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The 25 Best Work Songs For Labor Day

List Of The Day

I'll accept any excuse to take a day off and if the government wants to have a holiday that celebrates work that's fine by me. How's about 15 weeks of vacation a year while we're at it?

But we here at List Of The Day never stop working. We're always thinking of new lists that need to be compiled. When we saw Labor Day coming up on the calendar, we knew it was time to wheel out the work songs. Not the old, smelly work songs that musicologists once discovered in the hands of the workingman, but the ones written and performed by rich rock stars who've never done any real work. Rich rock stars, you see, complain better than anyone. So who better to give voice to than the oppressed?

And before you ask where's "Take That Job And Shove It"? Think about it. That's an ANTI-work song. As much as we support the sentiment, it doesn't qualify here.

Now, let's get to it!

25) "Maggie's Farm"--Bob Dylan: This borders on "Take This Job And Shove It" territory, except while Bob is telling us he won't be working on this woman's farm any longer, he apparently did quite a job while he was there and clearly understands the family dynamic of this farm. Not many songs really deal with employee-employer relations in such a direct manner.

24) "Career Opportunities"--The Clash: You don't have to know much about the Clash to know that these guys were pro-labor, pro-working class, pro-union, and pro-little guy. They were like folkies but much louder. Probably socialists, guys who liked to share. So much so that when they made albums they often made their record company charge less for them. They'd be real happy with the way things are nowadays where everything seems to be free!

23) "Diary Of A Working Man"--Blackfoot: Blackfoot never became a household name. Conspiracy theories abound. But this is one harrowing tale here and has plenty of drama as the song builds, and you get the feeling that things are not about to work out right.

22) "Blood On The Bricks"--Iron City Houserockers: The Iron City Houserockers were from Pittsburgh. Where in the late 1970s, when these guys were trying to make it happen, you could always count on seeing news footage of men standing around barrels with fire coming out of them waiting for someone to put them to work. I don't think there's a greater symbol for man's misery than this image. Suffering in the cold, waiting for the "good luck" to go, and doing some back breaking work for eight hours. There's got to be a better way.

21) "Working On The Road"--Ten Years After: From their supersmash Cricklewood Green, "Working On The Road" is one buckling tune that sounds like Alvin Lee and the boys are cruising down the highway at a good speed, delivering the goods and making nice with all the roadside vendors they come in contact with. Swell.

20) "Working Man"--Rush: This was clearly before Neil Peart, "Ayn Rand to the courtesy counter," took over the group's lyrical concerns. It has since became a concert fave, the one surefire audience pleaser from the band's first album, which came out some 34 years ago in 1974, making its existence nearly as long as most people's careers.

19) "Workin' For MCA"--Lynyrd Skynyrd: At least the guys in Lynyrd Skynyrd knew which label they were on. And there are plenty of bands out there who got royally screwed by their management. These guys seemed to have a decent long term relationship and they admit to signing the contract, and keeping an eye on where their money was going. So maybe this is just a warning shot, or a statement of purpose.

18) "Chain Gang"--Sam Cooke: Ah, the sound of the men working on the chain gang and then it's all grunts and rhythm. Almost makes it sound like fun. Well, not exactly. The one thing no one talks about when discussing chain gangs is how crazy your co-workers are likely to be. It's not like the 4-H club.

17) "Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)"--Styx: Part of a grander concept from their Pieces Of Eight album where material wealth is postulated as something less than grand, certainly a much-maligned point of view in today's world where a life in the fab lane can only be achieved by the constant spending of dollars. Well, that and bossing other people around.

16) "She Works Hard For The Money"--Donna Summer: As a disco queen, Donna Summer felt it was important to not lose sight of her roots and her audience, so she agreed to sing not just about "Bad Girls" but about women who took their destiny into their own hands in responsible way and made something of themselves. It's a "You go, girlfriend" anthem before people said such things to one another.

15) "Workin' For A Livin'"--Huey Lewis And The News: Huey Lewis liked to be an average guy telling average tales about average folks. Boy, did he succeed. C'mon--he named an album Sports! How much more average Joe can you get without calling your band Average Joe? At least he knew to explain the means to an end here. You work so you have a living--though oddly I know an alarming amount of people who don't seem to do anything and get along just fine. Can I do that?

14) "Slave To The Grind"--Skid Row: This is why you have to save your pennies, kids. So you don't end up like this. You don't want to be a "Slave To The Grind," as attractive as that sounds. You want to be a "Master Of Puppets," pulling the strings. Metallica preach dominance where Skid Row warn against submission. Learn these lessons and you, too, can be successful placing tiny ads in the backs of magazines and newspapers. Dream big.

13) "Salt Of The Earth"--The Rolling Stones: Though Mick Jagger is one of my favorite singers, I would never claim I liked him because of his sincerity. He always sounds like he's putting everyone on. So when he asks us to say a prayer for the hard working people, you know, the salt of the earth, I feel like he's patronizing us. He'd probably make a good politician.

