Rock songs about dads come in many different forms. Depending on the relationship between the artist and his father, some tunes are emotional and affectionate, while others are bitter and cathartic. But there are also songs that use the father-son dynamic to examine larger issues, such as mortality or war. No matter the sentiment, these 10 tracks touch the heart while articulating the complicated bond between a father and a son.
The overblown lovers-separated-by-war video for this hit off American Idiot may have obscured the fact, but “Wake Me Up When September Ends” is actually about Billie Joe Armstrong’s still-lingering grief over the death of his father during his childhood. Armstrong provides few details, but the vulnerability and intensity of his vocals suggest that the memory remains a raw wound, no matter how many years have passed.
A sad, angry tale sung from the perspective of an abandoned son to his distant father, “Daddy’s Gone” certainly isn’t a cheery Father’s Day tale. Glasvegas frontman James Allan seems to be talking to a ghost, remembering happy childhood moments that quickly gave way to feelings of betrayal when his dad left him behind. His only hope for revenge is to swear that he’ll grow up to be a better person than his old man ever was.
Jane’s Addiction’s “Had a Dad” is a furiously rocking song about a father who’s abandoned his family. (“Had a dad/Big and strong/Turned around/Found my daddy gone,” Perry Farrell sings in the opening verse.) Interesting Tidbit: Eric Avery, the band’s bassist, was inspired to write the lyrics after learning that the man he thought was his dad wasn’t his biological father.
Black Stone Cherry’s “Things My Father Said” may be hopelessly sappy, but this ballad is also terribly affecting. Aided by piano, guitars and strings, singer Chris Robertson thanks his father for the guidance and wisdom that he passed along to him. What makes the song even more poignant is that his father has long since died, giving “Things My Father Said” an added moral about the importance of telling those in our life how much we love them while we still can.
Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy wrote “On and On and On” for his father after the death of Tweedy’s mom. Rather than being a song about his relationship with his dad, this Sky Blue Sky track tries to offer comfort to his grieving father, suggesting that the pain will eventually subside and that the three of them will always be together, even if death separates them.
This Alice in Chains antiwar song came from a personal place – guitarist Jerry Cantrell wrote it for his father who served in Vietnam. Sung by Layne Staley, “Rooster” is a first-person account of a soldier’s experience as he wanders the jungle trying to stay alive, wondering about his wife and child at home. Though a love letter of sorts to his dad, Cantrell’s song also confronts the difficulty of serving faithfully in a war that you don’t believe in.
Art Alexakis is a very autobiographical songwriter, drawing from his childhood and marriage (and later divorce) in his songs. “Father of Mine” remains one of Everclear’s most personal tunes – it’s a very bittersweet tale that finds Alexakis talking to his dad who ran out on him as a child. The song’s pop-rock crunch is so engaging that you might not even notice the anger buried beneath the melody. “My daddy gave me a name/Then he walked away,” Alexakis sings as part-confession, part-diatribe.
The death of Bono’s father to cancer in 2001 had a noticeable impact on his lyrics, but never more clearly than on “Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own.” Here, U2’s frontman addresses his dad, telling him that he doesn’t have to always stubbornly insist that he’s fine when it’s clear that he’s dying. In addition, the song charts Bono’s realization of how much he’s becoming like his old man, whom he never felt like he really knew: “It’s you when I look in the mirror,” he admits, “and it’s you when I don’t pick up the phone.”
Filter’s Richard Patrick wrote this song after an embarrassing drunken altercation on an airplane. As he mentioned in an interview, as he was being hauled away, he thought, “Oh my god, what is my dad gonna think of this s**t?” And hence we now have “Take a Picture,” one of the band’s biggest hits that addresses Patrick’s shame at disgracing his father. The song has a happy ending, though – Patrick eventually quit the bottle and got sober.
The song that is arguably Pearl Jam’s most famous is also one of the most complicated father-son tracks in rock history. In “Alive,” the main character discovers that his dad really isn’t his dad – he finds this out from his mom, who is starting to have sexual feelings for him because he looks so much like his old man. Thus begins a battle between anger, confusion and disgust within the main character as he tries to sort out questions of self-identity while mourning a dead father he didn’t know he had.