At the root of it all, every true music fan has a sentimental streak a foot wide, a sensibility that allows us to express ourselves, or else find solace, in our favorite songs. We are no different here at Ledger Note. We are firm believers that any single moment in our lives can be elevated through a perfectly curated song choice.
When it comes to weddings, a lot of the focus is placed on the bride, and rightly so. But there is one woman who also deserves her moment in the spotlight: the groom’s mother. While there may be no traditional section of the ceremony dedicated to this specific relationship, we feel that there is as much to celebrate here as with the traditional dance between the bride and her father. With that in mind, we’ve selected a few songs to soundtrack a less traditional, but nevertheless extremely important, wedding day moment.
Top 10 Mother and Son Dance Songs
|1||Iron and Wine||Time After Time||2016|
|2||Jim Croce||I’ll Have to Say I Love You In A Song||1974|
|3||Aretha Franklin||I Say A Little Prayer||1968|
|4||The Shirelles||Mama Said||1961|
|5||Elton John||Your Song||1970|
|6||Paul Simon||You Can Call Me Al||1986|
|7||Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros||Home||2010|
|8||The Beatles||In My Life||1965|
|9||Simon and Garfunkel||Like A Bridge Over Troubled Water||1970|
|10||Bon Iver||Hey, Ma||2019|
#10 “Hey, Ma” – Bon Iver
Release Date: June 2019
Starting our list with its most recent release, this is perhaps our most left-field choice, but don’t let that put you off. Since the release of his debut album For Emma, Forever Ago in 2007, no one has quite approached the same levels of emotional eloquence and fragile beauty as Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. Vernon has created densely melodic and excruciatingly honest music in a wide variety of guises in the last couple of decades, but for many, ourselves included, he creates his best work for Bon Iver.
This is the kind of music that defies categorization and description, and must be heard to be understood. Although the instrumentation is perhaps a little left of center, it is undeniably compelling, and with an absolute killer of a hook allowing for a classic wedding sing-along moment. Also, in case there are any concerns regarding the appropriateness or otherwise, Vernon and his collaborators on the track have said that the song at its heart is a reminder of that simplest of impulses, to ‘call your ma’.
Trivia: Bon Iver’s name comes from the French phrase ‘bon hiver’, which translates into English as ‘good winter’. In an interview with Pitchfork, Vernon claimed that he chopped the ‘h’ off hiver simply because it looked better to his eye.
#9 “Like A Bridge Over Troubled Water” – Simon and Garfunkel
Release Date: January 1970
The second single, and title track, from Simon and Garfunkel’s fifth and final album released as a partnership, this is as near to perfect as songwriting gets. While the piano melody is instantly recognizable and Art Garfunkel’s vocals never sounded better, the background to the recording is actually more complicated than the simple beauty of the song would suggest. Composed by Paul Simon, and with instrumentation provided by the Wrecking Crew, a group of musicians that had grown from Phil Spector’s house band to hitmakers in their own right.
Although this was recorded in the classic ‘Wall of Sound’ style, the full-on audio assault is pared back to work with a delicate, gospel-inspired, choral vocal delivery. The result is astounding. Simon and Garfunkel’s most successful single, selling over six million copies, the song also scooped five awards, including Best Song, at the 1971 Grammys. The song is not only appreciated by critics and fans, but by many of the pair’s contemporaries, having been covered over 50 times, by everyone from Elvis Presley to Aretha Franklin.
Trivia: The song re-entered public consciousness in 2017, when a charity version of the song featuring several prominent British musicians was released to raise funds for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire.
#8 “In My Life” – The Beatles
Release Date: December 1965
Who better to mark the best day of your life than the greatest band of all time? This song, taken from the band’s sixth studio album, Rubber Soul, is a John Lennon-penned reflection on his early life. Considered one of the staging posts in Lennon’s maturation into one of the most celebrated lyricists and songwriters of all time, the song’s influence is far-reaching, as is the album. Rubber Soul was recorded during a period of transition for the band, as they tried to dig beneath the veneer of their fame and create something deeper and more personally fulfilling.
In their quest to transform the LP from a package of radio-friendly hits to meet their label’s expectations into a distinctly rewarding and effective format in its own right, Rubber Soul fell between the poppy Help! and the game-changing Revolver. Displaying the Lennon-McCartney partnership’s unequaled ear for melody, with heart-on-sleeve emotional honesty and even a distinctive bit of studio trickery thrown in for good measure on the sped-up piano solo, this is a three-minute crystallization of the band’s sound.
