Songs About Working Hard
1. ‘Nine to Five’ by Dolly Parton
There is not only the song titled 9 to 5 but the musical and the film. Written in 1980, Dolly Parton created and performed the song for the film of the same name. She also appeared in a key role in the film.
The song is in a distinctly upbeat Country style, typical of many songs by Dolly Parton. It tells the familiar story of a routine lifestyle in which hard work is rarely rewarded and workers are exploited.
Pay is low and work demands are hard. On top of this, the boss represents an even greater problem with designs on Dolly Parton.
‘9 to 5’ has won many awards and charted for a time in 1981. It is the first single that Dolly Parton managed to get to number one and has sold more than a million copies.
Interestingly, the musical theatre production hit the stage in 2008 and has since then toured the US and the UK. Dolly Parton wrote a further twenty songs that form the backbone of the musical.
2. ‘Working In A Coal Mine’ by Lee Dorsey
Allen Toussaint, an established producer, and songwriter who was active in the 1960s met Dorsey at a party. The two got on well and decided to collaborate on a record.
This song is the result of a project Dorsey and Toussaint devised in 1966. ‘Working In A Coal Mine’ was one of the biggest hits for the duo reaching the Hot 100 that same year.
Whilst Dorsey provided the lead vocal parts a lesser-known instrumental group called The Meters provided the backing tracks. The Meters gave the song its distinctive feel that falls somewhere between Blues and Motown.
Lyrically, the song talks about a poor worker who has to get to work in the small hours of the morning to go and labour in an unpleasant coal mine. His pay is poor and even when he has time to himself, he’s too exhausted to enjoy it.
There’s a slightly comic tone to the song that characterises many songs from this time produced by other great artists such as The Coasters.
3. ‘Working Man Blues’ by Merle Haggard
Released in 1969, this track makes an appealing fusion of Country and Blues music. The song was released as a single from Haggard’s album called ‘A Portrait of Merle Haggard’.
Haggard was a fine guitarist and singer whose talents are ably captured on this recording. His characteristic guitar riffs drive the song over a pacey mid-tempo rhythm section.
In this recording, we also get to hear the individual talents of each of his band members including lead guitar, piano, and violin.
Pride in having a solid work ethic runs like a thread through the song. Haggard reportedly dedicated this track to his fellow hard-working blue-collar friends who vowed never to succumb to relying on social benefits.
Instead, they work long, difficult hours to pay their way and make good provisions for their families.
4. ‘A Hard Working Man’ (2022) – Avila Brothers featuring Billy Ray Cyrus and Snoop Dogg
Before I look more closely at this track, it’s worth pointing out that the video that accompanies the song is brilliant. What is particularly unique about this song is that it combines elements of Hip Hop with modern Country.
At first, you may not think that these two quite diverse genres of popular music could fuse, but in this track, they do. Perhaps the success of the track comes through the sensitive sharing of lead vocals between Snoop Dogg and Billy Ray Cyrus.
Even though these vocals were recorded in different parts of the US, the feel of the song is organic. This in itself is quite an achievement. The superb mixing provided by DJ Quik makes no small contribution to this success.
‘A Hard Working Man’ is anthemic. It’s not exactly a call to arms but it is intended to highlight the plight of the working man who struggles each day to pay the bills and put food on the table for his family.
The story is familiar, but the delivery in this song is fresh and inspired.
5. ‘She Works Hard for the Money’ – Donna Summer
With this classic track, we step nimbly back into that time in pop music when drum machines, synthesisers, and big hair were a prerequisite for a hit song.
This song comes from Donna Summer’s eleventh studio album with the identical title, released in 1983. It was a huge success and managed to hold its place at number one for several weeks in the year of release.
According to Donna Summer, the song was inspired by real-life experiences that led her to express how a woman she saw was working so very hard for her money. From then, the song was born.
It has an upbeat almost disco feel that propels the song forward, almost leaving you with the feeling of a non-stop life that’s out of control. This is certainly the situation shown in the video for the song that reflects the lyrics.
These detail the struggles of a single mother, working several difficult, menial jobs to get food for her children and keep her home. Even though this can be heard as a dance track, the message is a clear one underpinned by the minor key choice for the track.
6. ‘Hard Day’s Night’ by The Beatles
In trying to avoid the more obvious songs about working hard, I felt that this legendary song from The Beatles could not be overlooked. Released in 1964, the song has become one of the most popular songs the supergroup ever wrote and performed.
It also featured on the film the Beatles made that year as a title track. Needless to say, the song enjoyed lengthy success on both the UK and the US charts and remains extremely popular today.
It has been covered by a significant number of other artists and bands but for me the original is iconic.
According to Ringo Starr, the idea for the song arrived when he awoke after a difficult day’s work. Ringo commented on just how hard the day had been, realising that it was already night, and so the title of the track was born.
It’s as much a song about love and devotion as it is about the working man’s troubled life.
7. ‘Working For A Living’ by Huey Lewis and The News
This song fits nicely into the ever-popular 1980s. Huey Lewis is probably better known for his song ‘The Power of Love’ featured in the sci-fi comedy film ‘Back To The Future(1985), but this rug-cutter is a compelling, Country-Rock track that would compliment anyone’s collection of 80s music.
Like many other tracks whose subject matter is along the same lines, this song aims to highlight the problems of working people. At the time in the US, the Reagen government was in power and it seemed to many that people at the lower end of the economic scale were suffering more each day.
Perhaps the best line of the song is ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t, supposed to get a raise next week, but know that I won’t’.
This summarises the thrust of the song and even though it’s not very uplifting, neither was the situation for thousands of Americans at the time.
8. ‘Money For Nothing’ by Dire Straits
Probably one of the best-known songs to come from this group and the pen of Mark Knopfler. Not only has this song got great lyrics, but it also contains one of the most iconic guitar riffs of the 80s.
Knopfler is a remarkably talented songwriter but an even more able guitar player. His flair and style made this track the success it is and ensured it was a number one place for three weeks on the US Billboard.
The track is written from the perspective of a couple of hard-working men watching rock bands on TV. There is jealousy at how easily these musicians make lots of money while they have to spend their days installing white goods like microwaves.
It resonated with many people at the time as life in the UK and the US was increasingly difficult. Just to place a cherry on the top of this already tasty cake, Sting featured on vocals too making this one of the most played 80s tracks ever.
9. ‘Working Class Hero’ by Green Day
This is a song that John Lennon composed in the 1970s following the split from The Beatles. It featured on his first solo album. In the song we understand without any doubt, the awful situation people find themselves in at the poorest part of the economic scale.
The opening line, “As soon as you’re born they make you feel small”, sets the tone for this hard-edged criticism of the controlling classes who can so easily ignore the people who make the world turn.