Our Top 10 Classic Rock Songs About Family looks at songs that define the world of family. However, how does one defines a family? Does it really boil down to one generation after another of ancestry or is there more to it than that? Quite frankly, family isn’t simply about who shared the same surname. It was about a community of people who form a bond so strong that they were able to weather any kind of storm. Like a rock, people who are always there for each other no matter what serve as a testimony of why families are so important. Families often include best friends, especially among those who’ve grown up with the family since childhood. Families also include the in-laws, regardless if this is seen as a good thing or bad. Some of the best rock songs have also focused on family.
As we go into the ten chosen classic rock songs about family, the primary goal was pointing out how no two families are exactly the same. Every family has its share of ups and downs, as well as its own set of values. In many cases, not every member of the family is in agreement at all times. Sometimes, the differences between family members become so extreme that they feel they’re better off apart than together. Often, this made great songwriting material for recording artists who use music as a form of expression.
Whether the songs are about happy families or broken ones, not only do the musicians open up as a therapeutic release, but it also triggers the fans that may relate to the stories behind them. Songs like that, regardless if they become big hits on the music charts or not, become more than just a few minutes worth of musical entertainment. It also becomes a form of therapy for the listener who may go back to that same song over and over again.
The family-focused songs chosen in this list are songs either I’ve personally gone back to over and over again or made such a profound impact on so many fans that they deserve to be mentioned.
Top 10 Classic Rock Songs About Family
#10 – Sister Christian – Night Ranger
“Sister Christian” was a power ballad that was released in 1984 by Night Ranger. Ranked as one of the greatest songs of the 1980s, this was a song written and performed by the band’s drummer, Kelly Keagy. On the US Billboard Hot 100, it peaked at number five. On the Canada Top Singles chart, it became a number-one hit. Since its original release, it has been a favorite song of choice played in a number of films, including 1997’s Boogie Nights, 1999’s Superstar, and 2009’s Friday the 13th.
This was a song Keagy wrote that addressed his sister, Christy. The inspiration came after visiting his hometown in Eugene, Oregon, and realizing how fast his younger sibling was growing up. For Keagy, seeing his sister as a teenager instead of a small child was a dose of reality that all children really do grow up and become adults.
Singing as a protective brother, he asked “Sister Christian” what are her goals when it comes to cruising for her idea of Mr. Right. Besides, what kind of brother would he be if he didn’t look out for his sister’s best interest?
#9 – Father and Daughter – Paul Simon
Recorded and released in 2002, “Father and Daughter” was a song written and performed by Paul Simon for the animated film, The Wild Thornberrys Movie. There’s also an alternate version of this song on Simon’s 2006 album, Surprise. The original became a number-five hit on the US Billboard Adult Alternative Songs chart, as well as a number twenty hit on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. The 2006 rerelease became a number thirty-one hit on the UK Singles Chart.
This was a ballad where Simon expressed a love for his daughter, Lulu. In “Father and Daughter,” he shared his hopes and dreams with a little girl who was seven years old at the time. In the song’s chorus, ten-year-old Adrian, Lulu’s brother, sang harmony.
Paul Simon has written many songs as a father dealing with the complexities of relationships between dads and their daughters. This one, however, was the standout favorite as he pointed out that his daughter can count on him to be there for her.
#8 – Hey Jude – The Beatles
“Hey Jude” was a ballad Paul McCartney wrote for John Lennon’s son, Julian. It was a reminder for him to open up his heart and let the blended family grow. This 1968 classic became a number-one hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 for nine weeks after it was released as a single. It also became a number-one hit among a multitude of nations and remains an all-time fan favorite. Over eight million copies of this song were sold with four million alone in the U.S. In addition to becoming a multi-platinum success with the Recording Industry Association of America, it also became platinum in the U.K.
At the time, the seven-minute “Hey Jude” was the longest single to top the British charts at the time. Julian Lennon took this song to heart, especially after his father was murdered in 1980. He and McCartney have successfully bid on memorabilia related to “Hey Jude.”
What’s great about “Hey Jude” was it wasn’t just some cult classic that could bring tears to the eyes of listeners. It pointed out the importance of allowing new people to come into our lives and accepting them as family. Yoko Ono was John Lennon’s second wife, who also became Julian Lennon’s stepmother. For kids like young Julian, seeing one of their parents replaced by an outsider is a hard pill to swallow. The feeling of betrayal felt is common among children who assume mommy and daddy will be together forever.
