We can’t sign off for the long weekend without saluting the men and women who put the labor into Labor Day. There’s been no shortage of songs written about the drudgery of working 9-to-5, and below, here’s a list of the 15 finest songs (oops, that just reminded us that we didn’t include R.E.M.’s “Finest Worksong”) devoted to describing how we spend most of our lives. So clock out, grab a beer, salute your fellow worker, and enjoy.
And, if it’s not too much work, add your favorite song about work in the comments.
1. “9 to 5,” Dolly Parton (1980)
A deceptively upbeat melody and Parton’s sweet delivery run counter to the dark sentiment of such lyrics as “Barely getting by/It’s all takin’ and no givin’/they just use your mind/and they never give you credit.”
2. “She Works Hard For The Money,” Donna Summer
Few jobs are more grueling than waitressing: all the heavy lifting, being on your feet all day, working for tips. Summer captures it all on this disco hit about a lady who has spent 28 years slinging plates. You better treat her right.
3, “Working on the Highway,” Bruce Springsteen (1984)
Springsteen has built a career singing about the working man and on this exuberant tune from “Born In The USA,” he dreams of a better life than holding a red flag as part of a highway construction crew. Lyrically, it’s a downer (he ends up in prison), but the melody is so upbeat, most listeners never notice
4. “Working For a Living,” Huey Lewis & The News (1982)
We’re all just working for the man…
5. “Bang On The Drum All Day,” Todd Rundgren (1983)
This anti-work anthem still gets played by radio stations near and far at 5 p.m. on Friday
6. “Working For The Weekend,” Loverboy (1981)
Have truer words ever been spoken? Loverboy combine the weekend with the always alluring possibility of romance, even if it comes via a lazy rhyme: “You want a piece of my heart?/You better start at the start.” Red headband and leather pants optional. (This is the official video, skip to 2:24 to finally get to the song)
7. “Shiftwork,” Kenny Chesney and George Strait (2007)
A clever play on words: take out the “f” in “shiftwork” and you get the idea built around monotony of shiftwork, whether you’re working, as the song states, “Seven to three/Three to eleven/Eleven to seven.”
8. “Chain Gang,” Sam Cooke (1960)
Let’s face it, as bad as your job may be, it still probably doesn’t compare to working on the chain gang, picking up trash on some highway, yoked to some other prisoner. And yet, Cooke still sounds like the happiest angel in the world.
9. “Sixteen Tons,” Tennessee Ernie Ford (1955)
Pair this with Lee Dorsey’s “Working In The Coal Mine” and you can double down on the misery of working where “the sun didn’t shine.” Funny, yet trenchant, lyrics detail the inability to get ahead, so much so that heaven even seems out of reach because “I owe my soul to the company store.”
10. “Working Man,” Rush (1974)
Working leaves little time for any of life’s simple pleasure other than “a nice cold beer.” At least for Alex Lifeson, it gets you a very cool guitar solo.
11. “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights),” Styx (1978)
Take your Styx hatred somewhere else, buddy. It’s one thing to not like “Mr Roboto,” but to not bow down to this working man’s anthem, sung by Tommy Shaw instead of usual Styx warbler Dennis DeYoung, is to prove that you’ve never even gotten so much as a paper cut at work.
12. “Taking’ Care of Business,” Bachman Turner Overdrive (1974)
This chugging ode pays homage to those who “get up every morning from your ‘larm’s clock warning” to trudge into the city like a clone, only to rinse and repeat the next day.
13. "Five O’Clock World,” The Vogues (1966)
Also used as the theme to The Drew Carrey Show, this joyous tune discards the doldrums of the working day for that magical moment when the whistle blows. Listen for the glorious production, if nothing else.
14. “It’s Five O’ Clock Somewhere,” Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett (2003)
Yes, yes it is…And that means it’s time to punch out and head to Margaritaville.
15. “Take This Job and Shove It,” Johnny Paycheck (1977)
This list ends, as it must, with country singer Paycheck’s biggest crossover hit because it’s a sentiment that everyone— no matter what kind of music you listen to or job you do — has wanted to tell his or her boss, but knows that unless they are the last words you plan to say as the door hits you on the way out, have to remain unsaid.