The plight of the ordinary working man can sometimes be hard and, at other times, just plain tragic. If you happen to be in a higher-paid occupation, then you tend to find life quite a bit easier.
There are plenty of songs that describe the hardships and struggles that some people face. Naturally, the best songs about work, jobs, and working hard are likely to be geared towards that end of the market. As opposed to describing the comfortable life of the high-paid whatever.
- First You Earn It, And Then You Spend It
- And The Musicians Themselves?
- Top 22 Best Songs About Work, Jobs, And Working Hard
- Manic Monday by The Bangles
- Workin’ For A Livin’ by Huey Lewis & The News
- Working In A Coalmine by Lee Dorsey
- Workin’ Man Blues by Merle Haggard
- Workingman’s Blues #2 by Bob Dylan
- Maggie’s Farm by Bob Dylan
- Southern Pacific by Neil Young
- Bell Boy by The Who
- Car Wash by Rose Royce
- Chain Gang by Sam Cooke
- Sixteen Tons by Tennessee Ernie Ford
- We Work The Black Seam by Sting
- When I’m Cleaning Windows by George Formby
- Heigh Ho by The Seven Dwarfs (from the Original Motion Picture “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”)
- Six Days On The Road by George Thorogood
- A Hard Day’s Night by The Beatles
- Money for Nothing by Dire Straits
- 9 to 5 by Dolly Parton
- Working Girl by Cher
- Career Opportunities by The Clash
- Cat’s in the Cradle by Harry Chapin
- Working Class Hero by John Lennon
- A Part Of Life
- Searching for more Awesome Songs?
- Best Songs About Work, Jobs, And Working Hard – Final Thoughts
First You Earn It, And Then You Spend It
Probably the best advice I ever got from my philosophical father. But, some can’t live life in such an orderly fashion. It isn’t easy making ends meet, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier for some.
We have to earn enough to pay the bills. When we don’t, we sometimes borrow. Not because we want to, but just to survive. Poverty and deprivation cause a myriad of problems.
People leave home to find work in cities in what can only be described as unfortunate circumstances. Just to be able to put food on the table in a home hundreds of miles away. People work for hours just to survive, some working two jobs.
It can be a frustrating experience…
Have you ever worked in a job you hated that was taking you nowhere? It is not a good feeling. Unsurprisingly, some songwriters have encapsulated those feelings in words and music.
And The Musicians Themselves?
I am sure some will be thinking about the apparent extravagant lifestyles and excesses of today’s music “personalities.” And, of course, those that haven’t got a personality at all.
But, the vast majority started in a similar way. Hard up for money, not having enough. It wasn’t easy for quite a few of them either. But, there is nothing wrong with hard work if you get the benefit.
There have been some great songs written about work and working hard. So, let’s consider a few.
Top 22 Best Songs About Work, Jobs, And Working Hard
Manic Monday by The Bangles
If you have ever felt the “Monday Rush,” where everything has to be done an hour ago, you will understand the meaning of this song.
This track was the first single released from their second album, Different Light, in 1986. It proved to be a breakthrough song chart-wise reaching #2 in both the UK and America.
A simple enough song…
It centers on a girl who just wishes she had one more day of being able to relax. Monday is the start of another hectic working week. That means getting up on time, getting ready, making your bed, getting out of the house, and not being late.
I am sure that is a feeling many of us have experienced. So, it seems a fitting choice to start this list of the best songs about work, jobs, and working hard.
Workin’ For A Livin’ by Huey Lewis & The News
Mention the name Huey Lewis and some people will automatically think of “Back to the Future.” His song in that film was iconic and set the tone for the whole movie in many ways. Of course, he appeared in the film himself on the school’s judging panel early in the film.
But there’s a lot more to Huey Lewis and his band than just that one song. “Workin’ for a Livin'” was released in 1982 and taken from his album, Picture This. It reached #41 on the American chart.
Before he had success in music, he had been a truck driver. He had experienced the realities of living from day to day, of constantly having to borrow to survive and always being in debt. This song then becomes almost autobiographical and is written from first-hand experiences.
Working In A Coalmine by Lee Dorsey
This is a song about hard work released in 1966. It reached #8 in the UK and the same in America. This was taken from the album of the same name, Working in a Coalmine.
It’s a simple enough song but tells a very serious and, unfortunately, all too common story. Whilst it was written in the 60s, there are places where these conditions he talks about still exist today.