Paul McCartney incredible message easily applies to children of all ages who realize families aren’t simply about sharing the same bloodline. It’s about coming together as a unit that puts faith and love above fear and the unknown. Opening the heart up is key to helping the mind reach a better understanding of a situation for what it is. Sometimes, our own mind is our worst enemy, especially if the heart is too heavily guarded with anger and confusion. The key to unlocking the heart to let people in begins with the desire to tap into our inner spirit. That was the point behind “Hey Jude.”
Also pointed out, once this process begins, things get better from there.
#7 – Second Chance – Shinedown
From The Sound of Madness, “Second Chance” was a single released that was released by Shinedown in 2008. This became the group’s highest-charted single as it peaked at number seven on the US Billboard Hot 100. On the US Billboard Adult Top 40, it was a number-one hit. Globally, it was at least a top twenty hit among the nations of Australia, Austria, Canada, and the U.K. On additional US Billboard charts, it was a number three hit on Mainstream Top 40 chart, a number eight hit on the US Billboard Hot Rock & Alternative Songs chart, and a number sixteen hit on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart.
Certified platinum three times by the Recording Industry Association of America, “Second Chance” also became certified gold with the Australian Recording Industry Association. This was a song about someone needing to find their own path, even if it meant putting a bit of distance between themselves and their parents. Repeatedly, lead singer Brent Smith pleaded to tell his mother and his father that “sometimes goodbye is a second chance.”
Family is family, regardless if they’re tight-knit or broken. Dysfunctional families are indeed difficult to live with, especially when you’re trying to cope with certain issues that make life more difficult than it should be. There is no such thing as a perfect family, even if it appears that way. Sometimes, circumstances have it where a member of the family needs to make a getaway. In many cases, it may cause other members of the family to take a step back and see where things went wrong. Sometimes, a little time apart is needed to calm down. This is especially true when someone grows up in a household where the parents have a tough time dealing with the reality that their child has become old enough to make their own life decisions. Learning to let the child go to become their own person as an adult was the whole point behind “Second Chance” as a song.
#6 – No Son of Mine – Genesis
Released in 1991 from the album, We Can’t Dance, “No Son of Mine” became a number-six hit on the UK Singles Chart for Genesis as a single. On the US Billboard Hot 100, it was a number twelve hit. It peaked at number one on the Canada Top Singles chart and was at least a top twenty hit among the nations of Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, and Switzerland.
While the family is indeed important, sometimes when it’s extremely abusive and dysfunctional, the need to walk away from such a toxic environment is necessary. In “No Son of Mine,” that’s exactly what Phil Collins sang about as he shared the tale of a son leaving his family behind for the sake of saving his own sanity. Over the stretch of time, he realizes family is still family, even if it means there are certain members in it who aren’t so easy to get along with. When he returns, his father gives him a cold reception.
The song delivered a strong message about the consequences of running away from family, even if it seemed like it was absolutely necessary to do. Granted, there are members of the family that can have issues so extreme that it makes the home feel unsafe. “No Son of Mine” was sung vaguely enough that it was hard to figure out who exactly was abused but it did paint the reality that there are some families that have a harder time meshing together as people than others.
In the song, as toxic as the family environment was that gave the son cause to flee, it also hit home the importance of how necessary it is to tackle issues head-on instead of running away from them. Like denial, fleeing from something doesn’t always fix things. If anything, it can make situations become much worse. Within the song, the anguish the son felt hammered this reality home. Even though he tried to patch things up, the abandonment his father felt was made loud and clear that he wasn’t quite ready yet to do the same.
Unfortunately, there are situations where it’s necessary to get away from family members that have demonstrated they have issues too severe to live with. There is always, however, a second chance to at least try to fix what’s been broken. For as long as family members are willing to work together, great. If not, at least if you try that counts for something. In “No Son of Mine,” Genesis beautifully relayed the message at least they tried, even if the end result wasn’t exactly the one they hoped for.
#5 – My Father’s Eyes – Eric Clapton
Released in 1998 from Pilgrim, Eric Clapton’s “My Father’s Eyes” was an incredible song about a father’s love for his son. On the US Billboard Hot 100, it became a number sixteen hit. It was a number two hit on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart and on the Canada Top Singles chart. In Australia, Iceland, and Norway, it was a top twenty hit. It also won a 1999 Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. It also won a BMI award for Song of the Year.
#4 – Teach Your Children Well – Crosby Stills, Nash, & Young
“Teach Your Children Well” was a 1969 classic released by Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young that became a number sixteen hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. Written in 1968 by Graham Nash while he was still with The Hollies, this musical lesson for parents also peaked as high as number twenty-eight on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. In Canada, it was even more popular at number eight on its Top Singles chart.
