It’s Friday before Labor Day.

Is anyone there?  If you are, you are probably watching every phone call and e-mail with an eye towards the clock too.  The unofficial end of summer is upon us (time to get your ice cream soda.)

So, rather than recap the basis for Labor Day (which I’ve done before here and here and here) I’m going to do something completely different today and, if you’ll indulge me, just plain fun.

It’s a list of ten of the best workplace/job-related songs.

Why not just the best? Two reasons. One, these lists are inherently subjective.  But second, I’ve tried to put down songs that are actually in my music library.

And (didn’t I just say it would be two reasons?), it gives me an opportunity to do a followup list in the future.

So without further ado…..

10.5. Employment Law Sing-A-Long Song – Mark Toth

While I’m not going to use an official pick for this song, any workplace songlist would be incomplete without this classic from Manpower Chief Legal Officer Mark Toth — who runs the Manpower Employment Law Blawg.  Anyone who loves employment law will appreciate this song.  “Employment Law Can Be Easy….” sings Mark.

10. Get a Job – Sha Na Na

A few months back, our kids were interested in Woodstock, so we downloaded a bunch of songs from artists at the time. Sha Na Na is easily overlooked in that (they performed right before Jimi Hendrix), but their version of Get a Job is eminently singable in the car.  And yes, I know the Silouettes originally performed the classic song, but we have the Sha Na Na version. So Sha Na Na it is.

9. 9 to 5 – Dolly Parton

Ok, so you’re rolling your eyes already. But really, your memory is decieving you. This song — far from the song you have in your head — actually holds up very well.  (The movie, of course, was a walking billboard for why we need employment lawyers with a “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” for a boss.)   The problem with the song now, of course, is that very few of us work 9 to 5 anymore.  It’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it.

8. Work Hard – Robynn Ragland

I’m pretty sure that none of you have ever heard of Robynn, much less this song. Your loss.  I was fortunate to go to  law school with Robynn and she put out a terrific album in 2000 that was really big in Missouri.  She had a few songs get picked up on shows like Dawson’s Creek too.  While “Work Hard” isn’t even the best song off her solo album, I like the almost hypnotic rhythm of the song.  Some days you really do need to work hard to keep things under control….

7. We Work The Black Seam – Sting

Earlier this summer, Billy Elliot came to the Bushnell and I was able to see it for the first time. It tells the story of the British coal miners strike through the eyes of a boy who wants to dance. Trust me, it’s good.  But the musical isn’t the only artistic endeavor to come out of the strike.  Sting’s song is one that fits the bill too. It draws a vivid picture of the harshness of a coal miner’s work and how nuclear power may not be the savior it was supposed to be.  The version on the Bring on the Night CD has a terrific saxophone and overall, it hits the right notes for a working song.

6. Workin’ on a Dream – Bruce Springsteen

One could fill a list of top work songs entirely with Bruce songs.  So why this one? I like the optimism found in it.  Add some Tenth Avenue Freeze Out (and this epic version) and you can be a happy camper.

5. Vacation – Go-Go’s

Without work, there would be no vacation and the Go-Go’s song is a classic.  (Though, a very close second to Lindsey Buckingham’s “Holiday Road”if only for the movie it was attached too.)

4. Living For the City – Stevie Wonder

“His father works some days for fourteen hours and you can bet he barely makes a dollar; His mother goes to scrub the floor for many and you’d best believe she hardly gets a penny; Living just enough, just enough for the city…yeah.”  “I hope you hear inside my voice of sorrow and that it motivates you to make a better tomorrow.”  Just remember, as tough as your day may have been, there are others who are scraping by as Stevie Wonder reminds us. As compelling today as it was 40 years ago.

3. Finest Worksong – R.E.M.

I’ll be honest. I have no idea if this relates to work. The lyrics don’t help much here.  But it’s a darn good song.  Perhaps the finest worksong, if you will.

2. Hard Days Night – The Beatles

Thought I might miss this one, did you? Not a chance.  It is after all, Ringo Starr who created the phrase. And how? “We went to do a job, and we’d worked all day and we happened to work all night. I came up still thinking it was day I suppose, and I said, ‘It’s been a hard day…’ and I looked around and saw it was dark so I said, ‘…night!’ So we came to ‘A Hard Day’s Night!'”  We’ve all had a day that turns into night and back to day sometimes too.

1.  Workin’ for a Livin’ – Huey Lewis and the News

Admittedly, this is probably a cliche on any list of top workplace songs. But Huey Lewis remains one of the best working-class hero singers out there.  And the lyrics? “Somedays won’t end ever and somedays pass on by, I’ll be working here forever, at least until I die.”  Haven’t we all had a day (or two, or three) like this?

Bonus: Pressure, Billy Joel

So, I open it up to you. Do you agree with the list? What songs should be included on a future list of best workplace songs?

  • Gianfranco A. Pietrafesa

    Dan – One of my favorites is BANG THE DRUM ALL DAY by TODD RUNDGREN – Franco

  • Edward Wiest

    Three more possibilities (as music, not necessarily an endorsement of the organizations as they exist today):

    Look for the Union Label (ILGWU–now UNITE)–1978

    Sixteen Tons (1950’s):

    Which Side are You On? (1930’s)

  • Mary E Kelly

    Great Post, but those are “working” songs, not “labor” songs.

    Here is my personal list of top ten labor songs–in no particular order:

    1. Bread and Roses;
    2. Solidarity Forever;
    3. Joe Hill;
    4. Roll the Union On;
    5. (Look For) The Union Label;
    6. Which Side Are You On;
    7. Pie in the Sky (When You Die);
    8. Sixteen Tons;
    9. Union Maid; and
    10. This Land is Your Land– the one with the secret verses that were not initially commercially released and don’t get a lot of airplay outside of the Labor and Folk movements. Those verses are:

    As I went walking I saw a sign there
    And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
    But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
    That side was made for you and me.

    In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
    By the relief office I seen my people;
    As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
    Is this land made for you and me?

    Nobody living can ever stop me,
    As I go walking that freedom highway;
    Nobody living can ever make me turn back
    This land was made for you and me.

    Don’t know how many people know these tunes. My late father (an organizer for the IAMAW) used to sing them all- especially on Labor Day.

    Have A great holiday.

  • schwarda

    @maryekelly:disqus Great suggestions. I’d add “Solidarity” from Billy Elliott; just a great production. The Labor movement certainly had good tunes but where are the modern day equivalents?

    • Mary E Kelly

      Well, have to admit I like the old songs best– but have you heard the Dropkick Murphy’s sing Which Side Are You On? Their lyrics cannot be posted!

  • Jon Orleans

    Even though I represent management more often than not, I know — and love — and can (sort of) sing almost every song on Mary’s list. More candidates:
    Hard Travelin’ (another Woody Guthrie)
    Deportee (and another)
    Springhill Mine Disaster (by Peggy Seeger, recorded by Peter Paul & Mary)
    Workin’ in a Coal Mine (by Allen Toussaint, recorded by Lee Dorsey)
    Workin’ Man Blues (written and recorded by Merle Haggard)
    Got My Mojo Workin’ (performed by Muddy Waters and many others) (OK, it’s not really about work, but it’s got “work” in the title, and it’s a great, great song.)

  • Patricia Weitzman

    How about Five O’Clock World by the Vogues? Or are you all too young for that one?

  • adomm

    Sting great singer and songwriter, We Work The Black Seam – quite possibly the most beautiful song ever created.