*Image above taken from the Internet and likely copyright
I can’t believe it’s already Labor Day Weekend. I guess Steve Miller was right, “time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future.” This coming Monday is Labor Day, a day to celebrate Labor and working people and is generally a day of vacation for people. Labor Day was established as a Federal holiday in the U.S. as the first Monday in September in 1894. Prior to that 30 states had an official state holiday honoring Labor. Oregon was the first state to declare a state holiday for Labor Day so good on them. Most other nations celebrate Labor on May Day, or May 1st. It’s comforting to know that we pause as a nation and celebrate working people. For a long time I thought Labor Day was just a holiday that signaled the end of summer. I mean, how else would local municipalities know it was time to close the city pool? Memorial Day is the start of summer in the U.S. and Labor Day wraps it up.
I’m a white collar guy now but I still consider myself a working class dog, as Rick Springfield once sang. As awful as my current job can be at times it beats being a coal miner but then I’m claustrophobic. I have the utmost respect for Labor – it’s working people who built this country. Organized Labor helped build the middle class in America between 1932 and 1980. Even though I’m now merely a traveling salesman (see playlist) I still think back to my younger, high school/college days when I had to work every summer to pay for school. I had a number of difficult, dirty jobs.
My first job ever lasted exactly two weeks. There had never been a discussion at the house with my father, nicknamed The Hard Guy, telling me I had to get a job. My buddies were starting to get jobs and they always had walking around money for illicit beer purchases and vinyl records. Ever ambitious I felt I had to follow suit and applied for and got a job at my local Dairy Queen. While the surprised Hard Guy muttered approvingly when I got the job, the owner/manager was a sociopath with eyes that looked in two directions at once. He was not a nice man. Were it today, I would have suspected meth amphetamine abuse. The heat and grease that hung over the grille while I attempted to cook burgers and fries did wonders for my acne. I looked like a burn victim. Finally after the boss descended into a screaming fit because I didn’t clean up something properly I decided the culinary arts were perhaps not my chosen path.
Despite that, my next endeavor was as a busboy at a steak joint in the mall. I wore a white shirt, a bow tie and a leather tunic. I was the fastest busboy they had. I could clean a table in the blink of an eye. Although I must admit I started having nightmares that I was trundling my cart out into the dining room and all the tables were covered in dirty dishes… I’d wake up sweating from trying to dream bus tables… dreams are crazy. Perhaps that was a sign I wasn’t going to handle stress well. The steak joint had the advantage of actually having female employees. I met a bunch of girls who went to different high schools than I did which was an advantage, believe me. The steak joint was managed by a bunch of reprobates which may explain why they’d only seem to hire pretty girls… The cops came into the restaurant during a lunch rush one Saturday and arrested one of the assistant managers… he’d found an abandoned car along the highway and allegedly stole the license plate. We never saw him again. We would typically spend our breaks at the restaurant on night shifts standing in the walk-in cooler drinking beer and talking trash to the hostesses. It was a tough job but someone had to do it. I worked at that place on and off even through my early college years.
While those indoor jobs were fine and dandy there wasn’t much over the “minimal” wage in those jobs. The real money lie in working outside. My buddy Brewster was always an enterprising young lad and he stumbled upon a yard crew mowing an apartment lawn and asked the guy for a job. The next thing I knew, Brewster got me hired and after school every day I’d jump in his car and we’d go mow lawns until it got dark. The guy paid like $5/hour vs the $3.50 an hour I was getting at the mall. I was in the tall cotton now. Never mind the fact that I ruined a number of pairs of blue jeans turning them green. Mom wasn’t thrilled but the Hard Guy seemed to enjoy those evenings at the house while I was out working a little more. The outfit was known as Lewis’ Quality Lawn Service (name changed to protect the innocent). His hiring practices were somewhat suspect… I’m pretty sure there were more than one convict on the crew. At one house in the rich neighborhood we serviced, an old lady approached Bob (the owner/foreman), Brewster and I and asked “Who took a shit in my window well?” Sure enough…someone did. Brewster always said it was a guy named Sanchez (name changed to protect the truly innocent) but I wouldn’t put it past him to do such at thing. Brewster, if you’re out there, time to confess.
