In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, we’re picking some of our favorite songs about cowboys.
No matter what any given week’s Hear This theme is, I’ve found it’s a pretty safe bet to go with something Willie Nelson recorded. I’ve already written about “Me And Paul,” but when the theme is “songs about cowboys,” it seems like a crime not to pick “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.” Written and first recorded by Ed Bruce in 1975, “Mammas” became practically synonymous with Nelson and pal Waylon Jennings after the pair recorded it for 1978’s Waylon & Willie. Their version went to No. 1 on the Billboard country music charts, won the Grammy for Best Country Performance By A Duo Or Group, and even inspired an Alvin And The Chipmunks takeoff, “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Chipmunks.”
Cowboy life isn’t really all that prevalent a career choice these days, and I’m not really sure how popular it was back in 1975, but “Mammas” makes its message clear all the same: Parents, you don’t want your boys to grow up to rope and ride for a livin’. It’s not as glamorous as it seems, because, “They’ll never stay home, and they’re always alone / Even with someone they love.” Cowboys are heartbreakers, and, “They’d rather give you a song than diamonds or gold,” so don’t let those boys “pick guitars or drive them old trucks.” Instead, maybe consider convincing them to “be doctors and lawyers and such”? And while that’s always easier said than done (I’d imagine, not having been threatened with a rodeo-lovin’ child myself), it seems like pretty solid advice. After all, belt buckles and chaps might look glamorous, but, really, being a cowboy just seems like a pain in the ass.