Full of harmony, Nash associated this song’s message with a photograph of a child playing with a toy grenade. During a time when the controversial Vietnam War was going on, Nash wanted parents to teach children the importance of raising children in a loving family environment. At the same time, he stressed how important it was for parents to pay attention and learn from their own children. This is the formula that makes a family great.
“Teach Your Children Well” remains a great tune about the family that’s really hard to beat in entertainment and educational value.
#3 – You’ll Be in My Heart – Phil Collins
From 1999’s animated film, Tarzan, “You’ll Be in My Heart” was a sweet ballad about a mother addressing her child as the most important thing in her life. This Academy Award-winning Best Original Song peaked on the US Billboard Hot 100 at number twenty-one after it was released as a single. On the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart, this song became a number-one hit and remained on top for nineteen consecutive weeks. At the time, this broke the chart’s records for making such an achievement. It was also a number-one hit on Canada’s Adult Contemporary chart.
Originally hired by Disney in 1995, Phil Collins made an arrangement with the production crew to perform the songs in the movie as a narrator. Usually, Disney has the characters do the singing but for Tarzan, they made an exception. The song, “You’ll Be in My Heart” was originally written for his ten-year-old daughter, Lily. Originally, it was called “Lullaby.” In the movie, this one is used in a scene when the main character is sung to by his gorilla mother, Kala.
“You’ll Be in My Heart” was a song that pointed out that the loving bond between a mother and her child cannot be broken. So touching was this single that it became certified platinum with the Recording Industry Association of America after selling one million copies. In Denmark and the U.K., it was certified gold. It also won a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song.
Even though not there yet, “You’ll Be in My Heart” is destined to become a Grammy Hall of Fame inductee. This song is so powerful as a family-themed tune that it’s highly advised to keep a tissue box nearby when listening to it.
#2 – Cat’s in the Cradle – Harry Chapin
Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” was a 1974 folk rock song that came from his album, Verities & Balderdash. It became a number-one hit on the US Billboard Hot 100, as well as his signature song. Since its release, it became a staple for folk rock music. In 2011, it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. This was also a number-one hit in Canada on its Adult Contemporary chart, as well as a number-three hit on its Top Singles chart. In Australia, the Kent Music Report peaked this song at number three. With the Recording Industry Association of America, “Cat’s in the Cradle” was certified gold.
The song peered into the relationship between a father and son. Chapin, as a father, had a son who wanted to spend as much time with him as possible. However, due to his career, he was unable to do so. When the young boy becomes a teenager, his personal interests left little time to spend with his father. Instead of relaxing with him, he wanted the car keys to go out.
When the boy becomes his own man with his own family, the tide turns completely as the now-retired father wants to spend as much time with his son as possible. However, as the boy kept saying in the song “I’m going to be like you, dad,” that’s exactly what happened.
For many families, “Cat’s in the Cradle” is a bitter pill to swallow as the song deals with how easily loved ones are forced to play second fiddle when other issues get in the way. The most common among them are work-related. This was a musical reality that hit too close to home for Harry Chapin himself as he saw the parallels in his own relationship with his son.
As a song well-known for jerking out a few tears who can relate to the story, “Cat’s in the Cradle” are among the few greats that deserve to be called a legendary classic.
#1 – The Living Years – Mike + The Mechanics
The soft rock ballad, “The Living Years,” was a song written by B.A. Robertson and Mike Rutherford. Performed by Rutherford’s band, Mike + The Mechanics, this was released as a single in 1988 in the U.K. and the U.S. From the album, Living Years, this became a number-one hit on the US Billboard Hot 100, as well as in Australia, Canada, Ireland, and Japan. It was also a number-one hit on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. Among a multitude of nations, “The Living Years” was at least a top twenty hit on their respective music charts.
In 1989, it won the Ivor Novello Award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically. It was also nominated for four Grammy Awards in 1990, namely for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, Best Video, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year. It was certified platinum in Australia and New Zealand, as well as gold with Japan, Sweden, and the U.K.’s British Phonographic Industry.
Speaking on a personal note, it’s impossible to listen clean through this song without fighting tears as it served as a great reminder that nothing is more important than family. In the song, the son’s regret for not communicating with his father before he died served as a dose of reality that once someone you love is gone, that’s it. Even if you don’t see eye to eye and argue more than you get along, family is still family. Although I got along very well with my father, he died before I was able to communicate with him about how much he meant to me. So, “The Living Years” has remained a personal favorite that will always be number one in my books. With over four million air citations awarded by BMI as of 2004, evidently, this opinion is shared.
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