It was in that lawn mowing job I began to realize the class system in the U.S. was alive and well. One house we mowed, the guy had a white Rolls Royce and he’d park it in the circle drive out in front of the house all the time to show it off, I guess? It was a Friday and one of the neighbors was throwing a party, merely houses away just down the street. I mean, even I could walk down there to the party and I’d been mowing lawns all day. The son of the Rolls owner was about my age. And he came out front cradling an iced tea, watched us mow for a second and then yelled in the screen door, “Daaaadddy are we taking the Rolls to the party?” I was like dude, c’mon, don’t be such a douche bag, you can walk. Or at least offer us some damn iced tea. Ends up the family took the Rolls to the party. I’m surprised they didn’t ask me to drive… probably because I was sweaty and dirty. It was tough work but man what a tan I had.
Finally, in college my best bud Doug saved me from hustling to find a job and got me work with his dad’s company. They built and resurfaced tennis courts. It was hot sweaty work on sizzling asphalt but it paid well and again, the tan was spectacular and that’s how I really judged these things. I typically worked with a guy named Howard and a couple of bikers he’d hired… well until one of the bikers was killed, but that’s another story… Dave was a nice guy and I was truly sad about that… Anyway, when I took the gig I thought I’d be working with Doug on a more regular basis. I love the man but frankly when it came to physical labor I realized he was insane. He would describe days where he put in 12 hours or more as “Iron Days.” I would describe 12 hour-plus days as a “Nightmare.” My job was to work hard for 8 to 10 hours and then go spend that money on beer. Or better yet, shower and take my girlfriend to the Motel 6, but those records are sealed.
The worst part of the tennis court gig was working with wet cement and this paint that was called, I believe, Plexipave. You mixed the Plexipave with sand and cement and if you got a dab of it on you it turned hard on your legs enveloping your leg hair. I’d come home with sandy, hard, green lumps on my legs. My mom would make me take off my work clothes in the garage. I’d wrap myself in a towel and head up to sit in a bath tub – and I was strictly a shower guy – so I could soak the Plexipave off my leg hair instead of tearing the hair out by the root. I don’t know how women get waxed… it’s painful. The struggle is real and beauty is hard, ladies.
Despite all of that pain, sunburn, acne and burns from a hot grille, I wouldn’t trade one day of my checkered history as a working stiff. Those were glorious summers either at the mall or in some giant rich guy’s yard, mowing or resurfacing his tennis court. I actually ended up at a party at one of the houses we mowed… I kept thinking, what if she found out I mowed her dad’s lawn. There’s something to be said about hard work and how good it feels at the end of the day to crack a cold beer and realize that you’d accomplished something. There was no worrying about the job at night – save for those crazy busboy nightmares. It was a glorious time.
I felt it was essential to honor all of you out there doing actual hard work with a Labor Day Playlist. It can be found currently on Spotify under “BourbonAndVinyl.net Labor Day” (I’m looking at moving off Spotify, finally, in support of Neil Young). Here are some of my favorite songs about working and working people. I’m not a “9 to 5” or “Take This Job And Shove It” guy, so those songs aren’t here. It works playing straight through or on shuffle, dealer’s choice. It’s not meant to be exhaustive and if you have a song you’d like me to add, please put it in the comment section. As you grille hot dogs and hamburgers and drink some cold beer this weekend celebrating the unofficial end of summer, enjoy cranking up these tunes!
- The Beatles, “Hard Days Night” – Always great to kick off with a Beatles track. “I’ve been workin’ like a dog…” I’ve always liked the Beatles but ever since the Get Back documentary, Let It Be box set and the roof top concert came out it seems to have reignited my Beatles fandom.
- The Clash, “Career Opportunities” – “Career opportunities, the ones that never knocks.” I can relate to that. I am currently at the zenith of a mediocre career.
