Very, very busy at the day job, not much time or brainspace to think the deep thoughts, so this week we feature…songs about work. By which I mean, labor, actually working. There are far more weekend songs in the rock ‘n’ roll canon than weekday ones, but “It’s Saturday night and I just got paid” doesn’t count, nor do out-of-work songs: career opportunities, the ones that never knock, will not be at the door today either. “I was looking for a job, and then I found a job/And Heaven knows I’m miserable now…”: that’s what I’m talking about.
1) “Chain Gang,” Sam Cooke, and “Working in the Coal Mine,” Lee Dorsey: these guys sound as though they’ve been about as close to a chain gang or a coal mine as I have, but catchiness can make up for sincerity. My company recently introduced always-on instant messaging, which I’m devising a theory is like the white-collar equivalent of call-and-response work songs, except call-and-response work songs let you get something done at the same time.
2) “I’ve Been Working,” Van Morrison: Van does sound engaged in some kind of labor here, though “thruway down and thruway up, thruway down and thruway up” is as specific as he gets. Perhaps he drove a taxi around the same time he was cleaning windows? That’s a good work song too, one of the few positive ones, but Van’s clipped, no-nonsense vocal here is a favorite of mine.
3) “Boys’ Town Work Song,” Christmas: A song from the boss’s point of view aimed at his team of delinquents who don’t know the meaning of work. I love that phrase, and ponder it frequently as I tap the keys and make the hard decisions. The buzzy guitar sounds a little like what the inside of my head feels like at the end of some days.
4) “Working for Somebody Else,” dBs: Just because it’s nice to hear someone in a rock song acknowledge that.
5) “That Lucky Old Sun” Ray Charles: in the hit version, an “Ol’ Man River” wannabe cry of self-pity, but Ray makes it seem like a metaphor for the human condition. How does he do that? Literary tidbit: John Updike, not usually a lover of pop culture, references this song in one of this stories. Updike’s teenage narrator imagines it expresses the pressure he feels being in high school. Which is my way of reminding myself, as I often do, this too shall pass…