The Mother Of All ’80s Movie Mothers

Some time ago, I happened upon the movie Gremlins. As I watched the zany antics of the titular creatures, I took note of the actress who played the mother of the main human character.

She looked familiar.

By the time she went all Sarah Connors on the marauding gremlins – even making a mess of the family microwave to kill one of them – I had to consult IMDb.

Frances Lee McCain was the name of the actress.

Scanning her credits, it was quickly apparent as to why she looked so familiar as I hit a stretch of movies in the ’80s.

In 1984, she was the care-worn mother of Kevin Bacon in Footloose. Was she recently divorced or widowed – I think it’s only noted that his father is not in the picture – when she dragged Ren off from Chicago to Sticksville?

Footloose was one of the biggest movies of the summer. One of the other must-see movie for us high school kids that year?


A year later, there was Michael J. Fox going back to the ’50s and fending off the amorous advances of his teenaged mother in Back To The Future.

And in the role of the Lea Thompson’s mother was Frances Lee McCain.

So, in a span of a year or so, this actress was cast as the mother of main characters in three movies and hits the trifecta with all three flicks among the highest-grossing of the time, drawing sell-out crowds during the summers of ’84 and ’85.

Along the way she was there for an angst-ridden Kevin Bacon, slaughtered gremlins with household appliances, and narrowly avoided an incestuous love connection between her daughter and her grandson.

Nobody knows the trouble Francis Lee McCain has seen.

(and my mom used to complain about laundry)

But McCain wasn’t through, yet. As summer ended and I headed off to college in 1986, she appeared in another iconic movie of the ’80s as Gordie Lachance’s mother in Stand By Me.

For a moment, I considered throwing up a track from each soundtrack, but…have you seen the tracklisting for Gremlins?

Here are four songs mentioning mothers…

Journey – Mother, Father
from Escape

One of the biggest albums of my musically-formative years, Journey’s Escape had a handful of songs which got a lot of airplay on radio (some to the point of burnout). The disquieting Mother, Father – a tale of a family in disrepair – was a favorite partially because it didn’t get played into the ground.

Paul Simon – Mother And Child Reunion
from Negotiations And Love Songs

Paul Simon had already reached his commercial peak by the time I truly began listening to music (though, his career would get a second wind in the late ’80s with the mammoth success of Graceland). So, though I know a lot of his more popular stuff, he remains an artist whose catalog I’ve mentally tagged for further investigation.

The winsome Mother And Child Reunion was inspired by a Chinese dish consisting of egg and chicken which I always thought was rather clever. The song also features a prominent line-up of guest musicians including members of reggae superstar Jimmy Cliff’s backing band and members of Toots & The Maytals as well as Cissy Houston, mother of Whitney, providing backing vocals.

Tracy Bonham – Mother Mother
from The Burdens Of Being Upright

In the mid-’90s, there was a tremendous wave of female artists and female-led acts – so many that a new one seemed to arrive every twenty minutes only to be elbowed out of the way twenty minutes later. Naturally, the music industry chased the trend with its usual lemming-like singlemindedness.

One of the acts that broke through was singer/songwriter Tracy Bonham. Mother Mother was inescapable during the summer of ’96 and is an insanely riveting peek into the mindset of someone having a come apart.

The Police – Mother
from Synchronicity

On the rare occasion when Mother pops up on shuffle, Paloma and I laugh and crack wise for the the song’s full three minutes. The chaotic track arrives in the middle of side one of The Police’s mega-selling Synchronicity and, at the time when I had recorded the album from Frog’s Midnight Album on WEBN, it was the one song which I was guaranteed to skip over.

I’m still not a big fan of the song. It still seems noticeably out of place on Synchronicity like some strange hiccup in the album’s flow, but, should I ever relent and get a cellphone, Mother – with guitarist Andy Summers screaming “Is that my mother on the phone?” – is going to be the ringtone I set for my mom.


4 Responses to The Mother Of All ’80s Movie Mothers

  1. Perplexio says:

    Man, Frances Lee McCain got around!

    I think one of my favorite 80s movie moms was Lane Meyer’s mother in Better Off Dead. I love that she got her husband TV dinners for Christmas and he was actually happy about it considering how bad her cooking was (“You said you didn’t like grease in fried bacon. So I boiled it.”) She was brilliant in her complete obliviousness to just about everything going on around her.

    • barelyawakeinfrogpajamas says:

      It’s been forever since I’ve seen Better Off Dead, so I really don’t remember McCain from that flick (I have a good friend who swears by its greatness). It is undeniable, though, that as you say – and to borrow the title from Sammy Hagar’s contribution to the Footloose soundtrack – the girl gets around (or she certainly did in the ’80s).

      • Perplexio says:

        I don’t believe McCain was in Better Off Dead, I was more commenting on favorite 80s movie moms. McCain would certainly be up there (for me it would be more due to her Back to the Future contributions) but the totally oblivious mom from Better Off Dead beats her out by a hair.

        The bacon scene in Better Off Dead seals the deal for me. David Ogden Stiers forks some disgustingly blue things off his plate, “In the name of all that is good and holy what is this?”

        To which she replies nonchalantly, “You said you didn’t like all the grease from fried bacon, so I boiled it.”

  2. agedhipster says:

    I do not know one person who is a fan of that Police song, and I skipped it every time I played the record!

    Nice songs for moms, though, besides that one!

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