A musical Labor Day salute to workers everywhere

In honor of Labor Day and at a time of persistent unemployment in the nation, it’s an appropriate time to pause to celebrate the working life. We’ll salute it musically.

We’ll start with two different songs that share the same title: “The Work Song.” First, here are Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. And then there’s Walt Disney’s “The Work Song,” from the 1950 movie classic “Cinderella.”

Thirteen years earlier, Disney offered another animated ode to work in the groundbreaking “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” Here’s “Whistle While You Work.”

 So, come along on our musical “orientation tour” for a wide-ranging sampler covering the ups and downs of the work world.

Office life
Here are two upbeat-tempo, downbeat-message songs about the world of office workers: Dolly Parton’s Nine to Five” and the Vogues’ “Five O’Clock World.”

A goldmine of mining songs
In checking out the musical work world, I was surprised to find so many songs about mining — most of them on the melancholy side. I’ll save the only upbeat one for last in the section.

The biggest selling of them is Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons,” a 1955 giant that was No. 1 for eight weeks. 

Lee Dorsey sounds really down — very far down — in “Working in the Coal Mine.”

Jimmy Dean offers a bestselling heroic tale with a sad ending, “Big Bad John.”

The only mining optimists I came across were those Disney dwarves again, with their happy “Heigh Ho” marching song.

So, here’s a small sampling of a wide range of occupations — I chose only one song for each job (with a couple of exceptions at the very end). Check out these job listings (excluding athletics) and feel free to add some more songs about jobs in the Comment selection below.

Physical labor
• The Boss Man: Roy Orbison’s “Workin’ for the Man”

• Agriculture: The Premiers’ “Farmer John”

• Auto maintenance: Rose Royce’s “Car Wash”

• Carpentry: Boby Darin’s “If I Were a Carpenter”

• Steelworkers: Jimmy Dean’s “Steel Men”

Public servants
• Street maintenance: The Browns’ “The Old Lamplighter”

• Astronaut: Elton John’s “Rocket Man”

• Parking enforcement: The Beatles’ “Lovely Rita, Meter Maid”

• Education: Doris Day’s Teacher’s Pet”

• Espionage: Johnny Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man”

• Law enforcement: Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff”

Military service
• The Shirelles’ “Soldier Boy”

• Petula Clark’s “Sailor” (her first No. 1 song in Great Britain)

• Tom Lehrer’s satiric “Send in the Marines”

• George, Johnny and the Pilots’ “Flying Blue Angels,” a 1961 novelty song that reached the Top 5 in the Twin Cities but failed to make Billboard’s Hot 100

• Burlesque: David Rose’s “The Stripper”

• Variety shows: The Marvelettes’ “My Baby Must Be a Magician”

• Circus: Bobby Goldsboro’s “See the Funny Little Clown”

• Author: The Beatles’ “Paperback Writer”

Religious life
• Minister: Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man”

• Chaplain: The Animals’ “Sky Pilot”

Specialty work
• Railroad work: The Weavers’ “Rock Island Line”

• Mysticism: Bobby Curtola’s “Fortune Teller”

• Contract work: Crispian St. Peters’ “The Pied Piper”

• Medicine: Jackson Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes”

• Truck driver: Wisconsin’s Dave Dudley offered “Six Days on the Road,” another regional hit that made it much bigger here than nationally.

• Rodeo performer: Paul Davis’ poignant “Ride ’em Cowboy”

• Deejay: Charlie Dore’s “Pilot of the Airwaves”  

• Engineering: Pete Seeger’s “I Was Gonna Be an Engineer”

Double duty
We’ll end with two pairs of songs:

• Transportation: The Mills Brothers’ “Cab Driver”  and Harry Chapin’s “Taxi”

• Involuntary work: Again, two different songs with the same name: Sam Cooke’s “Chain Gang” and Bobby Scott’s “Chain Gang.”

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 09/03/2010 - 08:33 am.

    Ice arena worker: “I Wanna Drive The Zamboni” by Minnesota’s own Gear Daddies.

  2. Submitted by Gin Kujawa on 09/03/2010 - 09:52 am.

    How about Huey Lewis & the News – “Workin’ For A Livin'”

  3. Submitted by Beth Hawkins on 09/03/2010 - 11:35 am.

    Or, “I Am Not Your Broom,” from one of the best children’s albums ever, They Might be Giants’ “No”: “I am not your broom, I am not your broom, I’ve had enough I’m throwing off my chains of servitude…”

  4. Submitted by Don Feeney on 09/03/2010 - 11:38 am.

    Factory work: James Taylor’s “Millworker”
    Car wash: Jim Croce’s “working at the Car Wash Blues”
    Sailor (not military): “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” or “The Sloop John B” or my favorite, Stan Rogers’ “Mary Ellen Carter”
    Fisherman: There are many, but my favorites are Gordon Bok’s “Ways of Man” and Stan Rogers’ (again) “Jeannie C”
    Logger: “The Frozen Logger” by James Stevens or Monty Python’s “The Lumberjack Song”
    Office Worker: “White Collar Holler” by Nigel Russell

  5. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 09/03/2010 - 02:23 pm.

    David Rovics “Cordova” is a rare ballad; tribute to commercial fishermen affected by oil spills, past and present.

    …plus Rovic’s “Guanajuato” to the workers coming across the border legal or otherwise;detained or dying in the search for work however the reception or treatment in the aftermath…

    The NightWatchman/Tom Morello’s “Union Song” – and yes, he has been called the new Pete Seeger for these times .

    Don’t pass up another tune of Morello’s also… and I would say, one becomes more sensitive to the verse after seeing M. Bachmann running around recently with a corn dog in her mouth..”Keep it there, keep it there, Michelle!” I say,hey…

  6. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 09/03/2010 - 02:55 pm.

    So, the ‘other song’ is so permanently embedded in my psyche, forgot to name the title…”The Road I Must Travel’… an upscale video rests back in the archives of the music and entertainment section “Axis OF Logic” website…tool down the page and on the left, music section, and them hit ‘more’ for archives, yup…

    There must be an http://www.url but this is more fun maybe…

  7. Submitted by Jay Weiner on 09/04/2010 - 08:31 pm.

    Don, LABOR DAY and you forgot the most important labor song of all time by the hardest-working man in show business, Paul Anka . . .


  8. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/07/2010 - 01:17 pm.

    You did a list of songs about work, but you left out Johnny Paycheck’s “Take This Job and Shove It?”

Leave a Reply