Thinking back to a time before the luxury of music streaming makes me grateful. Thinking back even further brings me to a time when my parents controlled the music selection. I vividly recall riding in the backseat of my mom’s Chevy Suburban while she played her favorite music. I wasn’t a very rebellious kid, but I found ways to make sure my parents knew they weren’t cool. One of these was my rejection of my mother’s music taste.
Just as I find myself putting Brussels sprouts and broccoli into my shopping cart, vegetables I scowled at when Mom put them in front of me, I sometimes find myself choosing to play the songs she would. It isn’t just nostalgia, either. I actually like them.
Here are some of the songs that weren’t cool enough for me then, but live in my playlists today.
Nothing Compares 2 U – Sinead O’Connor
I’ve come to love Sinead O’Connor’s cathartic version of “Nothing Compares 2 U.” The song was originally written by Prince for a side project in 1985. Sinead O’Connor’s 1990 cover was far more popular, topping charts in thirteen countries. Due to its popularity, Prince began performing the song on tour. Covers by Aretha Franklin and Chris Cornell also exist. Both were recorded before Prince’s solo version was first released in 2018. Among all the versions, Sinead O’Connor’s version stands out for its otherworldly, almost angelic qualities, as well as its era-defining music video. While I couldn’t admit it at the time, my mom was playing a song I would love forever.
Red Red Wine – UB40
Also a cover, UB40 unknowingly took Neil Diamond’s “Red Red Wine” to number one on the charts in the UK. They claim to have had no clue that the song was originally by Diamond. Still, the “Sweet Caroline” singer says UB40’s version is his favorite, and even uses their reggae backing when he performs the song in concert. The song was featured on Labour of Love, UB40’s cover album which frequently played during childhood car rides.
Straight Up – Paula Abdul
“Straight Up” topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 1988 after selling a million copies in ten days. A single from her debut album, Paula Abdul recorded “Straight Up” in a bathroom for only $3,000. The song was later sampled in J. Cole’s “Work Out” in 2012, as well as in Kanye West’s “The New Workout Plan.” J. Cole’s track recently led me back to this distant childhood memory. To my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed Paula Abdul’s original.
Give Me One Reason – Tracy Chapman
“Give Me One Reason” was my first introduction to blues and at the time I had little appreciation for the genre. Having since listened to B.B. King, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Ray Charles and other pioneers of blues, I now have an affinity for the genre, as well as a better understanding of how Chapman references her predecessors. Her blues rocking stays true to tradition in rhyme and meter, while bringing a modern clarity to the vocals. While I once constantly asked my mother to skip “Give Me One Reason,” it is now my most frequently played song of the list.
Faith – George Michael
I could never deny my love for George Michael’s “Faith,” fifteen years ago or today. It is the song I am most thankful to my mother for playing. The pop hit remained in the top 100 for thirty-five weeks, kick-starting George Michael’s solo career. The ceremonious organ in the opening plays the melody to Wham’s “Freedom,” acting almost as a send-off for George Michael’s momentous and mature solo work.
Moral of the story: listen to your mother. Mine shaped my music taste and influenced me in ways I couldn’t have foreseen.