Hey, Mom, What's Your Favorite Song? We each added a question to our annual phone call home, and we got some surprising answers. "Weird Al" Yankovic? Boston?

Hey, Mom, What's Your Favorite Song?

This weekend is Mother's Day, and for years the NPR Music staff has put together carefully curated playlists for our moms to enjoy. But, as we prepared for Mother's Day this year, something occurred to us: We've been putting together lists we think our moms will like — usually songs about other people's mothers — but we've never asked them what their favorite music is. So this year, we each added a question to our annual Sunday-morning phone call: "Hey Mom, what's your favorite song?"

Call your mom and ask what her favorite song is, then tell us what she says in the comments section below.


  • Robin Hilton's Mom: "When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob-Bob-Bobbing Along"

    Robin Hilton with his mom. Courtesy of the Hilton family hide caption

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    Courtesy of the Hilton family

    I wasn't sure what my mother would pick, but she surprised me with one she used to sing when I was a child: "A favorite song that comes to mind immediately is one I sang to you as a baby: 'When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob-Bob-Bobbing Along.' I'm not sure what the title is, but that is the first line. I don't even know where it originated, but it was a song I loved singing to you in particular, thinking of your name. I still sing it to little babies, but it is your song. One line is, 'Live, laugh, love and be happy.' "

  • Amy Schriefer's Mom: The "Hallelujah" chorus

    Amy Schriefer with her mom, Kathy Schriefer. Courtesy of the Schriefer family hide caption

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    Courtesy of the Schriefer family

    "I guess if I had to choose a song to sum up my life, it would be the 'Hallelujah' chorus." Wow, that's subtle, mom. To be fair, the most famous movement in Handel's Messiah was the recessional at her wedding and sung at countless family holiday events, including ones where we were forced to wear matching dresses. And it encapsulates perfectly the things I envision when I think about my mother and music. It's ritualistic, religious, joyous and communal. It's my mother standing in a church pew singing loud and strong. In the Schriefer tradition of morbid humor, I said, "Well, at least we now know what to play at your funeral." "You better stand," my mom said. I will.

  • Felix Contreras' Mom: "Hey Jude"

    Felix Contreras with his mom, Carmen Contreras. Courtesy of the Contreras family hide caption

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    Courtesy of the Contreras family

    My mom totally blew me away with her choice. I was expecting maybe one of the many mariachi, conjunto or boleros I've heard her sing along with at home since I was a kid. But The Beatles? I wasn't surprised that she knew the band; my three younger brothers and I listened to the group a lot when we were kids. In fact, the money to buy our records came from our parents, so they knew who was who and what we were listening to. But I didn't suspect the nostalgic value "Hey Jude" had for my mom. I totally get that, with two young boys of my own at home. On my commute home later that day, I thought about how that song probably brings her right back to what I call Boy Time; the part of childhood when they are cute, adorable, huggable little men. And I wondered which songs will remind me of this era of my boys' lives. What song will bring a tear to my eye unexpectedly years from now when they're grown and have children of their own? Maybe I'll start playing "Hey Jude" a little more often around the house and in the car. Happy Mother's Day to my mom Carmen, my wife Barbara and all moms out there!

  • Lars Gotrich's Mom: "Smile"

    Lars Gotrich with his mom. Courtesy of the Gotrich family hide caption

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    Courtesy of the Gotrich family

    My mom and I are so simpatico at times, it's scary. Many of my experiences growing up have mirrored her own, almost to the exact age and even now we go through similar thoughts and moods almost simultaneously. When I emailed my mom for her favorite song, I wasn't at all surprised by her pick: "Smile." The words are by Turner and Parsons, but the music is by comic actor and composer Charlie Chaplin, a childhood hero of mine. And she loves it for the same reason that I always have: "I love it when a lyrical line is birthed to its musical twin," she says. "The words are cuddled perfectly in its musical line." And it's funny, because that's the only way I pay attention to lyrics, and there are so few instances when the music is actually enhanced by the words: "Smile though your heart is aching" actually aches with a hopeful smile.

