We’re coming up on the final holiday of the summer, so of course it’s time to think about music for the festive occasion.
OK, Labor Day isn’t all that festive. Nor is there much, if any, music specific to the holiday.
Me, I’m going spend much of the holiday weekend listening to bagpipe and Celtic tunes — this weekend is the Wisconsin Highland Games, so I’m packing up the Clan tent, filling up the hip flasks with the Water of Life and heading for Waukesha. But most of my readers don’t have that kind of fun on the holiday weekend agenda, so I’ll give them some ideas for listening enjoyment.
Labor Day is supposed to be in honor of the working man/woman, so let’s consider some songs about working. For instance, appropriate to this time of year and (what we hope is) the end of the road construction season: “Working on the Highway,” Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (1984).
At least, if you were doing that, you would be above ground and out in the open. Not so with Lee Dorsey’s “Working in the Coal Mine” (1966), or making the “sound of the men working on the chain gang” (Sam Cooke, 1960), which was done out in the open, but not voluntarily.
In 1986, the Kinks released “Working at the Factory,” the same year that the Rolling Stones sang about “Dirty Work.” Steely Dan got the jump on that, and Mike Rowe’s reality TV show, with a song of the same name on their debut album in 1972.
(There’s also “Work with Me Annie.” But not only were Hank Ballard and the Midnighters talking about a different kind of work in 1954, and the result could have involved another kind of labor, but the Federal Communications Commission attempted to ban the song from the radio, and also failed to prevent several songs that were responses to it.)
In 1968, the Stones waxed (deprecatingly) poetic about a working woman, in “Factory Girl. Six years later, Jagger and Richard et al., in “Luxury,” were the ones on the other side of the factory gate: “I'm working so hard, I'm working for the company/I'm working so hard to keep you in the luxury.”
That’s probably as close as those guys came to working in a “Five O’ Clock World” (The Vogues, 1966), or having “Left a good job in the city,” like John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival did (“Proud Mary,” 1969, covered nice and rough by Ike and Tina Turner a year later). Nor did they have to go hard-core worker and become “Part of the Union,” like the Strawbs in 1973.
(The following year, we sang that song as we unionized a Madison, Wis., cab company, not realizing that it may actually have been an anti-union anthem. And the year after that, the company was no more, and we weren’t part of anything besides the unemployment line.)
There are lots of occupational songs for working people. Not many remain who would sing the “Mule Skinner Blues” (The Fendermen, 1960), but if you’re a “Handy Man,” Jimmy Jones had your number in 1960. In 1966 Bobby Darin sang “If I Were a Carpenter” — perhaps in response to “If I Had a Hammer.” (Peter, Paul and Mary, in 1962, and Trini Lopez, 1963, probably would have gone looking for a nail.)
If you were a “Cab Driver,” like I was a couple years later, the Mills Brothers were singing of you in 1968. The same year, if you were a “Wichita Lineman,” Glen Campbell gave you a cosmic radio moment; ditto for Jerry Butler and “Hey, Western Union Man,” if you were delivering telegrams.
I could go on and on and on, but you get the idea. So cue up some of The Music appropriate to the final holiday weekend — or whatever moves you to kick back and take a break from your labors.
As for this blog, I’ll “See You in September” (The Happenings, 1966).