Most of us can only imagine what it’s like to be the son or daughter of a revered rock star. Yes, the perks would be amazing -- you get to hang backstage at concerts, meet your dad’s famous friends, and score some pretty hot dates with hardly any effort at all. (“Hey, you wanna meet my dad? Yeah, his name happens to be Paul McCartney!”) Pretty cool, eh? Likewise, you might find yourself the subject for his songs. That’s the kind of bragging rights most of us will never know.
With that thought in mind, and as we approach Father’s Day, here are some examples of songs composed by famous fathers in honor of their offspring.
John Lennon, “Beautiful Boy” -- There is of course, a certain poignancy present here, not only in the heartfelt sentiment Lennon expresses, but also in the sad irony that follows. Despite the reassuring tone, Lennon’s days of being with his boy were limited and doomed to draw to their conclusion shortly after the song’s release. Taken from from his final album, Double Fantasy, it finds Lennon’s paternal instincts reignited, as he readies his devotion to family and fatherhood after it eluded him in the past. A stirring song made all the memorable for that last lingering impression.
Stevie Wonder, “Isn’t She Lovely” -- The irony is apparent. Wonder, a man who’s been blind nearly since birth, can still marvel at the beauty of his newborn baby. And who better to express this joy than Wonder himself, an artist known as an eternal optimist. Catchy and concise, it’s Wonder at his most wonderful, an uplifting hymn filled with elegance and elation.
Clarence Carter, “Patches” -- There’s a sense of sadness in this lyric that details a dying father’s plea to his son to carry on his role by taking care of his family. “Patches, I’m dependin’ on you son, To pull the family through/My son, it’s all left up to you.” Wow, that’s a pretty tall order for a kid who hasn’t even reached puberty. But it still makes for one heck of a soulful serenade.
Loudon Wainwright, various songs -- Wainwright’s family was about as dysfunctional as anyone’s you could imagine, your’s included. You may think you had it bad, but he had to deal with divorce, rebellious kids, rebellious kids who became rebellious musicians, and a daughter with a dirty mouth. Ah, what better inspiration then for singing their praises and discussing their perversity Two of his tunes include "Rufus Is a Tit Man" (a reference to his son’s penchant for breastfeeding) and the sentimental "A Father and a Son,” both dedicated to his eccentric son Rufus Wainwright, who’d later became a star in his own right. He turned his attention to his daughter when he wrote "Pretty Little Martha” and "Five Years Old” while she was in her adolescence, and later composed, "Hitting You,” a not so subtle reference to her difficult teenage years.
Eric Clapton, “Tears in Heaven” -- Clapton composed this heartfelt paean to his four-year old son Connor, who, on March 20, 1991, fell from a window of a 53rd-floor New York apartment building owned by a friend of the child’s mother. Originally envisioned for the soundtrack of the film “Rush,” the song was co-composed by lyricist Will Jennings, who then faced the formidable task of trying to put Clapton’s grief into words. Knowing the circumstances, it’s hard to hear it without being profoundly moved by the supreme tragedy that surrounds a young life caught short.
Harry Chapin, “Cats in the Cradle” -- The late Harry Chapin wrote a number of songs dealing with the highs and lows of life’s happenstance, but none of them resonate quite like this. As a musician, Chapin was preoccupied with performing, a task that frequently forced him out on the road and away from his family. “Cats in the Cradle” finds the narrator trying to explain to his boy why he can’t be there for him, making unfulfilled promises to spend quality time together, although every elusive encounter is fleeting at best. Later, when the father is older and seeking solace in his son, the tide is turned when promises are made, but never quite kept.
Paul McCartney, “Put It There” -- This is the way it ought to be. Paul recalls the hand of reassurance that his father gave him and then passes that paternal support on to his son. Simple, yet affecting, for all the right reasons.
Cat Stevens,” Fathers and Son” -- The tension between a father and a son can be palatable, especially when dad still believes father knows best and that the lessons he learned as a kid will also serve his son well. Not so, as this remarkable dialogue set to song illustrates. Told from both perspectives, it eventually finds the two talking over one another while nothing gets resolved. Interfering fathers and stubborn sons butting heads once again. So what else is new?
Chuck Berry, “Memphis Tennessee” -- This one’s a bit confusing. At first we think Chuck’s missing his beloved, but by the end of the song we find out that, “Marie is just six years old,” and the person he’s missing most happens to be his daughter. Berry may have been the king of rock ‘n’ roll, but it’s nice to know he was a tender soul as well.
Art Garfunkel, Songs From A Parent To A Child -- Leave it to bushy haired Art Garfunkel to record an entire album and dedicate it to his kid. Consequently, we’re offered songs with titles like “Who’s Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet?,” “Lasso the Moon,” “You’re A Wonderful One” and “The Things We’ve Handed Down,” all of which make ideal nighttime lullabies for a turbulent little toddler. Sadly, no one can sing them like Artie, so you’ll just have to use him soothe your sleepy head. Is this what’s known as surrogate parenting?