10 Songs for Labor Day

Aug 30, 2013
10 Songs for Labor Day

To celebrate Labor Day, we’ve compiled a list of popular recordings that reflect the holiday’s working-class vibe. Here’s our chronological Top 10 Songs for Labor Day. Our tip? Give ‘em a listen. (And enjoy the accompanying YouTube videos.)

1. “Sixteen Tons,” Tennessee Ernie Ford (1955). Pairing world-weary lyrics with a snappy, upbeat rhythm, Ford popularized this 1940s country tune originally written by Merle Travis about toiling in a coal mine.

2. “Chain Gang,” Sam Cooke (1960). The chanting by a chorus of “prisoners” blends with the smooth vocals of Cooke, who reportedly was inspired after meeting a roadside chain gang while on tour in the South. And don’t forget: The Pretenders paid homage with 1982’s “Back on the Chain Gang.”

3. “Working Man,” Rush (1974). Hard rock about hard work at its finest. The rough guitar riffs and the lyrics about a working stiff who’s “got no time for living, “ except for a nightly “cold beer,” struck a chord with blue-collar radio listeners in Cleveland – and put Rush on the map.

4. “Take This Job and Shove It,” Johnny Paycheck (1977). Nothing captures the working man’s disillusionment better than the country-western genre. Originally written by David Allan Coe, this became a feisty anthem, even inspiring a movie that inexplicably starred Robert Hays of “Airplane” fame.

5. "9 to 5,” Dolly Parton (1980). A great example of pairing song and cinema to capture the frustrations and gleeful triumph of working women. Parton wrote and recorded the song for the hilarious hit comedy “9 to 5,” in which she starred with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin.

6. “Working for the Weekend,” Loverboy (1981). The video’s headbands and red leather pants aside, this is still a great song to dust off at the next office party. You can’t help but remember the chorus, even after a few tequila shots. “You want a piece of my heart…”

7. “Workin’ for a Livin’,” Huey Lewis and the News (1982). Another catchy ‘80s tune about getting “a check on Friday, but it’s already spent.”

8. "She Works Hard for the Money,” Donna Summer (1983). Yes, the video is cheesy, with a waitress dancing “Fame”-style on city streets. But this is the quintessential “work it, girlfriend” song. And, of course, we love the divine Ms. Summer, who died last year.

9. “Manic Monday, “ The Bangles (1986). The female narrator pines for “Sunday, my I-don’t-have-to-run-day.” But did you know that Prince actually wrote this song? Note to the Artist Formerly Known As: Women haven’t dreamed about Rudolph Valentino since the Great Depression. But yes, we still take forever to figure out what to wear.

10. “Working Class Hero,” Green Day (2007). The nouveau punkers ably covered this John Lennon song for “Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur.” A noble effort for a noble cause, and Green Day definitely makes it their own.