It tells the story of a man who has no work options at all. All he can do to earn money is to go into the coal mine, a dangerous place to work. He has to get up at 5:00 am every day, and his work is hard and very harsh.
If there is a saving grace for him, it is that, according to the song, he only works five days a week. I suspect many wish they only worked five days each week. Nevertheless, he gets to the weekend and says he is too tired to enjoy himself.
It is a song with some good and effective background harmonies that give it a mournful sound. Very much in keeping with the subject matter.
Workin’ Man Blues by Merle Haggard
Merle Haggard was a bit of a rebel himself, so a good place to start if you want a song about struggling to survive. He created what was known as the “Bakersfield Sound,” a form of country music but not quite. Also, he was an early pioneer of a movement known as “Outlaw country.”
He had a serious work ethic and was a bit of a maverick, not only in his life but in the recording studio. Therefore, this song might be called an anthem for blue-collar workers.
Till the day you die…
It tells the story of a man who has a wife and nine children who is finding it very hard to survive. He speaks of the value of working hard and working for as long as his body will let him. But, he also talks about having a beer and enjoying his social time.
It was released in 1969 and taken from his album, A Portrait Of Merle Haggard. The single reached #1 on the American Country Music chart.
Workingman’s Blues #2 by Bob Dylan
A subject perfectly made for Mr. Dylan and his lyrics. This is a song that follows on from the track we just looked at. This was included in Dylan’s 2006 album, Modern Times.
Dylan talks about the proletariat and how they are struggling. The proletariat refers, of course, to working-class people. It is a phrase often used to describe workers in communist countries. With that reference in mind, he may be referring to the fall of communism. When that happened, it was the ordinary people who suffered the most financially.
A Not Uncommon Story
But, in a situation where the disposable income of the working man is always limited, this song could still apply today. Not an uncommon story today, is it?
Maggie’s Farm by Bob Dylan
This is one of those songs that created a divisive situation among Dylan fans. It was taken from the album, Bringing It All Back Home, where he had suddenly gone away from acoustic protest songs to electric ones.
He had created this adoring fan base with his protesting attitude and songs that were politically motivated. The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan was the holy book as far as they were concerned.
Those same people were angry he had moved away from what, to them, was the vital subject matter. More than that, and to make it worse, he had gone electric. “Shame on him,” they said.
Don’t Tell Me What To Write and Sing About
“Maggie’s Farm” was his answer to those people. It was released in 1965 and reached #22 in the UK. It was recorded in one take. Dylan didn’t mess about. And in doing so, he created one of the best songs about work, jobs, and working hard.
It might have got some influence from a Civil Rights gig he had done at “Magee’s” farm with Pete Seeger. The song essentially says that he won’t be tied down to just political causes. He “don’t want to work on their farm anymore.”
Southern Pacific by Neil Young
Neil Young has gone through a few style changes in his long career. This track came from an album called Reactor.
He had decided to start dressing as a cowboy, and his music took on a more country tilt. It wasn’t his most productive or creative period. Nor was it particularly well-received by many people. But, being Neil Young, he was still able to write some songs with a social perspective, and this was one.
A Sad Tale
It is the story of a man, Mr. Jones, whose eyesight is beginning to fail. He has worked on the Southern Pacific railroad for many years, and with his eyesight also goes his job. Eventually, he gets laid off with a reminder that he has his pension.
A sad tale, of course, but in a real-world situation, it is hard to see what alternative the railway company had if his job revolves around good eyesight. The song is probably aimed more at those who suffer needless or unfair dismissal.
Bell Boy by The Who
A song that is often taken too much at face value. It didn’t have anything to do with “licking boots to get a better tip.” It is taken, of course, from Pete Townshend’s mammoth work, Quadrophenia.
Based on actual events…
Much of the outline of the story is historically accurate. It is taken from real happenings in the mod and rocker bank holiday battles in Brighton in the UK in the 60s. The main character idolizes one of the mod ‘faces’ played by a very young Sting, with his fancy Vespa GS160 scooter and leather coat.
However, when he returns to London, his parents realize where he has been it all becomes too much for them. He ends up going back to Brighton after being thrown out of his home, only to find his hero working as a bellboy in a hotel.
It is too much to see him being bossed around in a menial job. And, he realizes his dreams for the future are just that. Dreams. One of the lessons is that sometimes we have to do what others see as menial jobs. The bills have to be paid, even though it can all seem very unfair.