- Dire Straits, “Money For Nothing” – Where two working guys delivering appliances envy the lifestyle of Rock Stars in videos. So 80s…
- Huey Lewis & The News, “Workin’ For a Living” – Rare that I’d turn to Huey and his News but couldn’t resist this track. “I’m takin’ what their giving as I’m workin’ for a living.” Truth.
- Styx, “Blue Collar Man” – As I’ve grown older I’ve grown more conflicted about Styx but this Tommy Shaw tune – like most of the stuff he wrote – is a little tougher and more guitar forward.
- Lou Reed & John Cale, “Work” – This is the weirdest track here. But I couldn’t resist Lou Reed singing about Andy Warhol lecturing him on his work ethic. Even artists have to put in the sweat.
- Bob Marley & the Wailers, “Work” – Everyone should explore Marley’s work beyond just the greatest hits compilation Legend. This is a great track that spirals itself around my mind. “Everyday is work – work – work – work.” Bob knew the struggle was real.
- Elvis Costello, “Welcome To The Working Week” – The ultimate Monday morning song.
- Bob Dylan, “Union Sundown” – Great blues-rock track where Dylan laments the decline of unions which fought so hard for the American worker, and the sad fact that most of what you buy is made elsewhere. “Well, my shoes, they come from Singapore, My flashlight’s from Taiwan, My tablecloth’s from Malaysia.”
- Randy Newman, “Mr. President (Have Pity On The Working Man)” – Randy Newman, the greatest satirist of his time, making a plea to the President for the working man.
- Pete Townshend, “Keep On Working” – Pete encouraging us all to just keep on working…
- The Rolling Stones, “Dirty Work” – Not exactly a fit but who can resist a great Stones’ deep track. “You let somebody do the dirty work, find some loser, find some jerk.” Somehow I can relate to this in my working life…
- The Who, “Dirty Jobs” – Great track about bad jobs from Quadrophenia, my favorite of their many “concept albums.“
- Genesis, “Just A Job I Do” – A song about being either an assassin or a spy or perhaps both. Collins hits the drums hard to simulate a gun shot. Impressive. It sums up how I feel about work, it’s not a career it’s just a job I do.
- Lou Reed, “Don’t Talk To Me About Work” – Sometimes when you get home you just don’t want to talk about your job. Time to crack a beer and forget about it. “I’m up to my eye balls in dirt, with work.”
- Chris Rea, “I’m Workin’ On It” – This is one of my favorite tracks here. I know I could say this to my boss, “I got eight little fingers and only two thumbs, Will you leave me in peace while I get the work done.”
- Van Halen, “Get Up” – One of those early “trying-too-hard” rock tracks from the early Van Hagar era. “Get up and make it work.”
- Rush, “Working Man” – This is the ultimate song for the working man. Epic rock from one of the greatest bands of all time. Check out the live version on the Moving Pictures – 40th Anniversary Edition.
- Bachman Turner Overdrive, “Takin’ Care of Business” – Who could resist a little Bachman Turner Overdrive, “B – T – O!”? “I love to work on nothin’ all day.”
- Bruce Springsteen, “Working On The Highway” – Great track about building infrastructure until a young girl enters the picture. Very similar story to “Darlington County.”
- Prince, “Let’s Work” – This work doesn’t sound like what I’m talking about here but it’s Prince… get funky, baby.
- Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Workin’ For MCA” – I would think having a record contract and “working” for a record company would be good news for a band but clearly Skynyrd didn’t dig it.
- The Police, “Dead End Job” – Rare early track about well, not wanting a dead end job. Sting was a teacher, maybe he’s talking about that? Helluva fast pace.
- Bob Dylan, “Maggie’s Farm” – Where our narrator laments the working conditions on a family-owned agriculture concern. “I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more.”
- David Crosby and Graham Nash, “Fieldworker” – Great track honoring the folks who work on big farms asking for dignity and to be “treated like a human.” Good stuff from Graham Nash here.
- Neil Young, “Union Man” – This track won’t be on the playlist because, well, Spotify. “Loud music is better, bumper stickers should be issued.”
