Finest Work Songs: A Labor Day Collection

10 Songs Celebrating Work and Workers

September 4, 2017

John Henry Labor Day

Editor's Note: This is a special holiday edition of the B2B Beat.

Work songs have been coupled with labor likely since toil has existed. Songs help pass the time while we work, whether in the fields or the factories or the cubicles. In honor of Labor Day, here are 10 songs that celebrate — or at least acknowledge — the hard work of men and women. Marketers, think of this as a play list for the next time you have to GSD. 

"9 to 5"

Dolly Parton

In this hit from the 1980 movie of the same name, the great Dolly Parton belts out a lament for the caffeine-fueled plight of the modern worker: “Tumble outta bed and I stumble to the kitchen, Pour myself a cup of ambition.”

Labor Lyric: “Working 9 to 5, what a way to make a living.” 

"9 to 5"

"John Henry"

Harry Bellafonte

This 19th century folk song celebrates the legendary John Henry, who defeated a steam drill using nothing but his own hammer, but died from exhaustion in the process. This song is among the first workers’ lament of the inevitable tide of automation.

Labor Lyric: “I’ll die with the hammer in my hand.” 

"John Henry"

"Got My Mojo Working"

Muddy Waters

This 1957 blues song performed by Muddy Waters is an undeniable classic. The phrase “got my mojo working” has entered the vernacular as meaning, essentially, doing great work.  

Labor Lyric: “Got my mojo working but it just don’t work on you.”  

"Got My Mojo Workin'"

"Keep on Working"

Pete Townshend

This 1980 song from The Who’s guitarist and songwriter, Pete Townshend, is an ode to the power and necessity of work to make a good life where “you might have kids at play to make you laugh and sing when you’re old and gray.”   

Labor Lyric: “I must admit I was a bit in the red, if you’ve never had the pleasure, you might as well be dead.”  

"Keep on Working"

"Finest Worksong"

R.E.M.

Who knows what the opaque lyrics to this song mean, but I like to think it’s Michael Stipe writing about his songwriting process: “The time to rise has been engaged, You’d better best to rearrange.”   

Labor Lyric: “I listen to the finest worksong.”  

"Finest Worksong"

"Factory"

Bruce Springsteen

In this grim tune, Springsteen describes how the working life can grind a person down. “End of the day, factory whistle cries, men walk through these gates with death in their eyes,” the modern-day bard of the working man sings.   

Labor Lyric: “It’s the working, the working, just the working life.”  

"Factory"

"There Is Power In a Union"

Billy Bragg

You can’t write a Labor Day blog post without acknowledging what the day is all about: the labor movement. Billy Bragg’s “There Is Power in a Union” is a powerful reminder of the men and women who, as the bumper sticker says, brought us the weekend.

Labor Lyric: “There is power in a factory, power in the land, power in the hands of a worker.” 

"There Is Power in a Union"

"Chain Gang"

Sam Cooke

As all great work songs do, this classic makes music of the toil of men doing hard work, in the this case harsh prison chain gang labor. The grunts in the chorus are genius.   

Labor Lyric: “My work is so hard, give me water.”  

"Chain Gang"

"I’ve Been Working on the Railroad"

Johnny Cash

In Johnny Cash’s version of this malleable folk song, he laments that he, as someone who has to go to work, has lost his woman to a presumably richer man who can afford to “take vacations.”   

Labor Lyric: “I’ve been working on the railroad all the livelong day.” 

"I've Been Working on the Railroad"

“Working Man”

Rush

This hard rocking anthem examines the plight of the working man, the kind who goes to work at 9am and comes how at 5pm, with nothing waiting for him but a “cold beer.”

Labor Lyric: “I got no time for livin’, yes, I’m working all the time.” 

"Working Man"

This Labor Day work song list isn’t exhaustive, of course. We haven’t included every great work song. We’re interested in your recommendations. Tweet your favorite work songs to #finestworksongs. And to keep pace with the latest in digital marketing, subscribe today to the LinkedIn Marketing blog.  

Photo: JPMueller99

Topics