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Classic Rock Songs Perfect for a Father-Daughter Dance Evan Agostini/Invision/Ap
Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

Fathers and daughters have a unique relationship, that can sometimes be hard to communicate — so why not look to the experts? Check out these 15 classic rock father and daughter songs! Because whether you are looking to nail a wedding dance, or just make the perfect feel-good playlist, one of these artists has something to say.

“You Are My Sunshine,” Johnny Cash with June Carter

What to say about “You Are My Sunshine?” It’s a song simple enough for preschoolers to sing along to, yet it seems like nearly everyone records a version: Nat King Cole, The Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, and Ray Charles – just to name a few. And yet, the Johnny Cash version with June Carter reigns supreme. When this husband and wife duo take to the stage, it’s easy to picture their beloved children as the recipient of such a special, uncomplicated message: “You make me happy when skies are gray.”

“When You Need Me,” Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen’s “When You Need Me” defines the father and daughter genre, as it has come become a wedding day classic, especially for father-daughter dance songs. In “When You Need Me,” Springsteen assures that he will always be there whenever he is missed or needed. When a dad and daughter take center stage at any wedding reception, the first dance song requires unforgettable lyrics. Lines like “I’ll be there / To brush the sunlight from your hair / I’ll be there to guide you when trouble walks beside you,” seem to do the trick. Brides, remember this: when it comes to choosing your song if anyone can make a dad nostalgic about “my little girl,” it’s the Boss.

“In My Life,” The Beatles

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Although not everyone might consider “In My Life” to be a father-daughter song, the nostalgic lyrics invite further examination. John Lennon has remarked that they were inspired by his childhood and that the creation of “In My Life” was his “first real major piece of work.” So as the vocals recall various experiences come and gone, each with the refrain, “’In my life, I’ve loved them all,” the final stanza offers room for interpretation. “Though I know I’ll never lose affection / For people and things that went before / I know I’ll often stop and think about them / In my life, I love you more.” The switch to the present tense in “I love you more” implies that there is a new form of love, just beginning now. It’s easy to imagine this emotional shift coming with the birth of a child. (Julian Lennon was born in 1963, two years prior to Rubber Soul.) “In My Life” can speak to any transitional phase in someone’s life, but when imagining the sentiment spoken from a father to a child, the emotion is especially poignant.

“Father and Daughter,” Paul Simon

Paul Simon’s ballad “Father and Daughter,” was written for his daughter, Lulu, who was seven at the time and it first appeared on the soundtrack for The Wild Thornberrys Movie. Despite its relatively later release in Simon’s career, the song quickly became a popular go-to for fathers to express to themselves, as the thousands of YouTube comments suggest. As Simon says, “There could never be a father / Who loved his daughter more than I love you.” It’s no wonder that “Father and Daughter” is so popular among wedding songs.

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“Sweet Child O’ Mine,” Guns N’ Roses

Okay, so maybe this song is not technically about Axl Rose’s daughter. But “Sweet Child O’ Mine” has become so widely recognized and repeated that the song is, in many ways, less romantic and more fun for the family. (Remember Stepbrothers?) “Sweet Child O’ Mine” is an anthem to youth and the love that comes with it: those “childhood memories where everything was fresh as the bright blue sky.” Woven amongst Slash’s shredding guitar solos, those bursts of poetry feel electric and offer physical transportation back to the springtime of life. And oh, how sweet it is! Despite Guns N’ Roses’ intentions, “Sweet Child O’ Mine” could apply to daughters, grown or young.

