Mama

Album: Genesis (1983)
Charted: 4 82

Songfacts®:

  • This song is about a young man obsessed with a prostitute who is not interested in him. He has an Oedipal fixation on her, and insists on calling her "Mama." It is based on a book Phil Collins read called The Moon's A Balloon, by David Niven. In the book, a young man falls in love with an older prostitute who does not return his affections.
  • After their 1980 album Duke, Genesis changed the way they wrote songs. Instead of the individual members bringing in musical bits and song ideas to work on, the band would show up in the studio and come up with ideas collectively. According to Phil Collins, it was Mike Rutherford who came up with this song after getting the idea from his drum machine. Their keyboard player Tony Banks added some chords, and Collins began improvising lyrics while they listened to playbacks, at one point uttering the word "Mama," which became the title for the song.

    In a press conference following the release of the album, Collins said that when they wrote the song, it "had a lot of steam, a lot of heat," and they pictured Cuban brothels. The band didn't think much of the song when they wrote it, and were surprised when it caught on.
  • The chorus consists of maniacal laughter performed by Phil Collins. When questioned about getting into the sinister mood to perform the song, Collins said that it wasn't a problem. After all, he was an accomplished actor long before he joined Genesis.
  • If you thought this song dealt with abortion, you're not the only one. Phil Collins has recounted a story about playing the song for the band's manager for the first time, who thought the narrator was the voice of the fetus pleading with the pregnant woman.
  • Mike Rutherford created the unusual percussion with a drum machine set to distort the beats. Drum machines were typically the domain of Phil Collins, but Genesis didn't adhere to roles when it came to songwriting, as all three members could contribute on many levels.

    In a Songfacts interview with Rutherford, he said, "Every song was different. For example, in the past when we wrote, Phil would do a little drum machine loop, program it, and he'd sing to it. We'd play the chords, he'd sing to it. Then a song called 'Mama' comes along and the entire drum program, the stilted drum machine, is me. So, you can swap hats. I think that's half the skill, really."
  • Phil Collins got the idea for the crazy laugh from the 1982 Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five song "The Message," where lead vocalist Melle Mel does a similar breathy laugh.
  • This was the first single from the album. They had now completely departed from their Peter Gabriel era sound and were getting a lot of radio play as a result.
  • Many groups title their first album the name of the band, but not counting live albums, this was Genesis' 12th release and 6th without Gabriel.
  • This was their biggest UK hit to that point. It didn't chart in America, where "That's All" was the big hit from the album.
  • The processing on the drums is a gated reverb that Collins and Hugh Padgham helped create for Peter Gabriel's 1980 track "Intruder." Collins, who became the lead singer of Genesis when Gabriel left in 1975, did a lot of the drumming on Gabriel's third solo album, which leads off with "Intruder." He was taking a break from the band and sorting out his marital problems at the time. Padgham was the engineer on that album, and produced the Genesis album. Both credit Gabriel with encouraging them to use different processing devices.
  • The video featured uncomfortably close shots of Phil Collins' face, where he looked particularly demonic. The image left a lasting impression on viewers and gained a lot of buzz for the video, which did well on the burgeoning MTV network.

    The clip was helmed by the British director "Stuart Orme," who did several other Genesis videos ("No Reply At All," "Misunderstanding") and worked on many popular TV series in England, including Al Fresco and Inspector Morse.
  • An extended version was released as a CD single in 1988.

