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?