“Lullaby (Goodnight, My Angel),” Billy Joel

Is it really any surprise that Billy Joel serenades his first daughter, Alexa Ray Joel, over a grand piano? Although “Just the Way You Are” might be the go-to Billy Joel wedding song, “Lullaby (Goodnight, My Angel)” is also a nice choice. In many ways, it’s a typical lullaby: “Goodnight my angel, time to close your eyes… Goodnight my angel, now it’s time to sleep,” Joel croons. But as the song appears in his final studio album, certain lines take on a new meaning. When he sings, “And still so many things I want to say / Remember all the songs you sang for me,” it’s hard not to choke up remembering Billy Joel’s long legacy. Within this somber lullaby, the subject of Joel’s daughter takes on a larger life force, especially in the final lines: Someday we’ll all be gone / But lullabies go on and on / They never die / That’s how you and I will be.” The music video, shot seriously in black and white with interspersed imagery of angels, seems to echo Joel’s closing remarks.

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“She’s a Rainbow,” The Rolling Stones

From the lilting, piano-heavy beat, evocative of a lullaby, to the radiant imagery of the lyrics, The Rolling Stones revel in childlike wonder on their 1967 track, “She’s a Rainbow.” It’s almost as if a little girl wrote the song herself, with its plain-speak and bursting pigments. But the subject, who “comes in colors everywhere / She combs her hair” could be any age. It’s the love with which she is perceived that most significantly colors the song – even more than all the rainbows.

“Gracie,” Ben Folds

Alternative rock musician Ben Folds famously mines his personal life for inspiration. He wrote “Gracie” for his titular daughter, who was six at the time of recording. The song is straightforward and heavily descriptive in its depictions of their home life. In 2005, Folds told MTV News: “I write songs for a very small audience. In that case, it was for one. A lot of times it’s for no one; it’s for me. Everyone has similar experiences, so I don’t really write to the universal. ‘Gracie’ is a good example of that. It’s just for Gracie. The first line is, ‘I saw you when you came out.’ That’s a pretty graphic line for a kid, but I knew she’d think that is funny.” While it might not work as a wedding song, “Gracie” is a memorable ode to a juvenile daughter.

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“You’ve Got a Friend,” James Taylor

James Taylor’s version of Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend” appeared on his album, Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon, topped the charts in 1973. Both versions were recorded and released simultaneously, with King stating that her lyric was actually a response to Taylor’s song, “Fire and Rain,” in which he sings: “I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend.” The reassuring words and affectionate sentiment immediately connected with audiences. Over the years, the song has come to emphasize friendship within families for many listeners. The love is sung about here, rather than romantic, feels natural and gentle: perfect for a father and a daughter.

“Isn’t She Lovely,” Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” is a timeless celebration of birth and life. When Wonder sings “Isn’t she precious? / Less than one minute old,” it’s easy to imagine the happy hospital scene. In this original recording from Songs in the Key of Life, the track opens with a baby’s distinct cry. The lyrics that follow are similarly literal; “Life and love are the same / Life is Aisha” immortalizes his firstborn forever in song. At roughly five minutes in, you can even hear the watery splash of Wonder bathing his dear Aisha as a toddler. This upbeat ode is at once personal and universal, genuinely encapsulating that elusive “key of life.”

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“Your Daddy Loves You,” Gil Scott-Heron

Gil Scott-Heron was a jazz poet and self-described “Bluesology, whose work was heavily influenced by spoken word from the 1970s on. As such, his father-daughter song, “Your Daddy Loves You” song takes on a confessional tone. Through extremely intimate lyrics acknowledging marital strain, Scott-Heron’s unusual, jazz-infused lullaby emphasizes his love for his own brown-eyed girl– over everything. It’s a very direct and honest address that reinforces what’s really important within in family, as opposed to “wasting time.” The refrain, “Your daddy loves you,” repeats throughout the song, and finally, at 2:40, with the nice addition: “And your mama too!”

“Child is the Father of Man,” Brian Wilson

A mostly overlooked track, “Child is the Father of the Man, appeared on The Smile Sessions, a compilation Beach Boys album released in 2011. Though the lyrics are minimal, they ground the instrumental in the theme of family, applicable to a daughter or a son. The splicing of the words, “Child child child / Father of the man father of the man,” emphasizes the overlap between the lives of children and parents. With a sound that’s psychedelic and atmospheric, this interchangeable quality eternalizes the unique, affecting relationship one has with a father. Although it never reached the acclaim of “God Only Knows,” this lowkey track still has a lot to offer, especially for fathers.