- Jim Croce, “Workin’ At The Car Wash Blues” – This one is for my folks. My dad was a huge Jim Croce fan and he may have been the only artist who the Hard Guy owned more than one record from.
- Bon Jovi, “Livin’ On A Prayer” – Where a young dock worker and his girlfriend, a waitress, struggle against the vicissitudes of capitalism and turn to religion and prayer.
- Van Morrison, “All Work And No Play” – “All work and no play makes Jack a dull chap.” That sums it up. Slip out early and have some fun this Labor Day.
- Bob Seger, “Makin’ Thunderbirds” – Great track about the American autoworker and lamentations on how we don’t build Thunderbirds anymore.
- Gary U.S. Bonds, “Out of Work” – With unemployment at a record low, one can only hope that most people can find a job. And that it pays a living wage…
- Little Steven & The Disciples of Soul, “Solidarity” – This lyric means the world to me: “Everybody wants to work for a living, Everybody wants to keep their children warm.” Indeed, everybody wants to work and take care of their family and earn a livable wage.
- Warren Zevon, “The Factory” – Warren Zevon, backed by R.E.M. on this album, singing about the hard life that factory workers face.
- R.E.M., “Finest Worksong” – Speaking of R.E.M., this is a great song from the first LP from them that I ever bought, Document. It actually is a fine work song.
- Bob Dylan, “Workingman’s Blues #2” – Dylan returning to the subject of the workingman. Does Dylan get enough credit for his mastery of the blues?
- Paul McCartney, “On My Way To Work” – McCartney reminiscing about his pre-Beatles working days.
- Godfathers, “Birth, School, Work, Death” – I was late to the Godfathers’ LP Birth, School, Work, Death but the title track sums up the circle of life for most of us.
- Todd Rundgren, “Bang The Drum All Day” – While I have no rhythm I’d rather bang a drum all day than work.
- Van Halen, “Beats Workin'” – Whatever you’re doing this Labor Day, it’s gotta beat workin’. What’s that bumper sticker, “The worst day fishing beats the best day workin'”? Truth. While Roth’s vocals could be described (as they were by my friend Dr. Rock) ” as the sound of a pet store full of animals burning down,” Eddie’s guitar work is always singular.
- Sam Cooke, “Chain Gang” – Sam singing about the deplorable practice of putting prisoners to work in chains. Watch the movie Cool Hand Luke if you have any doubts that this was a horrible thing.
- The Rolling Stones, “Factory Girl” – Dedicate one to the ladies… Rosie the Riveter, may I have this dance?
- Bruce Springsteen, “Factory” – Bruce writing about his dad and how hard he worked down at the factory.
- Van Morrison, “I’ve Been Working” – A great track that Bob Seger used to cover live. Funky, powerful… “I’ve been workin’, I’ve been workin’ so hard.” Even after a day of hard work, Van just wants to come and get some love.
- Chuck Berry, “Let It Rock” – A track where Chuck describes railroad workers and an impending accident. Where was OSHA?
- Steely Dan, “Dirty Work” – Again, a bit of reach here, as this is about a relationship instead of an actual job. But, if you think about it, relationships can be a lot of work. One of those early David Palmer on lead vocals Steely songs.
- Tom Waits, “I Can’t Wait To Get Off Work (And See My Baby On Montgomery Avenue)” – Beautiful ballad. I remember getting off whatever job I had, running home to shower and heading to see my baby. I love the lyric, “Don’t do this, don’t do that,” and then he speaks the line, “Tom don’t do that.”
- Neil Young & The Bluenotes, “Ten Men Working” – I listened to this on vinyl last night. It remains amongst those records maybe only I enjoy. This is a great track though.
- Peter Gabriel, “Don’t Give Up” – Beautiful ballad with Peter sharing lead vocals with Kate Bush who has recently seen a resurgence through the series Stranger Things. The song chronicles the doubts and despair of a working man and his wife offering words of encouragement, “Don’t give up, I know you can make it…” The devastating loss of and search for work is palpable. It’s a dialogue between husband and wife that is so intimate it feels like eavesdropping.