12) "Finest Worksong"--R.E.M.: I've never understood a single R.E.M. song. I mean, I guess they're about something! And this one, if its title is to be believed, is a work song and not just any work song but the finest one. And I couldn't in good conscience put together a list of the best work songs and not include the finest one. So that's why this one's here. Get your working papers in order today!

11) "Welcome To The Working Week"--Elvis Costello: How ironic that Elvis Costello would open his first album with a song welcoming you to the world that he was leaving behind. It's like he wanted to rub our noses in it. He decided he didn't want to work in an office anymore so he became a rock star. Smart guy. Why can't I do this? Why can't we all do this?

10) "Factory"--Bruce Springsteen: Considering his blue collar pedigree, it's surprising how few Springsteen songs actually deal with the nuts and bolts of actual work. Sure, there's "Working On The Highway" and "Downbound Train" that mentions working in a car wash and allusions to sweat and toil. Then, there's the guy working for the Johnstown Company in "The River," but only "Factory" really spells out the monotony and does it without being too monotonous itself. Not bad.

9) "Working For The Weekend"--Loverboy: Technically, not everyone works for the weekend. Someone has to work ON the weekend in order for the rest of us to be served food and drinks when we're out. And the mail still comes on Saturday and the mall is filled with stores and clerks who suffer but who also know the joys of getting their errands done during the week when everyone else is at work.

8) "Dead End Street"--The Kinks: Ray Davies named his latest album Working Man's Café and while we're big supporters of all things Davies, we still must admit we're partial to his earlier work as a member of the dysfunctional, irascible, lovable, clumsy, and charming, God Save 'Em Kinks. Considering the way rock musicians were screwed on money back in the 1960s--unlike today where everyone is paid "fairly"--I wouldn't doubt that Ray experienced the financial woes he espouses in this tune. While living on a dead end street metaphorically speaking is not a good deal, living on one in reality is usually pretty nice. Not a lot of traffic and the kids can play outside without fear of being run over. Unless your neighbor is a drunk.

7) "Takin' Care Of Business"--Bachman Turner Overdrive: So often I'm asked why I don't mention Bachman Turner Overdrive in my column. Maybe it's because I'm usually not allowed. We won't get into the politics behind this, but there was no way this tune wasn't making this list. They don't call it work. They call it "business," which is what you call it when you're making serious cash.

6) "It's Not My Place (In The 9 To 5 World)"--The Ramones: See, unlike Van Morrison who thinks he'd be just fine cleaning windows, the Ramones knew they didn't want to work in the 9 to 5 world and they didn't. If you've ever seen interviews with them, you can pretty much tell they wouldn't have done very well. They weren't what people in business would call executive material, except Richie Ramone who showed up for his interview in the Ramones documentary, End Of The Century, in a tie!

5) "Cleaning Windows"--Van Morrison: So many rich and famous people try to convince us and themselves that they'd be just as happy doing some mundane task that was considered good, honest hard work. Don't believe them. Given the choice between cleaning windows or making a ton of dough singing in front of millions? Yeah, I'd rather make minimum wage. We all wish to be paid less, of course.

4) "God Damn Job"--The Replacements: The Replacements also sang tunes such as "White And Lazy" and "Dope Smokin' Moron," indicating a certain lack of work ethic. Their live performances known to range from cathartic to shambolic often within the same set became legendary. Underachievers of the world unite under these guys.

3) "9 To 5"--Dolly Parton: OK, so she's a country artist. But she sure can tell time. I've always thought the worst part of working culture is the hours. I mean, if I could work noon to eight, it wouldn't be so tough to make a living. But why so early? And really why eight hours a day? Why not noon to four? No one does eight hours of actual work anyhow. According to Peter Gibbons on Office Space, he only does about 15 minutes' worth of real work in any given week; what's with this eight-hour charade? 

2) "Working Class Hero"--John Lennon: In one of his other songs, John Lennon says his parents didn't want him so they made him a star. Man, I wish my parents hated me that much. To think that Lennon wrote the lines "Keep you doped with religion, sex, and TV" back before Cable TV was the norm is mind-boggling. It's like he knew. And what do you think our boy genius did once he turned 35? He holed up in his apartment in New York City and watched lots of television for five years. Attaboy, Mr. Working Class Hero! I would've done the same!

1) "Let's Work"--Mick Jagger: Most pop music encourages people to party and behave irresponsibly. ("I Can't Drive 55" anyone?) But Mick Jagger will have none of it. He wants you to get up early, eat a sensible breakfast, put on a nice, clean, presentable clothing, get to work on time, and work your little butt off. Anything less than your best won't do. We think he's right. Better you start now. So stop napping under that tree and get to work!

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