  • Beca Grimm's Mom: "More Than A Feeling"

    Beca Grimm with her mom, Luada Grimm. Courtesy of the Grimm family hide caption

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    Courtesy of the Grimm family

    My mom's old T-shirts make up about half of my wardrobe. There's a John Denver baseball one (I still remember her crying when his plane crashed) and a few from her newscasting days at Panama City Beach's Sunny 590. And then there's the one slapped with the word "Boston" across the chest; that one has nothing to do with Beantown and everything to do with Brad Delp. When I asked her what her favorite song was, I could have predicted her response: Boston's "More Than a Feeling." The Grimm family has few rules, but one that has and always will remain is this: If it's Boston, you'd better turn it up.

  • Ann K. Powers' Daughter: "I Will"

    Ann and her daughter.
    Courtesy of the Powers family

    Instead of calling my mom to ask for her favorite song, I asked my daughter to pose the question to me. I told her that my favorite is The Beatles' "I Will," and I said it's partly because Paul was always my favorite Beatle. I also told her, "I waited a long time to become a mommy and I wished I could be a mommy for many years before I got to adopt you. [Birthmother Mallory, we love you, and happy Mother's Day to you, too!] And, after you came, I realized that song is all about waiting for the one you will love the most. When I sing it to you, it makes me think about how much I love you and how happy I am that you came into my life." Rebecca said she likes it because her favorite Beatle is Ringo. And that her favorite song is "On the Floor" by Jennifer Lopez.

  • Stephen Thompson's Mom: "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)"

    Stephen Thompson with his mom. Courtesy of the Thompson family hide caption

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    Courtesy of the Thompson family

    To ask my dear mother for her favorite song — or a recommended comic book, or a preferred dishwasher — is to receive an annotated list narrowing her choices down to a cool dozen, or 40, or 100. I was raised from hardy, nerdy, list-making stock, so Mom's choices were appropriately cultish, from The Rocky Horror Picture Show's "Time Warp" and "Walk Through the Fire" (from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, natch) to "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Hardware Store," which Mom calls "an ecclesiastical song — it's what heaven is. That hardware store is heaven. So that touches me religiously." (You'd best believe she's not kidding.) But in talking about her list, Mom kept coming back to another song that makes her weep with delight every single time: 1988's "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" by The Proclaimers. It's a song of devotion, after all, and who's more devoted than the world's most excellent mother?

  • Tom Huizenga's Mom: "Sweet Dreams"

    Ellie De Vries' high school graduation photo. Courtesy of the Huizenga family hide caption

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    Courtesy of the Huizenga family

    When asked my mom, Ellie, what her favorite song is, I knew she'd pick something by Patsy Cline. Growing up, there was always a lot of competition to spin LPs on our six-foot Magnavox stereo console that doubled as a piece of Mediterranean-style furniture. But whenever my mom put on her Patsy Cline records, I forgot all about my Dylan, Mitchell, Zeppelin and Bach fixations. Her voice was huge and soaring, almost regal, yet it was also intimate and direct, like country music should be. "She was my very favorite," Mom told me over the phone last week. "The tragedy of her early death was sad for me, because I loved everything she sang. And, when I graduated from high school in 1950, there were a few people who said my graduation picture looked like Patsy Cline."

  • Frannie Kelley's Mom: "What A Wonderful World"

    Frannie Kelley with her mom, Angeline Kelley. Courtesy of the Kelley family hide caption

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    Courtesy of the Kelley family

    Frannie Kelley with her mom, Angeline Kelley.

    Courtesy of the Kelley family

    I called my mom last week, and she was all ready to talk about her favorite pick-me-up song, Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World." She said she remembers her parents playing it a lot and her sister singing it at their mom's funeral. Worried we were about to veer into a sad story, I asked her if she remembers the other songs she heard when she was little. That's when she started singing. "We listened to a lot of big-band stuff, because Mom and Dad liked to dance," Mom said. "I don't remember my mom singing to us — that was my dad. On car rides when we were little, he taught us drinking songs and frat songs — WWII stuff: 'I love you, Maryanna, and I want you to be my wife / Just give me some of that [kissy face sound 3x] and I'll love you all my life.' And 'Susan McGoosin's the girl of my choosin' / She sticks to my bosom like glue / I'd rather be losin' my cigarettes and boozin' than losin' my Susan McGoo.' There are a lot of songs that involve honking the horn." I remember my mom singing those songs to me and my brothers. She makes the best kissy-face sounds.

