On Monday, Nathan let the cat out of the bag and outed me as something of a fatuous music geek. Why fight it? Guilty as charged, your honor. As such, herewith one of those lists that we insufferably self-appointed music knowitalls love to come up with (y’know, in lieu of creating anything genuinely original, forging meaningful relationships with our fellow human beings or contributing to society in any tangible way). Specially tailored to the DadWagon demographic and summarily appended with accompanying video, I give you… The Top 10 Pop Songs Rife with Shoddy Parenting.
10. “Cat’s in the Cradle,” by Harry Chapin: Sure, a bit of an obvious one, but whaddya want? In any case, this weepy folk-rock standard spins a genuinely heartbreaking yarn of passive parental negligence warbled manfully in signature style by the preeminent troubled troubadour (although fellow folkster and storied absentee dad Tim Buckley might have a claim on that title as well). Smarm aside, if you’re a father and can listen to “Cat’s in the Cradle” without getting a little choked up, you should probably check your damn pulse.
9. “2000 Man,” by the Rolling Stones: A somewhat obscure number from the band’s short-lived psychedelic period, this spacey ditty paints a picture of a father more familiar with new technology and the enigmatic ways of the cosmos than with the doings of his own progeny. The fact that Jagger’s protagonist cops to “having an affair with a random computer” suggests that the maintenance of the fragile family infrastructure is not the first thing on his narcotically assisted mind. No stranger to being spaced out himself, KISS’s Ace Frehley covered this song on the band’s fan-alienating disco-rock opus, Dynasty.
8. “Lonely Boy,” by Andrew Gold: There’s a number of reasons to frown on this milksoppy soft-rock staple from 1977. Brimming with enough treacle to choke a horse and twee enough make Supertramp sound like Sabbath, “Lonely Boy” is a cautionary tale for overanxious, smothering parents. Not only do the titular toddler’s folks butter their boy up by telling him he’s “the only one,” they send him off to school with the intention of having him learn how to fight. Perhaps some lessons in humility, compassion and diplomacy would have served him better?
7. “And the Cradle Will Rock,” by Van Halen: Framed by Michael Anthony’s walloping bass and Diamond David Lee Roth’s primal yawps, this parking lot hymn to street justice and juvenile delinquency is a primer in failed parental involvement and lazy resignation. As a youthful insomniac, Roth’s doomed protagonist neglects his schoolwork (“Have you seen Junior’s grades?”), leaves home, falls in with a fast crowd and fails to secure gainful employment. Maybe a little one-on-one time with Dad might have helped? Just a thought.
6. “Hungry Heart,” by Bruce Springsteen: Initially penned by the Boss for the Ramones, someone convinced Bruce to keep (and summarily overproduce) this ode to emotional self-absolution for himself (it became his first top ten hit). “Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack,” Bruce sings jauntily in the opening verse, “I went out for a ride and I never went back / Like a river that don’t know where it’s flowin’ / I took a wrong turn and I just kept going.” Having recused himself from doing his dadly duties, Bruce spends the remainder of the song wallowing in self-pity. Nice going, Boss-man. And stop callin’ me “Jack.”
5. “No Thugs in Our House,” by XTC: To a rollicking, angular riff, Swindon’s own XTC paint a picture of a household steeped in denial (arguably a parable about life in Thatcher’s gloomy England). Mum & Dad refuse to acknowledge that their little Graham is essentially a cretinous, beer-swiggin’ bootboy prone to kicking the snot out of Asian immigrants. Conveniently, Dad turns out to be a judge, so Graham was never bound to face any consequences in the first place.
4. “Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry,” by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds: Despite the dutiful vow of the song’s title, even a passive glance at the lyrics suggests that little Henry would invariably be better off if Dad left him the Hell alone. Setting terrible example after terrible example, Cave’s protagonist walks a troubled path wrought with violence and degradation, culminating in a seedy and blood-caked episode in a brothel. Father knows best? In this case, maybe not so much.
3. “I Don’t Wanna Go Down to the Basement,” by the Ramones: There are myriad examples in the canon of the brothers Ramone that assert that all was not entirely well in their fabled albeit fictional Queens household. Never was that more evident than in this enigmatic little narrative from the band’s eponymous debut. Fearing the unmentionable that evidently lurks in the lower quarters of the home, Joey implores his father not to take him down there. That he also refers to this parent as “Romeo” only gives one further pause.
2. “Dad,” by NoMeansNo: It’s hard to say anything even remotely amusing about this disconcerting number by British Columbia’s most versatile post-punk combo. A harrowing first-person account of abuse and domestic violence set to a symmetrically splenetic guitar attack, a single airing of “Dad” should be enough to make you want to never stop hugging your own wife and children.
1. “Country Death Song,” by the Violent Femmes: As if the title doesn’t already tell you all you really need to know, this grim little chestnut off the Violent Femmes’ difficult second album, Hallowed Ground, coldly tells the tale of a dead-eyed, brooding dad who inexplicably commits the most unspeakable of crimes. “Blister in the Sun” this is not.
Well, that ended up being a good deal more depressing than expected. Possibly not ripe for your next party mix, but what songs would you add to this august selection?