Songs and dads

by Bev Foster

There are playlists for just about everything these days, including songs for dads. Top 30 Songs About Dads, Best Father’s Day Songs, 100 Greatest Father Songs, Songs by Dads, 10 Best songs About Dads are some of the lists I’ve seen. “Fathers” have been the topic of many songs. The lyrics become reflections of the emotional impact of a father’s relationship, or non-relationship to the writer/performer/listener. I find “dad” songs have high emotional content, like Harry Chapin’s Cat’s in the Cradle or Dan Hill’s I Am My Father’s Son. Eric Clapton’s song My Father’s Eyes expresses his grief as he reflects on both the tragic loss of his son and never knowing his own father. Will Smith’s rap tune Just the Two of Us is lighter and is a musing of what it’s like being a dad. “Dad” songs remind us of the relationship we have with our own dads. Great songs do that – the theme is universal yet the meaning become personal to the listener. My favorite “Dad” song of all times is “Papa Do You Hear Me” from Yentl. I relate to the close relationship Yentl has with her own father who has died. I also relate to her acknowledgement of her Father in heaven. For me, the expressive strength of Barbra Streisand’s performance moves me just as much as the song itself, maybe more.



What is it about the performance expression of Streisand, Clapton and other great artists that make a great song have even greater impact on the listener? Researchers consider performance expression, in any style, a multi-dimensional phenomenon made up of five main sources, generally known as the GERMS model:[i]

  • Generative rules – stylistic and structural parameters i.e. articulation, harmony
  • Emotional expression – performer communicates emotions by changing  tempo or volume
  • Random fluctuations – small fluctuations in timing, melodic shape, or inflections
  • Motion principles – tempo changes follow natural patterns of human movement
  • Stylistic unexpectedness – deviating from stylistic expectations to add tension or unpredictability

When performers weave these components together seamlessly, whether it’s a song about Dad, dreams, or desperation, then there is the potential for a performance with optimal and far-reaching impact. And I would predict that when a song moves us that profoundly, it may become a part of our personal playlist.  

[i] Juslin, P.N. (2003). Five facets of musical expression: A psychologist’s perspective on music performance. Psychology of Music, 31, 273-302.