Trivia: Speaking of that peculiar piano solo, recorded by producer George Martin, it was sped up in recording to sound more like a harpsichord, which in turn led to more producers utilizing the harpsichord in their own recordings.
#7 “Home” – Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
Release Date: January 2010
Music at its most affecting is transformative, with an uncanny ability to transport an audience emotionally to a specific time and place. There is no formula, no path to follow, for how to achieve this trick of the mind, but there are certain songs that undoubtedly hold such power. “Home” is one such song. Built along the kind of rattling drum line that refuses to let you stand still, and with a playful call-and-response vocal duet, this is a song designed to find the biggest space it possibly can, before filling it entirely.
Absolutely perfect for a wedding, or indeed, any kind of celebration. We defy anyone to refuse joining in with one of the most recognizable choruses of the last 15 years, and what better invocation of the particular love and comfort provided by your family than the simple idea of home. Film and television producers certainly recognized the song’s particularly memorable power, with it being consistently used on various soundtracks since its release, from Community to Gossip Girl to What To Expect When You’re Expecting.
Trivia: Although it’s fair to assume that Edward Sharpe is a member of the band, it is actually the name of the fictional hero of vocalist Alex Ebert’s novel, an otherworldly character who keeps getting distracted from his quest of enlightenment by beautiful women.
#6 “You Can Call Me Al” – Paul Simon
Release Date: April 1986
One of two appearances for the incomparable songwriting talents of Paul Simon on this list, this is the lead single from Simon’s seventh studio album, Graceland. The album that the song comes from is famous for its world music sound, specifically influenced by Simon’s travels in South Africa, and has rightfully earned a place in music history as a genuine classic. Although the album is shot through with Simon’s trademark blend of emotionally intelligent introspection and wry wit, it also finds the space and time to be unmistakably and undeniably groovy.
This finds Simon in widescreen mode, lyrics shot through with allegory, as the eponymous Al travels the highways, alleyways and boneyards of Simon’s overriding muse, America, searching for meaning within his surroundings and, more importantly, himself. This is songwriting at its best, with layers and layers of meaning, and densely intelligent instrumentation doing nothing to obscure what is, at its heart, an absolute banger. For a moment of levity, a nice opportunity for a sing-along and an old-fashioned boogie, let America’s poet laureate lead the way.
Trivia: The song’s name is inspired by Paul and his wife having their names misremembered at a party, being referred to as Al and Betty by French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez.
#5 “Your Song” – Elton John
Release Date: October 1970
Up next we have the song that marked the beginning of Elton John’s rise to international superstardom, the second single from his second album, and the first one to receive significant US airplay, peaking in the Billboard Top 10. As a calling card, a way of introducing the listening public to John and songwriting partner Bernie Taupin’s unique perspective on this thing we call pop music, there could hardly be a more effective song. Melodic, witty, beautifully arranged and unblinkingly honest, the song features songwriting at its most immediate and engaging. By the time the strings are folded into the arrangement about a minute in, its hard to deny the music’s transportive power.
The song has also been recognized by John’s critics and contemporaries. It has featured in the top half of all three editions of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs lists, and, in an interview with the same publication, John Lennon called it the first step forward since the Beatles. There are several artists who have covered the song, including Rod Stewart, Ellie Goulding and Lady Gaga, as well as a memorable version recorded for Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 musical epic, Moulin Rouge.
Trivia: John actually wrote the song for the band Three Dog Night, whom he was supporting at the time. Although they did record the song as an album track, they decided against recording it as a single in order to give John the chance of a hit.
#4 “Mama Said” – The Shirelles
Release Date: April 1961
Amid the pomp and sentiment of a wedding, the anxiety and elation of the occasion, it can sometimes be overlooked how important it is to enjoy them. One way of ensuring the beat goes on is, of course, through the music. At which point, enter the Shirelles, with a perfectly poised piece of doo-wop levity. Released in the early ’60s, the song was a chart hit, making the top five of both the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts. As with several songs on this list, it has spawned several cover versions, meaning that there is scope for including the song for its sentiment even if it doesn’t quite meet the stylistic requirements of the day.
At its heart in its original format, the song is playful, uplifting and straightforward, built around a knowing wink towards the age-old wisdom that mother knows best. The simplicity of the music belies the significance it carries, with the group being popularly recognized as the originators of the girl group genre and contributing to the success of the civil rights movement through their popularity with both black and white audiences.
Trivia: The song was performed live by Amy Winehouse, on stage with goddaughter Dione Bromfield who covered the song on her debut album, three days before she tragically passed away.
