The Clash, 1977
Shorter than a job interview you’ve walked into while exposing yourself, this gleefully militant promise to reject any occupation, from making toys to driving tanks, bristles with the soul-rebel spirit usually devoted to dodging nosy supervisors.
“Just Who Is the 5 O'Clock Hero?”
The Jam, 1982
A melancholy spot of introspection for when you’re too tired to hit the pub. This deflated-punk arrangment of jangly guitars, low-key horns, and the ocassional keening phrase passes as easily as life itself. Or a night in front of the telly.
“She Works Hard for the Money”
Donna Summer, 1983
Inspired by a passed-out bathroom attendant, the Queen of Disco recognizes the working underclass the only way she knows how: with a glamorous champagne toast. Ornamented with layers of bubbly synth, highly processed guitar noodling, and blurting horns, the hook is nevertheless inescapable.
Aesop Rock, 2001
Muttering furiously, like the neighboring cubicle jockey whose stapler you stole, this whiteboy wordsmith carves up a dreamy, lullaby-tinged groove rapping tangled revolutionary rhetoric. The sound of utter exhaustion meeting a mean caffeine buzz.
“Welcome to the Working Week”
Elvis Costello, 1977
Fuming over the loss of a friend to career ambition, the angry young four-eyes dispatches with a lovely, harmony-drenched ballad in about 10 seconds, ratcheting it into an impossibly svelte, starched-punk kiss-off with a sputtering “Why why why?”
“Working for the Weekend”
Hookers and barkeeps deserve anthems, too. The humming synth sleaze and Mike Reno’s passionately primped vocals, while intended for horny clubgoers, brilliantly capture the desperation of those who must serve them.
“Take This Job and Shove It”
David Allan Coe, 1976
Daydreams are made of this. Even Coe’s typically cocksure, ultimate-outlaw delivery betrays what the the laid-back twang and doleful harmonica make explicit: He’d be free, if only he had the “guts” to say what he should.
“Birth, School, Work, Death”
The Godfathers, 1988
At least these throwbacks proved that punk, unlike a prole, never dies. Stiffer and more ornery than C3PO, Peter Coyne intones a comically clipped melody over chugging guitar, and the shout-along chorus reduces it to splinters.
Bob Dylan, 1965
A stark, quasi-surreal take on your average shitty job. Ramshackle as an old barn, this early foray into rock finds Dylan wincingly recounting the misdeeds of Maggie’s entire domineering family—including old Pa, watched over by the National Guard.
“Bang the Drum All Day”
Todd Rundgren, 1983
One pop outsider’s salvation: a single drum, upon which he may bang. This isn’t a song, it’s a circus: the rhythm leaps like ADD-driven hands on a desk, and the larger-than-life chorus sounds like the shouts of strikers liberated from the mines. Unstoppable.
Sam Cooke, 1960
Leave it to the godfather of soul to so seamlessly unite allusions to spirituals, sex, and forced labor—in two utterances, no less. The breathless sounds of the chain gang—"Uh! Ah!“—transform a shuffle into a struggle.
"9 to 5”
Dolly Parton, 1980
In this oddly ecstatic tribute to the grind, typewriter clacks and dings keep time until that indelibly bannanas disco-boogie chorus. A timeless anthem sure to bring us comfort long after enslavement by our alien masters.