Labor Day is here, which means that this quasi-summer we've pseudo-enjoyed is officially in the books. And what better way to celebrate than by posting our favorite songs about work.
Long ago, I postulated this question to Lin Brehmer of Chicago's XRT. His response was that work isn't often a topic for musicians, because most of them have never had a true job.
"What do you call a musician who's just broken up with his girlfriend?" Brehmer asked, setting up the punchline: "Homeless!".
While the song list may not be as deep from which to choose, there still are quite a few songs which offer a hat tip to the millions upon millions who keep our economy running. This year has been a year like none other, which makes it even more important to recognize the essential workers who have marched on with their work: in healthcare, in education, in manufacturing and transportation, in public safety and service. We owe them a debt of gratitude, not armchair quarterbacking from the sidelines. So raise a glass to yourselves and your friends, who continue to find a way to keep things running.
As usual, no Beatles or Stones songs are permitted in the list. Here are my top five:
HONORABLE MENTION - The Silhouettes, "Get a Job" ]
"She throws the want ads right my way / and never fails to say."
Lead vocalist Rick Lewis returned from the service, and his mother lamented (morning, afternoon, and night) why he didn't go out and get a job. The rest is history.
NUMBER FIVE - The Coasters, "Yakety Yak" ]
"Let's see that dust fly with that broom."
The chorus is my favorite playful way to remind the kids not to talk back. It's also become a personal favorite of our six-year-old's to lip synch - to see her as a Bass is always entertaining. And the sax solo by King Curtis makes clean-up time a little peppier.
NUMBER FOUR - Elvis Costello, "Welcome to the Working Week" 
"Oh, I know it don't thrill you; I hope it don't kill you."
Declan MacManus began his career as a data entry assistant. Perhaps that's what made it possible for him to capture the droll of the workforce so succinctly.
NUMBER THREE - Bob Dylan, "Maggie's Farm" 
"Everybody says she's the brains behind Pa."
Dylan captures the sentiment of young workers, who see the spoils of their hard work hoarded by owners, see themselves as the manifestations of doctrines conceived by important men in deep protection, see their efforts to stand out and be individuals beaten down by conformity. Perhaps that's why he chose this track as the opening for the 1965 Newport Folk Festival set.
NUMBER TWO - Sam Cooke, "Chain Gang" 
"You hear they moaning their lives away."
As the legend goes, Cooke and his brother witnessed a group of prisoners working alongside the highway. After offering the group cigarettes, they returned home and penned this song in their honor.
NUMBER ONE - The Pretenders, "Back on the Chain Gang" 
"But I'll die as I stand here today knowing that deep in my heart / They'll fall to ruin one day for making us part."
Within a matter of 48 hours, Chrissie Hynde found herself without a bassist (Pete Farndon, fired due to addiction) or a guitarist (James Honeyman-Scott, drug overdose). Work isn't the theme of the song; rather, it's the song itself. Hynde wrote this as a means to cope with losing one of her closest friends, honoring him as the returned to the studio and their careers. What's more, the choral references to Cooke's work, as well as the beautiful modulation that returns the song from bridge to verse is a reminder that while our work may leave us tired, frustrated, and worn, the bonds we create with our co-workers often leave us with life-long friendships..
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