  • Mike Katzif's Mom: "Ride On, Josephine"

    Mike Katzif with his mom, Stephanie Katzif. Courtesy of the Katzif family hide caption

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    Courtesy of the Katzif family

    My dad is the true music guy of the family, but I was hard-pressed to think of a song my mom loved. I sent her a quick email to ask and found it pretty hilarious that I never knew she was a Thorogood fan: "One song that stands out is a very old song from George Thorogood and the Destroyers. 'Ride On, Josephine' was on an album from the early '80s that your dad bought. He played it and sang it all the time and, for some reason, it just stuck in my head. In March 1980, we went on a ski trip to Steamboat Springs in Colorado, and on every run, your dad would sing the chorus of the song at the top of his lungs, and I could always tell where he was! Once you were born, it continued to be played at home, and was the background to your earliest years, along with the combination of Bob Dylan, B.B. King, James Taylor, KoKo Taylor and more — maybe it was the foundation for your enthusiasm for music."

  • Sami Yenigun's Mom: "Teach Your Children Well"

    Sami Yenigun with his mom, Keats Myer. Courtesy of the Yenigun family hide caption

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    Courtesy of the Yenigun family

    "For me, this song is all about what you get from your parents and what you give to your children," Momma Bear says. I know what you're thinking — that she picked this song because I told her it was for a story about Mother's Day — but I can verify that this is actually her favorite song, any and every day of the year. "It always reminds me of a day when I was driving in a convertible on a highway in Cape Cod, and it was a beautiful sunny day, and it was blasting on the radio. And it was just about being full of joy. It was great. To me, the song is about how we're all connected, and that's why I love it." I can say you've taught me well, Momma.

  • Dena Trugman's Mom: "Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat"

    Dena Trugman with her mom. Courtesy of the Trugman family hide caption

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    Courtesy of the Trugman family

    I'm not generally a fan of musical theater, so it was a challenge to get behind my mom's favorite songs, which came from the musical Guys and Dolls. As a disclaimer, I've never seen the play — sorry, Mom! — so it is possible that my opinion might have been ameliorated by context. Unschooled in Broadway as I was, I found the Marlon Brando version of "Luck Be a Lady Tonight" less spectacular than Frank Sinatra's and Jean Simmons' "If I Were a Bell" just the tiniest bit grating. But I knew that my mom has always loved to sing and act, and I wanted to give her choices the benefit of the doubt. One of my mom's favorite childhood memories is the day she got to perform a solo from The Sound of Music with her fifth-grade class at the 1964 World's Fair. So when I watched the performance of her favorite number, "Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat," the appreciation began to sink in. In fact, it was eerily similar to one of my favorite music videos, so I knew exactly what it meant to rock a boat.

  • Anastasia Tsioulcas' Daughter: "Big Rock Candy Mountain"

    Sophia Tsioulcas.
    Courtesy of the Tsioulcas family

    I have a mama's pride, and so I asked my own 4 ½-year-old daughter, Sophia, what her favorite song is that she learned from me. We listen to a ton of music together from all kinds of styles, and since she's not even in kindergarten yet — and thereby not exactly given to bouts of rationality — I suspected she'd make a pretty idiosyncratic choice. She lit up upon hearing Pete Seeger's version of "Big Rock Candy Mountain," a song that was first recorded in 1928 and probably goes back a few decades further, and imagines a hobo's paradise of easy living. (As a fairly responsible parent, I'd like to think that her choice was more about envisioning a big, dazzling confection, and not so much the lines about jumping into a lake of gin or the bees buzzing in the cigarette trees.) Sophia sings "Big Rock Candy Mountain" so gleefully that I, too, can imagine — and for just a moment escape into — a life of lemonade springs, where the bluebirds sing and the sun shines every day. It sounds pretty good.