Car Wash by Rose Royce
Sounding just as outdated as it is possible to sound is this track from Rose Royce. The disco sound descended on music quite suddenly. A lot of people jumped on an already musically-saturated bandwagon.
That is probably the reason it all collapsed in the end. People just got fed up with substandard tracks that all sounded the same. This track, while not being the worst by any means, demonstrates the idea that you could write a song about anything and get away with it.
It was popular though in discos, and written and recorded for a comedy film about, yes, a car wash. She sings what there is to sing very well. But, she was a much better singer than this. Worth a listen for a pretty useful bass guitar part.
Chain Gang by Sam Cooke
Let’s leave the car wash and take a look at some pretty tough work. Sam Cooke allegedly wrote this song after seeing a gang of prisoners working on the side of the road. He passed by them working on the highway on the way to a gig on his tour bus.
Released in 1960, it became a huge success and was his second biggest hit record. It reached #9 in the UK and #2 in America. Some might argue they were prisoners, so it’s their fault. That is true, but we are not discussing that. Only how hard the work probably was.
Sixteen Tons by Tennessee Ernie Ford
This is another song that paints a rather bleak picture. It was written by Merle Travis and based on actual conditions in a coal mine in Kentucky. Travis released the song first on his 1947 album, Folk Songs of the Hills: Back Home / Songs of the Coalmines. It was a huge success at a time when the charts weren’t very organized. It was, though, given gold record status.
But, the best-known version in America is the 1955 version by Tennessee Ernie Ford. This went to #1 on the then regulated chart. It wasn’t released in Europe, but another version by Frankie Laine was. That did well in the UK and other countries in 1956.
There is a line in the song that says, “You load sixteen tons and what do you get? – Another day older and deeper in debt.” It goes on to say he can’t even afford to die because he owes his “soul to the company store.”
Miners and workers at this Kentucky mine were not paid in cash. They were paid only in vouchers. These vouchers were not exchangeable and could only be exchanged at the “Company Store’.
The prices for basic goods were inflated. Therefore, the workers could not accrue any savings and get any security. Their living accommodation was also tied to the company. The company had them all the way. Corrupt? Of course, it was.
We Work The Black Seam by Sting
Sting was not averse to the idea of making a few political statements. And this song is one of them. It was written at the time of a strike by coal miners in the UK under Margaret Thatcher’s government.
Taking a stand…
Sting seems to be on the side of the miners, which was a futile position to take up under the circumstances. More on that in a minute. What he was concerned about was the move to nuclear power instead of other potential fuels, which he opposed.
The song was included on his debut album, The Dream of the Blue Turtles. It was not released as a single. The album was released in 1985 and went to #3 on the UK album chart and #2 in America.
He talks about the coming power stations replacing green fields. Borrowing the “dark satanic mills” line from William Blake’s poem, “Jerusalem.” And how these edifices will destroy the countryside.
Let’s go back to his position on the miners and coal mines…
It is interesting that nearly 40 years later, the coal mining industry is considered not only dangerous but damaging to the very environment Sting sought to protect.
The loss of the coal fields was tragic for those areas involved. More should have been done to attract other industries that could use the workforce. It created a loss of work, which caused poverty.
When I’m Cleaning Windows by George Formby
Let’s lighten the mood a little and have a bit of a giggle about work and the jobs we do. George Formby was one of the best-known entertainers in the UK in the 30s and 40s.
He was born in Lancashire and had the accent to go with it. But, he had a toothy grin that allowed him to get away with what was, at the time, some naughty stuff.
A Good Musician
It is sometimes overlooked that he was a good musician. He played banjo and ukulele and played them very well. But, it is not his musicianship he is remembered for. His playful little songs filled with double-entendre were the highlight of his shows.
“When I’m Cleaning Windows” was one of his most famous songs. It tells the story of what a window cleaner can sometimes see when he is working.
“At eight o’clock a girl she wakes – At five past eight a bath she takes – At ten past eight my ladder breaks – When I’m Cleaning Windows.” All innocent fun, of course, even then. But, I am sure there is an element today that would be horrified. Now, where is my ladder?
Heigh Ho by The Seven Dwarfs (from the Original Motion Picture “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”)
Walt Disney captured some magic in the films he produced. Setting his political views to one side, as a child growing up, the stories and the films were magical.
“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was one of the best. But, in many ways, it was the music that made them memorable. The story was based on the 1812 tale from the German Brothers Grimm, famous for Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
The First Of Many
It was the first animated film Disney was to produce. It was first released in 1937 with music by Frank Churchill, Paul Smith, and Leigh Harline.
