Sunday, November 10, 2013

Music Sunday: The Work in Music Edition

I've been thinking about work a lot lately. This probably has to do with the fact that I don't have a job, want one badly, and can't find one to save my life. It's really frustrating. It's stressful. And, lately, many people seem to be under the impression that the only reason people don't have work is because they don't want to work. Apparently, these folks don't know much about the economy and the unemployment rate, which is still a lot higher than it should be.

I could rant about the lack of work and the attitudes of people who have work and who don't have work from here until next Sunday. But I won't.

However, since I've been thinking about work so much, I thought I'd look around to see what kind of songs about work and workers are available. Turns out there are a lot of them. It also turns out that there aren't all that many songs that have a positive attitude about work, or at least about working conditions. I suppose that some people would read these songs as being by spoiled musicians who would rather fart around all day than actually work. But I don't read them all that way. I see them more as documenting all the crap that most working men and women have to put up with on a daily basis in order to keep their jobs so that they'll have a paycheck to take home every week or every month.

This is pretty plain in this song by Huey Lewis and the News, "Workin' for a Livin'" (1982):

The song doesn't say that the protagonist doesn't want to work, just that being an actual working person (as opposed to the bosses, who get paid more and get to decide how the workers are treated) can be a struggle on a day-to-day basis.

"Manic Monday" (1986), performed by The Bangles but written by Prince, is a song in the same vein. Yeah, there are other things the protagonist would rather be doing, but work is necessary. It's just that the realities of the workaday world are frustrating sometimes. Getting up early, maybe missing the bus or the train before even getting to work, knowing that if you're late you might get yelled at or get your pay docked...this is all stressful before you even get to the stress of the actual work day:

"Wichita Lineman" was written by Jimmy Webb and first recorded by Glen Campbell in 1968. It is a song that celebrates the worker who is out there when needed, sometimes lonely and working for long hours in all kinds of conditions. Personally, I like this cover, from R.E.M. best:

Other songs about work are more directly snarky. One of the best of these is Dolly Parton's Grammy Award winning and Academy Award nominated "9 to 5" (1980) from the film of the same name. She wrote the song as well as singing it in the film:

Another song in the same vein and even more direct, although it is only partly about work (it skewers family life pretty strongly, as well, and has some deeper philosophical ambitions as well) is The Police's "Synchronicity II", which was released in 1983, talks about the humiliations that sometimes come along with working for a living:

I'm tempted to end this edition of Music Sunday with Johnny Paycheck's "Take This Job and Shove It", but I don't want to do that. I know that it is a common sentiment. I've had that sentiment about a couple of the jobs I've had. But work isn't a bad thing. Work is a good thing. I am in absolute earnest about wanting a job, and it irritates me when people bitch and moan about their jobs when they should be glad, in this economy especially, that they have one. Yes, there are irritations. Yes, there are frustrations. And, yes, in some jobs the expectations are ridiculous and occasionally humiliating. But those are not the fault of the job. They are the fault of the culture, both in the workplace and in the culture, and of those who have the inclination to make things difficult for those they work with.

That is what these songs do, I think. They complain about working conditions, not about working itself.

And, with that, I'll get off my soapbox and let you enjoy the rest of your Music Sunday.

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