Working For A Living And Singing About It As We Do

by Amy Gold

Canners
Can factory workers ca. 1909

Songs about work may seem like an oxymoron. Why sing about something which most of us think about as a necessary evil? But the concept of working for a living has inspired more songwriters and musicians than you would think. There is a seemingly endless catalog of songs that celebrate the working man and his constant need to bring home a paycheck.

From the earliest days of popular song, work has been a common theme. For a work song you can look no further than Lee Dorsey, or maybe you'd prefer the doo-wop sound of “Get A Job.” Tennessee Ernie Ford talked about life as a company man in "Sixteen Tons" and an entire musical, "How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying," was created around life in the corporate world.

Coal miner
Coal miner ca. 1932

Work comes in many forms and so, too, do songs about work. From rootsy ballads about the backbreaking reality of manual labor, like Johnny Cash's "I Never Picked Cotton" to "Workin' In A Coal Mine" by Lee Dorsey. Even Bruce Springsteen touched on blue-collar angst in his song "Factory.”

Life can be just as bleak on the white collar side, as Dolly Parton reminds us with "9 to 5" and Fountains of Wayne touch on in "Bright Future In Sales.” There seems to be endless inspiration to be had in the working man's struggle to get free of time clocks, business suits and endless, repetitive days. And human nature tells us to take our work related angst and turn it into songs we can all relate to.

Of course, we're more than just "work work work," but it seems like even on the job we've always got one eye on play. And many songwriters have given voice to that dilemma by creating songs that rally us into standing up for own rights or just seeking out a better life. Music is meant to inspire as well as entertain and that is true of work-related tunes as well.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the concept of a work song took on a whole new meaning as these laid back times found us looking out the window and daydreaming about better things to come. Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues" and Bachman Turner Overdrive's "Takin’ Care Of Business" talk about doing what you have to to get by and wishing you could be spending your days some other way.

Of course, when it comes to songs about work, perhaps nothing stands out like Johnny Paycheck's iconic "Take This Job And Shove It,” the ultimate working man's response to a job that he can no longer tolerate and a boss who makes his life miserable.

Work is something which we can't outrun no matter how hard we try, and it evokes a myriad of emotions, almost of all of which have found expression in song. It may not make it any easier to take, but sometimes singing about a lousy job can bring some small measure of relief. At least with these and many other work songs, we can take comfort in knowing that we're far from alone in our frustration!

The Workweek

The Boss

Business

Chain Gangs

Coal Mines

Cotton Fields

Farms

General Work-Related

Get A Job

Hard Times

Housework

Looking For A Job

Money

TGIF (Thank God It's Friday!)

The Working Class