Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

Boomer Songs Sang About the Working Man

As we mark another Labor Day, it’s time for our national salute to workers everywhere. Boomers have always had a special connection to working class people. After all, it was the rise of the middle class after the War that allowed the Baby Boom to come into existence. You can see this connection to workers in the music of the day.

So, in honor of Labor Day, here are a few boomer-era songs of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s that either call out the plight of the working person or mention a profession by name:

Get A Job – The Silhouettes (1957)
Richard Lewis, who wrote the song’s lyrics, said the song came from a time when he got out of the Army and wasn’t immediately working, so his mother told him to “get a job.” Two decades later it became the signature song of Sha Na Na, who took their name from the song’s lyrics.

Five O’ Clock World – The Vogues (1965)
..When the whistle blows, no one owns a piece of my time. Is there a more perfect sentiment for Labor Day? Of course, the irony is, if you get off work at 5 p.m., then the company has in fact owned a piece of your time since 9 a.m. Still, a great song.

Working in a Coal Mine – Lee Dorsey (1966)
Occasionally Mister Boomer mimics the singer’s rendition of the last sentence, Lord I’m so tired, at work. He does realize that the millennials in his workplace have no idea what he is referencing. How long can this go on…

Sixteen Tons – Tennessee Ernie Ford (1955)
We learned in this song that digging sixteen tons of coal will only get you one day older and deeper in debt.

Coal Miner’s Daughter – Loretta Lynn (1970)
It looks like in the era when many boomer houses received coal deliveries for heating, our songs put the profession of coal miner right up there synonymously with hard work. Lynn recorded this autobiographical song in 1969, but it wasn’t released until a year later. By 1970, very few houses were still heated by coal, marking the beginning of the decline of the industry that’s still going on today.

Paperback Writer – The Beatles (1966)
Paul McCartney sings that he needs a job and he wants to be a paperback writer.

Lovely Rita – The Beatles (1967)
The singer — Paul McCartney — is said to have gotten the inspiration for this song when he saw a meter maid issuing a ticket. Some guys do love a working gal in a uniform.

Hard Day’s Night – The Beatles (1964)
It’s hard to remember sometimes that The Beatles all came from working class families themselves. Ringo came up with the phrase after the band had worked all day and night. Once it was decided that Ringo’s malapropism would make a good title for their upcoming movie, John went about writing the title song.

Please Mister Postman – The Marvelettes (1961)
Please Mister Postman, check and see / If there’s a letter, a letter for me… Who knows how much longer postmen and women will be delivering mail to our homes? Letters are few and far between these days already. Back when it was a major means of communication, the song was the first Motown song to reach Billboard’s Hot 100.

Wichita Lineman – Glenn Campbell (1968)
A lot of working people can relate to the loneliness exuded from these song lyrics written by Jimmy Webb: I am a lineman for the county / And I drive the main road / Searchin’ in the sun for another overload. The haunting melody was portrayed beautifully in Glenn Campbell’s voice. Campbell, as most boomers know, was a member of the Wrecking Crew, that group of top-notch studio musicians who appeared uncredited on dozens of hit songs throughout the 1960s. The group also backed Campbell on this recording, which became his signature tune.

Working for the Man – Roy Orbison (1962)
In this Roy Orbison song we hear the plight of the working man, in this case, in the Texas oil fields: Oh well I’m pickin’ ’em up and I’m laying ’em down / I believe he’s gonna work me into the ground …
But later in the song we learn that he’s working for this man because he’s making time with the boss’ daughter and some day he plans on being “the man” himself.

If I Were a Carpenter – Bobby Darin (1966)
The old if “I had a profession like a carpenter, would you still love me enough to get married and have a kid” song. Written by Tim Hardin, he personally performed it at Woodstock (1969). It was covered earlier by Joan Baez (1967), and Four Tops (1968), then by Johnny Cash and June Carter (1970) and Bob Seger (1972), among others. Of course, a good many boomers recall the song from Bobby Darin’s version.

Sky Pilot – The Animals (1968)
Released during the Vietnam War, the song seems upbeat in tempo, but lyrically it’s not about an airplane pilot, but rather a military chaplain trying to offer comfort to troops as they head into battle. It’s another of those tough jobs we heard about on our transistor radios.

The Boxer – Simon & Garfunkel (1969)
Here Simon and Garfunkel use a profession — a boxer — to illustrate one man’s struggle to overcome loneliness and poverty. It was the most heavily produced song the duo ever released.

Talking Care of Business – Bachman Turner Overdrive (1974)
Randy Bachman wrote this memorable ditty under the title of White Collar Worker when he was still a member of The Guess Who. The band didn’t think it was their kind of song, so he took it with him when he left. After performing the song on Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s early tours in the early ’70s, Bachman overheard a radio DJ say, “We’re taking care of business.” He took the line and replaced “White Collar Worker” with it, and the rest is history.