There is no deep meaning in this happy little song. The Dwarfs sing as they go off to work. It is just fun and lighthearted and something you find yourself humming all day.
It is one of the most memorable moments from the film that I can remember. And I feel it qualifies as one of the best songs about work, jobs, and working hard.
Six Days On The Road by George Thorogood
Okay, let’s go back to a more serious comment. This song has come to be known as the anthem for the American Truck Driver. It was written by Earl Green and Carl Montgomery and first released by Paul Davis in 1961.
It became a popular Country and Western tune and was covered by various people. I have included it here by George Thorogood, who knows how to boogie a song. He treats us all to a bit of his excellent slide guitar as well.
It could be said…
That this song started a tradition of Country songs about truck drivers through the 60s and 70s, this culminated in C.W. McCall’s “Convoy” in 1975. Interestingly, C.W. McCall was a fictitious person created mainly by ‘jingle’ writer Bill Fries, along with Chip Davis.
It’s interesting and quite amusing that Fries had never driven a truck, nor did he even like Country music. Yet he created Country music’s most famous trucking song.
A Hard Day’s Night by The Beatles
If you have ever had a physically-demanding job, then you will understand the meaning of this song. It is a song that talks about just that at its most basic level.
The great feeling you get when you know you have done a hard day’s work. And then you get home, knowing you’ve achieved something.
Needless to say…
The single went to #1 in the UK and America, as did the album. This album and the film were created at a time when all was rosy in the garden with the band. I suppose, looking back, there hadn’t been time for it to be any other way.
They had risen to the very top so quickly. The personalities and “attempted dominance> by one of them hadn’t kicked in yet.
Money for Nothing by Dire Straits
This is a song that was released in 1985. It was a success in many ways. The single reached #4 in the UK and #1 in America.
It was taken from one of the biggest selling albums of all time and what many consider their best, Brothers in Arms. Also, it had one of the best music videos you would have seen at the time.
An interesting song…
And one that has taken its fair share of criticism. Mark Knopfler wrote the song in New York after an experience at an electrical appliance store.
He talks about a worker in the store complaining about everything. Looking at a bank of TVs tuned to MTV and making comments about the music. He calls the singer a “faggot” and generally berates them for earning a stack of cash and getting plenty of girls while he is stuck in a dead-end job.
I wouldn’t say the worker is “mocking” the lifestyles of the musicians. It is more criticism borne out of almost anger. He sees what they do as a scam.
The use of the word “faggot” caused some, not all, of the gay press to throw toys out of the pram. Others saw it as stigmatizing those that work in those shops. Knopfler wasn’t glorifying or criticizing, just observing.
I suppose the question to ask is, are there people like that around? If the answer is yes, then there is nothing wrong with making a relevant comment. Great song from a great album. Also, one of the best songs about work, jobs, and working hard.
9 to 5 by Dolly Parton
I have to admit I am not a Country music fan. However, Dolly Parton has written and recorded some great work, and that is to be recognized. She is excellent as a performer and a writer.
The song was written for the 1980s film of the same name, “9 To 5“. It included three people who I have always admired for different reasons. Dolly for her music, Jane Fonda for her commitment to social issues, and Lily Tomlin, otherwise sometimes known as “Ernestine” because she’s just funny.
The song is very good, but the film is a riot…
It tells of three working women who dream of getting even with their horrific, sexist, egomaniac of a boss. They discuss how they would do that, but then incidents play out they have little control over. As I say, very funny.
Probably a situation a lot of women may have been in over the years. The song is an appendage to the film but one of the most popular songs about work. Parton wrote the song, and it reached #47 in the UK but hit the top spot in America.
Working Girl by Cher
So, let’s continue the theme of women in the workplace by looking at this track from Cher. She does seem to have been around forever. In terms of the time when music took off in the 60s, I suppose she has and is still going strong.
This is a track from 1987 that mirrors the scenario in our previous song, “9 to 5”. A girl that is living in what the male bosses see as a “man’s world.” She feels she is just a pawn in the struggle. Working in that “tower made of steel that reaches for the sky.”
Surprisingly, it is quite a dramatic song with heavyweight drums right up in the mix. A very 80s sound. Not the worst thing she has ever done by a long way. And it gets the message across.
Career Opportunities by The Clash
So far, I have looked at songs about people working. But what about those who can’t find work?
