To quote the title of our favorite EP from Distorted Pony, Work Makes Freedom, so rather than observe Labor Day by buying a mattress or burning brats, let’s take a moment to spin our favorite anthems about the humble but hardworking worker, endangered species though he or she may be.
The Smiths – “Work Is A Four-Letter Word”
Ironically, one of my favorite songs by The Smiths is not actually a song by The Smiths at all. A B-side recorded for the “Girlfriend In A Coma” single, I came across it as part of one of those Just Say Sire/Reprise compilations. Lead singer Morrissey’s obsession with covering British chanteuses was one reason for division within the group. As guitarist Johnny Marr told Record Collector in 1992, “That was the last straw, really. I didn’t form a group to perform Cilla Black songs.”
Devo – “Working In The Coal Mine”
Although composed by New Orleans institution Allen Toussaint and a major hit for Lee Dorsey in the 1966, Devo brought their herky-jerky approach to this sweat-drenched miner single, and it’s been featured in the soundtracks to “Heavy Metal” and “Employee Of The Month,” NBC sitcom “Working,” and adapted for a Walmart commercial of all things.
The Alarm – “Devolution Working Man’s Blues”
Speaking of Devolution … Although Irish ’80s group The Alarm were always unfairly pigeonholed as U2 wannabes, they had some solid, anthemic compositions on their own, including “Strength,” “Spirit of ’76” and the previously referenced “Rain In The Summertime.” The Alarm’s gritty, working class approach to this bluesy, um, anthem, is best encapsulated live.
The Members – “Working Girl”
Since we paid tribute to the working “man,” let’s play tribute to the working “girl,” as embodied in the biggest U.S. single from The Members, a punk band that originally hailed from Camberley, England. Judging from their video, it looks like these boys were heavily relying on their better halves.
Pillowfight – “I Work Hard”
Emily Wells and Dan The Automator are together known as Pillowfight. This blend of blues and trip-hop nicely channels the ghosts of both Josephine Baker and Amy Winehouse.
John Lennon – “Working Class Hero”
Lennon honors his working class roots and Dylan influence on this one, and he’s at his most bitter. Not the most uplifting number, but perfectly encapsulates the frustrations of the worker and how corporate interests conspire to keep the commoners down.
R.E.M. – “Finest Worksong”
The Athens, Georgia quartet virtually created the alternative rock genre by combining their Southern roots with their love of The Velvet Underground and Patti Smith. But by their 1986 album, Lifes Rich Pageant, Berry/Buck/Mills/Stipe had discovered their gift for crafting songs of “inspiration and motivation,” and although their major label debut in 1987, Document was overshadowed by the success of “The One I Love,” “Finest Worksong” was another bright spot. The mutual/drums/horn remix included on their Eponymous collection is even better. “The time to rise has been engaged,” people.
Arthur and Friends – “Homework”
Here’s one for the youngsters (and oldsters) who are coping with their return to school.
They Might Be Giants – “Seven Days Of The Week (I Never Go To Work)”
And here’s one more, for those of us who are between opportunities, who aren’t going to work, not by choice, but by an unfortunate twist of fate. See below for additional information.
P.S.: If anyone out there is looking for a hard worker, please email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org