Rolling the Dice and Clinking the Ice

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Workin' 9 to 5: an ode to the American Worker

"Heaven is blessed with perfect rest but the blessing of earth is toil."  Henry van Dyke

"God sells us all things at the price of labor."  Leonardo da Vinci

"Without labor nothing prospers."  Sophocles

"Labor was the first price, the original purchase-money that was paid for all things.  It was not by gold or by silver, but by labor, that all wealth of the world was originally purchased."  
Adam Smith

"Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop."  Ovid

In just two days, it will be the first Monday in September, which of course means Labor Day.  To many of us, Labor Day marks the end of the summer, the beginning of football season, the start of the school year, and (let's be honest), some excellent sales.  I have a friend whose mother would never consider buying a mattress or a new kitchen appliance at any other time of year.  And there is many a man out there who will be checking with the television set, radio, or computer all weekend long, catching the latest scores.

But what is Labor Day, really?  First celebrated almost 120 years ago by the Central Labor Union of New York, it is a holiday dedicated to the social and economic achievements - including so much of the nation's strength, freedom, and leadership  - of the American Labor Movement.   When you think of how far working conditions have come in this country, in the past hundred-odd years, it is truly incredible.  Thanks to this movement, American children don't have to fear being enslaved to an assembly line, and workers can't be forced to endure cruel or overly extreme conditions.  Thank God that such treatment is now something most of us can't even imagine.  

Now, on a somewhat lighter note, when I think of hard-work, I think of men (and women too) like my gem of a father.  In other words, people who aren't scared to get in there and get dirty (not to mention bone tired) to get the job done.  And when I think of hard-working folks getting a tough job done, I often think of country music.  A little strange?  Perhaps.  But really, what other genre of music celebrates a hard day's work like this one does?  None that I can think of, and I'd bet sixteen tons and another day older and deeper in debt that you can't either.  Whether you want to listen to some work-inspiring music, blow off some steam with a "tell off your boss" song, or just celebrate the end of a hard-battled day, then country music provides the song for you.

Join me in perusing the list below of the top 10 country music songs about work, courtesy  I might disagree with the ordering (Dolly will always be #1 in my heart), but I love this compilation about good, hard, sometimes-satisfying and sometimes-aggravating work.  In fact, if you play this list at your next Bunco gathering, I bet the dice will roll a little faster and a little harder.

10. "Working Man's Ph.D." - Aaron Tippin

Aaron Tippin Greatest Hits Album CoverImage courtesy of RCA Records
This song celebrates an honest day's work of manual labor and shedding your blood, sweat, and tears every day on the job.  In other words, academics and paper-pushers need not apply.
"As a matter of fact I'd like to set things straight: A few more people should be pullin' their weight. If you wanna cram course in reality, you get yourself a working man's Ph.D."

9. "Workin' Man (Nowhere To Go)" - Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Workin Band Album CoverImage courtesy of Warner Bros. Records
There's nothing worse than wanting to work, and not eschewing hard work, and not being able to.  Unfortunately, for many of our fellow Americans, this song hits very close to home right about now.
"Had me a job til the market fell out. Tried hard to borrow but there was no help; now I've got nowhere to go.  I need a job for these two hands. I'm a workin' man with nowhere to go."

8. "Forty Hour Week (For a Livin')" - Alabama

40 hour work week album coverImage courtesy of RCA Records
This song is about the "little people" (always the biggest people to me) who work on the country's farms and in the country's factories.  Among the groups mentioned: mechanics, waitresses, farmers, police officers, steel workers, and Detroit auto workers.  A group I can get down with, that's for sure.
"Hello Pittsburgh steel mill worker, let me thank you for your time. You work a forty hour week for a livin', just to send it on down the line."

7. "Manual Labor" - Billy Joe Shaver

Salt of the Earth album coverImage courtesy of Sony Records
This satire of a song stands for the proposition that honest work does not pay.  Another idea that hits too close to home for too many right now.
"Manual labor you, you old back breaker you. I must have mistaken you, for a true friend you've never been."

6. "Lord Have Mercy on the Working Man" - Travis Tritt

T-R-O-U-B-L-E album coverImage courtesy of Warner Bros. Records
Good ol' Travis Tritt. As describes this song, he "doesn't mince words in this blistering song about being shortchanged by politicans, the rich, and maybe even God. The stakes are life and death. Class warfare has never been so danceable."  
"Why's the rich man busy dancing, while the poor man pays the band? Oh they're billing me, for killing me. Lord have mercy on the working man!"

5. "Working Man Blues" - Merle Haggard

A Portrait of Merle Haggard album coverImage courtesy of Capitol Records
With its lyrics, "jangly guitar riffs," and "chain-gang percussion", this classic song is simply the working man's anthem.  (Side note: as I child I often got Merle Haggard's and Merle Norman's names mixed up.  Those of you familiar with both can understand the hilarity that ensued).
"I'll be working long as my two hands are fit to use. I'll drink my beer in a tavern, sing a little bit of these working man blues."

4. "Coal Miner's Daughter" - Loretta Lynn 

Coal Miner's Daughter album coverImage courtesy of Decca Records
The inimitable Miss Lynn tells the true story of her poor and hard-working parents, back home in the aptly-named Butcher Holler, Kentucky. The song talks about growing up with no material luxuries to speak of, but finding happiness and contentment where it counts.  Amen to that.  
"We were poor, but we had love. That's the one thing my daddy made sure of. He shoveled coal to make a poor man's dollar."

3. "Sixteen Tons" - Tennessee Ernie Ford

greatest hits album coverImage courtesy of Curb Records
Again on the subject of coal (who knew it was so song-worthy?), this song describes a coal miner's endless cycle of servitude and debt. No matter how hard he works, he's always a little behind in what he "owes" to the company store.  A haunting tune, albeit a beautiful and catchy one, and no one does deep baritones like Tennessee Ernie.  Plus, you gotta love anyone with their state in their name... 
"You load sixteen tons, what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt. Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go: I owe my soul to the company store."

2. "9 To 5" - Dolly Parton

9 to 5 album coverImage courtesy of RCA Records
Always my best gal.  Always.  This song, about the glass ceiling faced by female corporate workers, is one of Dolly's many crossover hits. "9 to 5" appeared in the comedy of the same name, and earned the buxom blonde beauty an Oscar nomination for Best Song. Fittingly, she was inspired for the cadence of the tune by using her long fingernails as a makeshift washboard.  Genius.  (Oh, and go watch this movie yesterday if you haven't seen it yet.  Dolly, Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda and Dabney Coleman are spot on in their roles.  It's simply hilarious). 
"Workin' nine to five, what a way to make a livin'. Barely getting by, it's all take and no giving. They just used your mind and they never give you credit. It's enough to make you crazy if you let it."

1. "Take this Job and Shove It" - Johnny Paycheck

Take This Job and Shove It Album CoverImage courtesy of Epic Record
How could he not be number one in this category, with a name like that??  This song is for those who have stayed on a bad job too long.  In it, a factory worker finally gives his "boss man" what's been long-coming to him. Interestingly, although this 1977 tune became Paycheck's biggest hit, it was actually written by fellow country music bad boy, David Allan Coe.  
"Ya better not try and stand in my way, cause I'm walkin' out the door. Take this job and shove it! I ain't working here no more."

Have a great start to your holiday weekend! 

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