- Pearl Jam, “Unemployable” – Great Pearl Jam deep track. About a man whose frustrations about his precarious work situation has led to violence and perhaps even a loss of his religious faith. That’s a lot for a 3 minute rock song to take on. “I’m scared of life, near death.” Heavy themes set to heavy rock.
- U2, “The Hands That Built America” – The ranks of Labor – many of whom were immigrants – built the skyscrapers the 1% could hide away in while forgetting about us.
- Billy Joel, “Allentown” – The classic Rust Belt song.
- Loverboy, “Workin’ For the Weekend” – I don’t like Loverboy although admittedly we all listened to them back in the day and this isn’t a bad song. I knew if I omitted this song, it’d be one of the first to be recommended so I bit the bullet and added it. More cowbell!
- Bruce Springsteen, “Workin’ On a Dream” – I included this on my Playlists about the Surreal Realm of Dreaming, and hesitated to add it to this one, but this lyric jumped at me, “Rain pourin’ down, I swing my hammer, My hands are rough from working on a dream…” That’s working, man.
- ZZ Top, “Just Got Paid” – Why do we work? To get paid. When I heard, “If you believe I like workin’ hard all day, Just step in my shoes and take my pay,” I realized it totally fit. This riff is greasier than a bacon sandwich on Wonder bread. Turn it up and pass the napkins.
- John Lennon, “Working Class Hero” – This is one of the most nakedly honest songs I’ve ever heard. It’s tough but he’s not wrong.
- Merle Haggard, “Workin’ Man Blues” – I saw Merle Haggard live opening for Dylan and his voice was like smooth, aged whiskey. I rarely include any country songs – outside of Johnny Cash or Willie Nelson – but this is a great song. Come for his voice, stay for lyrics like “I’ll keep workin’ as long as my two hands are fit to use, I’ll drink my beer in a tavern and sing a little bit of these working man blues.” Barkeep, another round for the working man at the end of the bar.
There you go! Again, turn this one up loud and enjoy your day off, God knows you’ve earned it. I welcome any and all suggestions for additions to the list in the comment section. Be safe this weekend!
11 thoughts on “Playlist: Happy Labor Day Weekend – Songs For All The “Working Stiffs” & The Saga Of My Summer Jobs”
Perhaps JJ Cale’s ‘Brown Dirt’ ?
Brown dirt, stickin’ to my fingers
Brown dirt, clingin’ to my feet
Brown dirt, Mississippi bottom land
Pickin’ that cotton for the man down the street
Brown dirt, raisin’ his vegetables etc. Great song!
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Yes it is!!
I’m always down for a themed playlist so thanks for this! I love that one of your main concerns during those years of working outside was to develop a killer tan. That too was easily one of my goals mowing yards during the summer of my high school years. Somehow I avoided working in the culinary arts, and I do feel like I missed out on a lot of potentially good stories… “The heat and grease that hung over the grille while I attempted to cook burgers and fries did wonders for my acne. I looked like a burn victim.” Lol.
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Thank you so much for the feedback! I have to admit all these years later, this summer I decided my main goal was to once again be tan. I’m not nearly as successful as I was in those late teen years but at least I’m wearing sunscreen now!!! Cheers!
I admire that you are a man of principle and, following Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and others, are considering leaving Spotify. Well to do Kenneth. A lot of bad shit is going on in the US with far right Trump fanatics/lunatics and all their conspiracy theories and threats. And that worries me about the democrcy of the US. I grew up with Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and CSN, and a lot of others, and the protest songs against the Vietnam War, Richard ‘Tricky Dicky’ Nixon, etc. Compared to Donald Trump, Richard Nixon was a choirboy. Keep up the good work Kenneth.
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I couldn’t agree with you more Guy! Its a frightening time. I don’t want to continue to support Spotify but I’m not sure I can afford the alternatives but I’m working it out!!
Don’t be too hasty then. Principles are good, but you have to be able to afford them. Neil and Joni are millionaires and can afford it.
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