With Labor Day just around the corner, here are some interesting factoids about ten of the most iconic songs about working … and enjoying the fruits of your labors.
The title of this classic 1964 Beatles hit (in which John Lennon sings plaintively about “working like a dog”) came from a Ringo Starr malapropism when the drummer was asked one morning if he’d slept well. Shaking his head no, Ringo explained that he’d had “a hard day’s night.”
Merle Haggard’s famed 1969 country song features a lyric that extolls the virtues of hard work and sacrifice despite the resulting fatigue and stress of raising a large family. As a bonus, there’s some fine picking from longtime Ricky Nelson / Elvis Presley guitarist James Burton.
Cleveland disk jockey Donna Halper played this Rush song on the air in early 1974, even though the group were unknown in the States at the time. The working-class listeners of the city loved it, which resulted in the group landing their first U.S. record deal. The band were so grateful, they dedicated their next two albums to Halper!
Written and performed by Dolly Parton for the 1980 film of the same name, this ode to America’s office workers garnered Parton an Academy Award nomination and two Grammys. The percussion in the verses is the sound of a typewriter, though when Parton originally wrote the song, she devised the clacking rhythm by running her acrylic fingernails back and forth against one another.
This 1982 hit by Canadian rock band Loverboy was inspired when guitarist and co-writer Paul Dean took a walk on the beach one Wednesday afternoon. It soon dawned on him that much of the area was deserted. “I was wondering, where is everybody?” he later recalled. “I guess they’re all working … and waiting for the weekend.”
According to singer and composer Huey Lewis (of Huey Lewis and the News fame), this 1982 song was semi-autobiographical, describing past jobs he had before becoming a musician, including time spent as a truck driver, busboy and bartender. In 2007, Lewis re-recorded the song as a duet with country music superstar Garth Brooks.
Co-written by disco queen Donna Summer, this 1983 hit was inspired by an encounter that Summer had with an exhausted rest room attendant at the famed Los Angeles restaurant Chasen’s. The music video for the song became the first by a female artist to be placed in MTV’s “heavy rotation.”
This sardonic 1984 look at the American Dream had its genesis when singer/songwriter John Mellencamp was driving along an overpass on the way to his home to Bloomington, Indiana after flying into the Indianapolis airport. “There was an old man sitting outside his little pink shotgun house with his cat in his arms, completely unperturbed by the traffic speeding along the highway in his front yard,” Mellencamp recalled.
This 1987 hit by the group Bon Jovi tells the tale of Tommy and Gina, a young working couple just starting out, and the way they face life’s struggles. Versions of the song have appeared in the music video games Guitar Hero and Rock Band.
In this inspiring track from the 2009 Bruce Springsteen album of the same name, The Boss speaks to the benefits of hard work, carrying on despite adversity and never giving up. The song’s glossy production features partly submerged “la-la” backing vocals and an instrumental break that has Springsteen whistling against a baritone sax line.