Car Wash – Rose Royce (1976)
This title song from the movie of the same name tells us that working at the car wash, You might not ever get rich / But let me tell you it’s better than digging a ditch … It was the group’s only hit.

Welcome to the Working Week – Elvis Costello (1977)
I know it don’t thrill you / I hope it don’t kill you … Are you seeing a pattern, boomers? Most of our songs about working say we don’t like our jobs and a good portion of the time, we tolerate them to get home to our loved ones.

If you are still working, enjoy your holiday off, boomers! Then it’s back to working for the man. What is your favorite boomer-era working song?


posted by Mister B in Holidays,Music and have Comments (2)

Boomers Judged Labor Day By Its Cover

It’s that time again. The time of year when kids count the waning days of August with lament and a not-so-quiet desperation. Although many kids begin the school year in August, the vast majority return to school within a day or two after Labor Day. For Mister Boomer and his neighborhood acquaintances, Labor Day was designated the Most Unwanted Holiday of the Year.

Since the school year began after Labor Day, the weekend was and is often referred to as the unofficial end of summer. As such, it’s a time when families try to cram in one more weekend of quality time, which usually includes a barbecue. For Mister Boomer, one of two things would occur on Labor Day: either the family would gather with relatives at a state park for an all-day picnic, or they would remain at home, mow the grass and fire up the backyard grill — weather permitting.

Mister B always enjoyed seeing his cousins at holiday picnics, but very often Labor Day was rainy and chilly, so even if the chosen park had a lake with a beach, it was like adding insult to injury. It was never much fun to have to wear a jacket on Labor Day, or bring a change of clothes to switch from shorts to jeans if the weather turned.

If the family remained at home, Mister B would get together with any neighborhood friends who were still around. Many were gone for the weekend, as Upper-Midwesterners are big on weekend cottages. Back in the 1960s and ’70s, the average union factory worker in a variety of manufacturing industries could afford a home, cottage and probably a boat, too. The holiday weekend for them was a last chance to enjoy their cottage and close it up for the impending winter. Mister B’s family never owned a cottage, but neighbors and some relatives did. Occasionally, the family would be invited for an overnight stay with a relative.

At home for the weekend, the remaining kids, walking slower and with heads and voices lowered, took one more trip around the neighborhood. There usually weren’t enough kids to have a baseball game, so instead, the boys — in this case without the girls — would visit the underground forts they had jubilantly dug over the summer; climb up into the tree houses made from construction scrap, where so many summer hours had been spent; toss a few rocks across the fields; walk along the railroad tracks and pick up a few sticks to drag into the dirt; with all the drama of Death Row inmates.

Once the sun went down, their despair grew even worse. Clothes for the next day were laid out, baths taken and time sped forward with increasing irregularity. They would awaken to find that, inevitably on the first day of school the sun would shine and the temperature would rise back to summer levels — it was still summer, after all. Somehow they would manage to get out of bed and walk to school, and somehow managed to make it through the day.

Old classmate relationships were renewed, new teachers introduced and assigned desks were occupied with no small amount of trepidation. A new school year had begun. On returning home, one of the first tasks that were given was to see that the books that were to be used had book covers. Text books were used year after year, so it became mandatory that each student be responsible to return it at the end of the school year in much the same condition as when they got it. Early on, usually around second grade, students were taught in the classroom how to make book covers out of paper bags. From that grade on, it was up to each student to create the jackets at home during the first week of class.

In Mister Boomer’s grade school, a local funeral home always distributed enough pre-printed book jackets that could be adjusted to fit most books, so each student could receive one. Mister B never liked to be the bearer of walking advertising (and won’t wear designer clothing for that reason to this day), so he often reserved the cover for his least used or least favorite subject, if he bothered with it at all. It was silly anyway, he thought, that kids would walk around all year with an ad for a funeral home on their books.

Mister Boomer rather enjoyed making the paper bag covers. He and his classmates would trade tips on edge folding so no tape was required, and most importantly, to assure the cover fit snugly against the book, so no slippage occurred on the trek to and from school. Once done, the paper covers provided an expanse of space that cried out for doodling. Whimsical and fantastical drawings of all types could be penned across the front and back, with no worries about ever defacing the actual book. For Mister B, it was a place to experiment with the billowing psychedelic shapes and lettering he was seeing rise from the rock poster of older boomers. What’s more, if a now-personalized cover ever became tiresome, over the doodle limit or torn, it was never a big deal to make another. With every store packing purchases in paper bags, there was never a lack of material available.

Labor Day and the first day of school were never a welcome sight, but once the denial was released and the the shock of the new embraced, paper book covers became a tradition as much as a rite of passage.

Did you make your own paper book covers, boomers, or did your mother or older siblings make them for you? Do kids still make them today?

posted by Mister B in Education,Holidays,Pop Culture History and have Comment (1)