London was calling and crumbling…
The Clash was a band formed in London in 1976. They became one of the most influential Punk bands of the period. But, unlike other bands of the genre, they survived. More than just survived. They returned “Post-Punk” with an excellent album, London Calling.
They were plagued with addiction problems and had their share of new members because of it. Joe Strummer, who was the driving force behind the band, left in 1986. That was one new member too many and was, in effect, the end of the band.
This is a song on their first album called The Clash from 1977. It was a direct attack on the economic and political situation in the UK at the time. The Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan had lost the plot. And the country was heading towards a Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher.
Lack Of Work
Especially for young people, and what was there was considered a dead-end job with no future. They criticize the opportunities that exist, citing the police force, driving buses, or collecting tickets on the railways.
To call those jobs irrelevant is rather extreme. But, the language they used was borne more out of frustration and rebellion than anything else.
Opening The Mail
There is a lyric in the song that says, “I won’t open letter bombs for you.” Mick Jones, the guitarist with the Clash, had the job of opening letters in a government office. He had to make sure there were no mailbombs.
That brought the phrase “dead-end job” into focus and gave it a whole new meaning. Furthermore, the disillusionment of the time is clear to be heard. There would be no career opportunities for most. It is cynical, angry, and very typical of the Punk idea.
Cat’s in the Cradle by Harry Chapin
This excellent track from one of the great songwriters, Harry Chapin, gives us another perspective on our working lives. It is taken from his album, Verities & Balderdash.
“Cat’s In The Cradle” was first released in 1974 and went to the top of the chart in America. It had a limited release, though, so it didn’t get the credit it deserved at the time.
It was re-released in 1993, twelve years after his death in a car crash in New York. Fortunately, the second time around, it got the recognition it should have gotten the first time. It reached #7 in the UK and #6 in America, as well as doing well in most European countries.
Beware of Getting The Balance Right
The song tells of the results of working too hard and not paying enough attention to your family, especially your children. It tells the story of a man who is always too busy when his son asks to spend some time with him. Furthermore, it shows how our children learn from our example.
When the man has retired, it is his turn to be fed the “too busy” line as his son has his own family and can’t find time for him. As he says in the lyrics, “My boy was just like me.”
Chapin was a philanthropist and dedicated humanitarian. He was particularly active in pursuing ways to end world hunger. He didn’t go along with this pathetic, childish, and self-serving “us first” attitude. The world could do with a few more like him.
Working Class Hero by John Lennon
There will always be plenty of commentary about this song and its meaning. Is he applauding the “working class mentality” or telling them to forget their self-pity and get up and do something? It was taken from his first album after the breakup of The Beatles, The Plastic Ono Band.
Lyrically, it tends to lean towards being a political commentary rather than just an observation. It seems to refer to how the working class has the “carrot” of the middle class constantly placed before them. But, how they then make it almost impossible to attain it.
It also seems to indicate that people are fed what others want them to know rather than what they “should” know. Whatever the real reasons behind this song, it is a stroke of genius. A manifestation of, what some may say, was the real creative driving force behind The Beatles.
A Part Of Life
Work is a part of life. We need it to be able to survive and flourish, to feed families and ourselves, and pay the costs of just existing. Unfortunately, we can’t all get the jobs we want. But, that doesn’t mean that what we do doesn’t contribute.
There will always be blue-collar and white-collar jobs. But, it is often the blue-collar ones that make society work. The ones who protect us and keep us safe, get rid of our rubbish and do a myriad of other tasks. We couldn’t survive without them.
The important thing is to work as hard as you are able and to do your best. But also to keep things in balance. Work is important, but it isn’t everything.
Searching for more Awesome Songs?
If so, take a look at our detailed articles on the Best Songs About Dreams, the Best Songs About Change, the Best Songs About Walking, the Best Songs about Fighting, the Best Songs About Heroes, and the Best Songs about Friday for more great song selections.
Also, you’ll want to hear those tunes. So, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Wireless Bluetooth Headphones, the Best Bluetooth Headphones for Commuting, the Best Headphones for Music, the Best Sound Quality Earbuds, and the Best iPhone Earbuds you can buy in 2023.
Best Songs About Work, Jobs, And Working Hard – Final Thoughts
Some of the songs I looked at outline what work can be all about, both in positive and negative ways. And one that talks about what it is like to not be able to find work and the frustrations that will bring.
There have been plenty of songs about working written by some great songwriters. No doubt, there will be plenty more.
Until next time, happy listening.