This Sunday is Father’s Day, and here at Gone Country, we thought we’d celebrate. Country music is full of songs about fathers, stepfathers and father figures, for better or for worse. Not to mention the many father-son legacies that have been built within the genre, like Hank Williams, Bocephus and Hank III; Willie and Lukas Nelson; Merle and Ben Haggard; and recently, Rhett Akins and Thomas Rhett.
Father’s Day and country music are especially linked in my mind. Some of my earliest memories are of riding in my dad’s beat-up ’89 Toyota 4Runner, listening to George Strait, on cassettes. My interest in country music stemmed from those car rides as a 4-year-old.
Anyway, there are many country songs about fathers, which made making this playlist a tad difficult. Most of the songs are also performed by male artists (unsurprising, given the subject matter), but there’s a few songs on here performed by women that are absolute tear-jerkers.
Enjoy the playlist at the bottom, and let us know your favorite country song about fathers in the comments.
1. “Love Without End, Amen”— George Strait
Not the original father-son country song, but arguably the best, in terms of story and structure. The 1990 No. 1 for King George highlighted the hierarchy of “fathers”— first the protagonist’s relationship to his dad; then the protagonist’s relationship to his son; and finally, the protagonist’s relationship to God.
2. “Drive” — Alan Jackson
Most country songs about fatherhood are steeped in nostalgia, and this one is no different. Jackson is the perfect artist to capture the feeling of getting to drive a truck/tractor/car/boat at a young age, and then being able to pass on that rite of passage to your own children.
3. “There Goes My Life”— Kenny Chesney
One of the few country songs to deal with unplanned pregnancies in a positive way. The refrain of the chorus changes meaning as Chesney watched his young daughter grow up from something he didn’t want to someone he didn’t want to lose. A real tear-jerker for anyone sending a kid off to college.
4. “Grown Men Don’t Cry”— Tim McGraw
From “Set This Circus Down,” (McGraw’s best album, in my opinion), “Grown Men” is a male weep song at its male weepiest, ending with McGraw reading a bedtime story to his daughter after visiting the grave of the father he never got to know. It’s even more heart-wrenching because it’s almost autobiographical— McGraw himself didn’t know who his real father was until he was 11, and his father Tug McGraw didn’t acknowledge paternity until Tim was 18.
5. “Watching You”— Rodney Atkins
Whether you’re praying at night or swearing because someone cut you off in traffic, your kid is always watching you. Kind of creepy, if you think about it. But this song makes it sound sweet.
6. “Papa Loved Mama”— Garth Brooks
I never said all songs on here would be about good fathers. Garth Brooks’ cheatin’ revenge song about a trucker who kills his wife after discovering her affair has become a standard since its release in 1992. “This song s just total fun at a chaotic pace,” Brooks wrote in the liner notes for “Ropin’ The Wind,” the album it appears on. Sick, twisted, chaotic fun.
7. “He Didn’t Have to Be”— Brad Paisley
Country songs about stepfathers are few and far between, but “He Didn’t Have to Be” is easily the best of that small category. And it paints stepfathers in a good light, at that. One of Paisley’s best.
8. “Song For Dad”— Keith Urban
From “Golden Road,” this song focuses on the legacy that fathers leave their sons, even if the only sum of that legacy is in the mannerisms and traits each son inherits from his father.
9. “Keep It Between the Lines”— Sturgill Simpson
Basically every song on “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” is about fatherhood, but this one packs the most fatherly advice into one song. Simpson passes down words of wisdom he learned from his grandfather- “Don’t go turning mailboxes into baseballs,” “Don’t get busted selling [drugs] at 17,” “Do as I say; don’t do as I’ve done; it don’t have to be like father, like son.”
10. “Dark Side”— Eric Church
Aptly titled, this may be the darkest song on this list, aside from “Papa Loved Mama.” “Dark Side” starts off as a song about how Church has grown older and wiser, but still can’t tame his wild side. He puts those wild feelings to good use on the last verse, when you realize this song is really about a father’s love for his newborn son:
“All you thugs and ugly mugs dealing drugs and making noise
You can kill each other all you want but if you touch my little boy
You’ll be beggin’ for this bullet will be the last thing that you see
Before I let my dark side… Come out to play.”
11. “That’s My Job”— Conway Twitty
This is one of the many reasons why Twitty was a master. If you’re not tearing up by the end of this song, well…
12. “Tough Little Boys”— Gary Allan
Another male weepy. Allan’s tale of the sentimental effects of fatherhood is a close cousin to “Love Without End, Amen.”
13. “I Hold On”— Dierks Bentley
Bentley’s father died two years before “I Hold On” came out in 2014. The first verse is about an old beat-up truck that Bentley can;t get rid of because of the memories it holds, like a trip to Tennessee with his dad. The rest of the song isn’t explicitly about fatherhood, but you the ghost of Leon Bentley permeates this track.
14. “Daddy Had a Buick”— Robert Earl Keen
The passage of time means you probably might drive the same car your dad did when he was your age. A fun jam from one of Texas’ best songwriters.
15. “The Dollar”— Jamey Johnson
Time is money, and one son takes that phrase literally in one of the earliest cuts of Johnson’s career. “How much time will this buy me?” the kid asks his dad as he holds out some spare change. It’s a father-son song told through the point of view of the mother and the son, which only proves Johnson’s songwriting chops.
16. “The Greatest Man I Never Knew”— Reba McEntire
One of the few country songs about fathers and daughters. Reba’s tale of a father who she never got to know because he was too busy providing for his family is especially poignant, especially that last verse.
17. “God Is A Working Man”— Jason Isbell
From Dave Cobb’s “Southern Family” compilation, Jason Isbell’s parable on the miracle of everyday work highlights the blue-collar ethos of his grandfather:
“Hail to the working man, my son
Up there trying to get it done
When every horse needs water and every weed needs sun
Hail to the working man, my friend
He won’t clock out til the end
When every saint and sinner’s race is run.”
18. “Since You’ve Gone to Heaven”— Brandy Clark
At this point, Brandy Clark is the expert on documenting some of the sadness of ordinary small-town life. This song stands out as one of the best from her sophomore album “Big Day in A Small Town.” Clark’s refrain rings true for anyone who’s lost a father or a close loved one: “Since you’ve gone to Heaven, the whole world’s gone to Hell.”
19. “The Conversation”—Hank Williams, Jr. and Waylon Jennings
While the marvels of modern technology have allowed Bocephus to sing along with original recordings of his father, for a long time “The Conversation” was the younger Williams’ definitive recollection of Hank and the legacy he left behind for Jr. to fulfill. Framed as a bar conversation Jennings and Jr., the song is as much a eulogy for Hank as it is a mission statement for Hank Williams, Jr.
20. “A Boy Named Sue”— Johnny Cash
No father-son list is complete without this classic. Fun fact: It was written by popular children’s author Shel Silverstein.
Gone Country aims to thoughtfully explore the country music genre and where it’s headed, with a focus on national trends and buzzworthy news of the week. For info about album releases and concerts, check out this week’s Country Music Roundup.