In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, in celebration of Mother’s Day, we’re picking songs about moms—or that have a mom-related word in their titles.
Three Dog Night, “Mama Told Me (Not To Come)” (1970)
Three Dog Night was one of the most popular rock bands of the ’70s, with no fewer than three lead singers (Danny Hutton, Chuck Negron, and Cory Wells) and a solid outfit backing them up (guitarist Mike Allsup, keyboardist Jimmy Greenspoon, bassist Joe Schermie, and drummer Floyd Sneed). Almost every song turned into a party for the multi-player band (“Celebrate,” “Joy To The World,” “Never Been To Spain”), but one gathering took a wrong turn.
“Mama Told Me (Not To Come)” starts out with an eerie melody line, augmented by Greenspoon’s carnival-like electric piano and Allsup’s spooky guitar, which all paint a picture of a party gone too far. The narrator, ostensibly a straitlaced small-town hick at a big-city gathering, is overwhelmed by the psychedelic scene: People are drinking and smoking things he’s never even heard of, and his girlfriend’s passed out on the floor. Three Dog Night joyfully switches from the funhouse-worthy verses to the solid, upbeat chorus, in which the remorseful band points out, “Mama told me not to come.”
“Mama,” the very first No. 1 song featured on American Top 40, was penned by Randy Newman, of all people. The members of Three Dog Night had excellent taste in song selection; other TDN hits were written by Paul Williams, Elton John and Bernie Taupin, and Leo Sayer. This novelty-esque number was right in the wheelhouse of the future “Short People” and “I Love L.A.” writer, who would go on to write award-winning songs for Disney and Pixar movies. The prolific Newman said that he based the song on music-industry parties he visited when he first came to L.A in the ’60s. In movies from Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas to Boogie Nights to Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, “Mama” has gone on to indicate festivities that partakers should best be avoiding. That ain’t the way to have fun, son.