This song is a homage to the teenage rebellion songs of the '50s. It's about a kid whose parents are on the conservative side, much to his dismay (that 10 p.m. curfew is pretty tight). One night, he parks in the shadows at the drive-in movie with his date, but gets a visit from a cop, who takes him in. Seems he's doomed to be home at night when everyone else is out having fun, and it's all because his mama don't dance and his daddy don't rock and roll.
This was influenced by a 1963 song by The Rooftop Singers called "Mama Don't Allow
," which is about a kid whose mama won't tolerate guitar playing. It reached #55 in the US that year.
Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina wrote this song early on in their partnership, writing it in the studio one day while they were waiting for their band to arrive. They didn't think much of it, but when they recorded it about eight months later, it became a huge hit in America, climbing to #4. Much to their dismay, it endured as their best-known song, which was frustrating because it was sort of a throwaway and didn't represent their sound. Loggins and Messina were both accomplished songwriters and musicians, who along with their top-notch band, made music that was far more complex in both music and lyrics. Tracks like "Angry Eyes
" and "Till The Ends Meet" are what they considered far more substantial, but for many listeners, Loggins and Messina are most associated with "Your Mama Don't Dance."
Loggins and Messina formed when Kenny Loggins, who was working as a songwriter, got a solo deal with Columbia Records. The label's boss, Clive Davis, had Jim Messina produce him, and it quickly became clear that their voices blended exceptionally well together. The first album they worked on, released in 1971, was titled Kenny Loggins with Jim Messina Sittin' In, and was at first considered a Loggins solo album with Messina in the title because as a former member of Poco and Buffalo Springfield, he had name recognition. That album sold very well, so they recorded another, this time clearly stated as Loggins and Messina. "Your Mama Don't Dance" was part of that set, and made them so successful as a team that they continued their partnership until 1976, even though they were often at odds and never thought of Loggins and Messina as a long-term project.
The voice of the cop who orders, "Out of the car, longhair," is Merel Bregante, who played drums in their band. Michael Omartian, who later became a top producer, played the boogie-woogie piano.
Elvis Presley sang a few lines from this song as part of a medley in 1974 for his album Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis. Poison returned the song to the chart in 1989 with their cover version, which reached #10 US.
This was used in the TV series Switch in the 1975 episode "Las Vegas Roundabout," where it was performed by lounge singers in a casino. It was also used in the 2006 comedy RV, starring Robin Williams.
Messina's music-loving mama couldn't dance because
his [step]daddy didn't rock and roll. The song was inspired by Messina's upbringing in a strict household where his square stepfather thought The Beatles were weird. "My stepfather was from Arkansas and he was not much of a mover or a groover. (laughs) And my mom... my mama... she loved music. She loved Elvis Presley and Ricky Nelson. She loved race music. My stepfather was more of an Ernest Tubb, Hank Snow, Johnny Cash kind of guy. There was not a whole lot of connection or understanding with me wanting to do music other than from my mom," Messina told The College Crowd Digs Me
"So just the line, 'Your mama don't dance and your daddy don't rock and roll...' came from me thinking about how my mother wasn't really doing what she loves to do. She couldn't do that. My stepfather was not into rock and roll. He thought The Beatles were just... weird. (laughs) Screaming, long-haired idiots, right? (laughs) So I grew up having to put up with that. And it was a fun lyric to come up with. I had no intention of it ever having any kind of social significance whatsoever other than my own experience of a kinda funky household."
When Messina first heard Poison's cover, he wasn't a fan. "It's so different than ours, and I didn't really care for it at first, didn't like the sound. Of course, that's just me being a perfectionist," he told the Columbia, Tennessee, publication The Daily Herald in 2021. "But then, I listened to the rest of their album, and then I listened to our album and thought, 'You know what, this is an extension of their art, their sound, texture, their brushstrokes. This is what their fans expect and want to hear from them,' and when I looked at it from that standpoint they hit it right on exactly what they were trying to create."