#3 “I Say A Little Prayer” – Aretha Franklin
Release Date: July 1968
A potentially controversial choice, as this is perhaps a rare occasion of a cover version being more widely regarded than the original. Initially written by Burt Bacharach for Dionne Warwick and recorded in 1966, the song was not released until 1967, as Bacharach was unhappy with the recording. Eventually Warwick’s label boss intervened and the song, written about a woman’s concern for her partner serving in the Vietnam War, was released first as an album track and later as a single. Despite the initial reticence surrounding its release, the single was certified gold for a million sales within a year.
Aretha Franklin’s version came about by accident, as the recording was only suggested because Franklin and her backing singers were using the song as a vocal warm-up during album rehearsals. While both recordings are excellent, Franklin’s version is a more straightforward soul/pop arrangement, toning down on some of the jazzier elements of Warwick’s. While the song may have been written to reflect a romantic context, we feel the lyrics are also perfectly representative of a platonic relationship, and the song’s prominence and popularity make it perfect for a celebration.
Trivia: The song actually reached the Billboard Hot 100 on four separate occasions, both Warwick and Franklin’s versions, then with Glen Campbell and Anne Murray as part of a medley in 1971, and finally with Diana King’s version, recorded for My Best Friend’s Wedding in 1997.
#2 “I’ll Have to Say I Love You In A Song” – Jim Croce
Release Date: March 1974
It can be difficult at times to express our emotions. We’ve all been there. Luckily, there’s always music to rely on. Weddings give people a rare chance to honor their personal relationships. Unfortunately, some of us don’t have the tools to do so properly. This song is ideal for such an occasion. The lyrics perfectly encapsulate the tenderness of trying to express something that is beyond you.
We feel this has particular poignancy when it comes to maternal relationships. After all, what chance do any of us have of properly expressing such a fundamental bond. The tragedy of Croce’s story, that his life ended prematurely in a plane crash just as he was beginning to enjoy sustained musical success, adds a further note of poignancy to the song. All in all, we’re fairly certain there won’t be too many dry eyes in the house.
Trivia: According to Croce’s wife and one-time songwriting partner, Ingrid, Croce abruptly ended an argument they were having about finances by storming out of the room, only to wake her up the next morning having written this song overnight.
#1 “Time After Time” – Iron and Wine
Release Date: October 2016
We’re under no illusion that this is a controversial inclusion. Cyndi Lauper’s 1983 original, the second single from her debut album, was an instant hit and has gone on to be regarded as a classic. It was Lauper’s first Billboard #1, and even received a Grammy nomination for Best Song in 1985. Significant airplay and several prominent cover versions have ensured the song’s status as one of the most significant songs of the ’80s. This version, by Carolina native songwriter Sam Ervin Beam, better known by his stage name Iron and Wine, replaces the 80’s synth-pop sheen with a stripped-back folk guitar arrangement.
Removing some of the gloss of the original allows for the sentiment of the song to shine through, representing unending faith and support as well as love, and increases the emotive impact of the song. Being adapted to a male perspective changes the meaning of the song somewhat, and in this context acts as a moment of thanksgiving from a son to his mother, a promise to repay the love he’s received even as he starts his own family.
Trivia: As a measure of the regard that the original is held in, the song was covered by no less than jazz legend Miles Davis, and included as part of his live repertoire towards the end of his career.
While we feel that this list covers a wide range of music styles and emotional approaches to suit the personalities of all kinds of people on the big day, we’d never be able to cover all the bases. With that in mind, here are a few more suggestions:
- “Forever Young” – Joan Baez Famously written by Bob Dylan as a lullaby for his son, swapping the singer’s gender makes for a perfect mother-son moment.
- “A Song For Mama” – Boyz II Men This one needs no explanation, for those with a taste for the more soulful side of R&B, this is sure to set the right emotive tone.
- “Simple Man” – Lynyrd Skynyrd For the mothers who like to rock, we salute you!
- “Take Your Mama” – Scissor Sisters There’s a reason people tell you to shake what your mother gave you, give this one a spin and find out why.
- “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” – Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell A stone cold classic duet from the imperial era of Motown, what’s not to love?
There we have it then. Whether this list might help when it comes to planning your own special day, even just to give you a steer in the right direction, or simply give you a reason to listen to some incredible tunes, we hope you enjoyed it. And, if you are having trouble coming up with an appropriate song for the father-daughter dance, why not take a look at a list we devised for that?
As ever, we believe that one of the best bits of music fandom is being able to talk about it. Who did we miss? What were we crazy to include? Which song did you dance to with your own mother? You know by now that we’re always happy to hear from you.