“Molly Smiles,” Jesse Spencer

“Molly Smiles” was composed for the coming-of-age comedy, Uptown Girls, which stars Brittany Murphy as Molly, a free-spirited nanny, and Dakota Fanning as her uptight ward. Uptown Girls follows the unlikely pair around New York City as they struggle with grief, barf at Coney Island, and form an unexpected familial bond. “Molly Smiles” was a fictional track written by Molly’s father, a classic rocker, during her childhood. “Daddy’s little girl / paints the world with a magic wand,” it begins. Sung here by the actor Jesse Spencer, the final scene of the film features a gorgeously choreographed ballet recital which lends new meaning to the wholesome, honey-sweet lyrics.

“Here For You,” Neil Young

One of his more recent songs, Neil Young wrote “Here For You” when his daughter, Amber Jean, went off to college. In Jonathon Demme’s 2006 documentary, Heart of Gold, Young said: “You know, I got a beautiful young girl. She’s just turned 21. She’s going back for her last year of college pretty soon. She’d probably be embarrassed if I said anything more about her. You know how that is? Can’t say much. Anyway, there was a time I used to write these kinds of songs for girls my own age. So, this is what you might call kind of an empty-nester song. It’s a new genre, and they might even have a new kind of radio station for them.” Hopefully, this sweet Neil Young song will find its way to all the empty-nesters’ playlists.

“Have I Told You Lately,” Kelly Preston

Van Morrison’s classic, “Have I Told You Lately,” has been covered by many artists – most notably, Rod Stewart, whose version ruled in 1993. The song has become a common fixture at weddings, scoring both romantic slow dances and daddy-daughter waltzes. Often overlooked though, is the late Kelly Preston’s own rendering from the 2003 film, What a Girl Wants. Preston, who portrays a wedding singer, performs while her own daughter, played by Amanda Bynes, reunites with her long-lost father on the dance floor. Intertwining with the plot of the film, this familiar wedding song melody will warm viewers’ hearts while clinching the happy ending. When it comes to father-daughter dance songs, this scene nails the special moment. Preston performs beautifully as a mother in awe of this father-daughter relationship. Rest in Peace, Kelly.

 “Papa Don’t Preach,” Madonna

If anyone is going to make an… unconventional father-daughter song, it’s Madonna. In the 1986 pop hit, Madonna first sings, “Papa I know you’re going to be upset / ‘Cause I was always your little girl… I need your help, daddy please be strong…” before dropping the bombshell: “I made up my mind, I’m keeping my baby.” The video stars famed Italian-American actor Danny Aiello as Madonna’s father. In a revealing 2011 interview with Fresh 102.7, Aiello called the video experience “terrible” and even “crap,” and complained that he only participated because his daughter worshipped the pop icon.

BONUS SONGS:

  • “My Darling,” Wilco
  • “Landslide,” Fleetwood Mac
  • “Daughters,” John Mayer
  • “God Only Knows,” The Beach Boys
  • “Your Song,” Elton John
  • “You’re My Best Friend,” Queen
  • “Forever Young, Rod Stewart
  • “Over the Rainbow,” Israel Kamakawiwo’Ole
  • “Stand by Me,” Ben E. King
  • “My Girl,” The Temptations

Watch: Michael Bublé’s Video About Fatherhood Has Parents Sobbing Uncontrollably

Emily Mack About the author:
Emily Mack is a staff writer for Rare. She currently lives in Chicago and has very strong opinions about where to find the best hot dog. She studied nonfiction writing at Columbia University in New York City, and recently graduated with the Ellis Avery Prize for creative writing. Her favorite topics are Cher, fast fashion, Chicago urban legends, and Jack Nicholson movies.
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