Comments: 21

  • Mary Martinez from Sacramento, CaWhen the video first came out, it was said to be based on a book called "The Minds Of Billy Milligan" who was a rapist who suffered from DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder). Seems the band changed the story of the song. If you listen to it with the notion of the narrator having multiple personalities it makes more sense and is more dark.
  • J Nilton Pereira from Guaruja Sp, BrazilI still can't stop listening to those heart beat drums and think of a baby begging for mercy, so sad, and also think about mothers who can't possibly have any other choice
  • Seventhmist from 7th HeavenMiles from Vancouver: I always found "Eagle" to be a rather uplifting song. I found nothing uplifting about this one.
  • Christine from Nw Atlanta, GaTo Mark of New Zealand- I remember that episode. Though, I always thought it had a Miami Vice feel to it. That aside, very good song, but a very creepy vibe to it.
  • K.c. from NhThe first time I heard "Mama" it brought to mind the book "Flowers In the Attic". Think about it.
  • Irene from Brooklyn Ny @ Gilberto Rose the book is a bit easier to get now : http://www.amazon.com/Moons-Balloon-David-Niven/dp/0140239243
  • Gilberto Rose from Atlanta, GeorgiaI tried looking for that book that was mentioned. I keep getting an autobiography of David Niven. Has anyone else attempted to find it with any luck?
  • Kyle from Sydney, AustraliaAlso, the most obvious 'fact' about this song isn't even mentioned above - the fact that the 'laugh' was directly influenced by 'The Message' by Grandmaster Flash.
  • Kyle from Sydney, AustraliaPhil most certainly did NOT make the lyrics up 'on the spot', just listen to the demos - its mostly gibberish. Secondly, it was Mike's drum machine pattern, and the technique had nothing to do with Collins' 'gated reverb' sound - it was simply a drum machine through a guitar amp.
  • Dave from Wilmington, NcHow about that! ,,, From the first day i heard it, I thought it was about Abortion. When Phil would snarl , i though he was imitating a baby's cry. LOL
    Now the video makes mush more since HAHAHA
    ;P
  • Claudio from Osorno, ChileTo whoever wrote about the drum machine, the beat was actually a Rutherford's idea.
  • David Ransom from Cambridge, United KingdomI agree almost totally with Andy, Cleveland, OH, the only difference being that I think "Genesis" was their first album that was ("Mama" excepted) total crap. I stopped following them after I heard this album. To this day, I still think it is one of the worst albums I have ever heard, just pipped to the post as (IMHO)the worst album ever made (yes, despite "Mama") by David Bowie's "Tonight" or maybe David Bowie's "Hours" or maybe David Bowie's...
  • Mark from Ruapehu, New ZealandThis song also apperead in and episode of Magnum PI
  • Miles from Vancouver, CanadaThis song is to Genesis what "Eagle" is to Abba. Both songs are bone-chilling, somewhat epic album openers.
  • Joe Public from Anytown, AlAwesome song. And I totally agree with the manager...
  • Jim from Columbus, OhNot true about Collins not drumming and singing at the same time after Gabriel left. He sang bits of Robbery Assault and Battery and One for the Vine while playing drums. On every solo tour, he sings "In the Air Tonight" while playing drums. What's more impressive is his drumming and singing line for line harmonies with Peter Gabriel during the Lamb tour. Even on difficult songs, like "In the Cage", "Colony of Slippermen", and "It".
  • Pierre-yves from Belfort, FranceSome people call the album "Mama" instead of "Genesis" because of this song, which the first track.
  • Simon from Chicago, IlPhil did play drums and sing at the same time live in the 1990 Knebworth concert. This can be seen on the "Live at Knebworth" DVD.
  • 1 from Here, AkOther than the No Reply At All *video*, Collins never drummed and sang at the same time! Backing vocals in the old live days are one thing, but he never did after Gabriel (nor solo as far as I know). And surely recording of both in the studio is always done seperately. :)
  • Andy from Cleveland, OhMost bands self-title their first albums. Not so here. Ironically, in my opinion, this was the last decent Genesis album. Home By The Sea (both of them), Mama, and It's Gonna Get Better were all good songs. Their next album, Invisible Touch, was their first to go to #1. I thought it was the first album they did that was nothing but crap. And the trend continued all they through Calling All Stations. Just my opinion, mind you.
  • Chris from Hull, MaThis song - Collins' snarling - it's scary - almost sinister. I do love the song though - and the band is so amazing. Collins drum and sings at the same time better than any other member of a band; including Don Henley of the Eagles.
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