out in countless households across the world. What’s remarkable about the song is that it doesn’t really resolve the issue at hand, despite the son claiming at the end that “I know I have to go.” Amid all the youthful defiance, the relationship is still a loving one, the father simply wishing his hard-earned wisdom was put to good use. Some may still argue who “won” the argument in the end, but at the end of the day, it remains an undisputed folk classic with a universal message.


22 of 25

Everclear “Father of Mine” (1997)

Everclear "Father of Mine" (1997)

Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

“Daddy gave me a name / Then he walked away.” So goes the beautiful, honest, and immensely catchy alt-rock classic from Everclear, here in their late-’90s commercial prime. Filed with both warm memories and pent-up resentment, Art Alexakis’ signature number about an absentee father wraps up all of his mixed feelings into one stellar radio-ready package. “Sometimes you would send me a birthday card with a five-dollar bill / I never understood you then / And I guess I never will,” he shouts, making for a daddy issues earworm that has lost none of its bite over two decades later.


23 of 25

Jay Z “Glory” (2012)

Jay Z "Glory" (2012)

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

With his daughter Blue Ivy listed as a featured artist, the 10-day-old infant become the youngest person in history to have a charting song in the U.S. thanks to “Glory.” Mixing hope, biography and pathos all into one song, this rare non-album track from Jay Z has the rapper fawning over his infant, regretting his past mistakes and wishing nothing but the world for his baby girl. Veering from blunt talk about wife Beyoncé’s miscarriage to making his first true dad joke (“You’re my child with the child from Destiny’s Child / That’s a hell of a recipe!”), “Glory” is an outlier of a song in Jay Z’s entire discography, charming us with its honesty and heart and making us realize that no matter which latter-day Jay album we’re thinking it could fit on, it really does work best as a standalone ode to parenthood.


24 of 25

Mike + The Mechanics “The Living Years” (1988)

Mike + The Mechanics "The Living Years" (1988)

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Mike Rutherford’s biggest song outside of Genesis, “The Living Years” is Mike + The Mechanics’ undisputed masterpiece, both critically and commercially. Co-written by B.A. Robertson and based off his own relationship with his dad, “The Living Years” depicts the pain of wanting to resolve things with your father before he passes away but not getting the chance to. “I know that I’m a prisoner to all my father held so dear / I know that I’m a hostage, to all his hopes and fears” — heady stuff for what is basically an uplifting guitar-pop number. There is some hope to be found in the lyrics, but overall, “The Living Years” exists as a signpost, letting other people know to say the things you want to say to your father before it’s too late.


25 of 25

Billy Joel “Lullabye (Goodnight My Angel)” (1994)

Billy Joel "Lullabye (Goodnight My Angel)" (1994)

Michel Linssen/Redferns

The last true-and-proper single Joel released during his run of studio albums, this sentimental weeper was written as an ode to Joel’s daughter Alexa Ray and intended as the kind of lullaby to be passed down from generation to generation. “Someday we’ll all be gone,” Joel sings over the quiet piano chords, “But lullabies go on and on / They never die / That’s how you and I will be.” If you have a bit of a tear in your eye, that’s OK, because we do too.