These tunes about the daily 9 to 5 grind will keep your foot tapping during work hours (Shutterstock/fizkes)
As subjects for pop songs go, work might not be quite as popular as love, money and cars—but it’s definitely close. And just as love songs are often of the hurtin’ variety, so are the tunes about making a living. From mean bosses to spiteful colleagues to low pay and soulless offices, there always seems to be plenty for songwriters to write about—and listeners to listen to.
Here, then, are a few of our favourites to add to your playlist.
I DON’T WANT TO WORK TODAY (2018)
by Clark Ford
There’s no heavy message in this fun and upbeat track from California-born songwriter Ford; the drowsy narrator would just like to skip out of work for a day: “Maybe I’ll call in sick/Crawl back into bed/Pull the covers over my head/Just wanna hit snooze one more time/Close my eyes and drift off.”
While the would-be work-skipper knows he cannot afford to get fired, because then he’d “lose everything” (something no accountant could condone), he says the whole daily drudgery gets to him sometimes: “Adulting is way too hard/Who invented it anyway?/All I want is one day off/Can’t I have one every day?” Quite appropriately, the YouTube track is accompanied by a shot of a reclining dog staring dejectedly into the camera.
FOR THE WORKFORCE, DROWNING (2003)
Some say Thursday was heavily influenced by the post-punk band Joy Division, and you can detect that influence in this emo track. Although the raw screaming vocals sometimes obscure the lyrics, many of the Jersey band’s lines have a dark poetry to them: “Don’t let me drown before the workday ends/Nine to five! Nine to five!/And we’re up to our necks/Drowning in the seconds/Ingesting the morning commute/Lost in a dead subway sleep.”
One reviewer said the song makes office work sound like 19th century coal mining—a comparison that most office workers, including accountants, might find just a little overblown. Still, the band drew its share of fans: one listener on YouTube said, “I was a teenager listening to this and now I actually work in corporate America. I loved this song before, but it speaks volumes now lol.”
GOIN’ TO WORK (1993)
by Martina McBride
Unlike Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 (see below), which speaks to the unlucky lot of a working woman, this country tune casts work as a welcome escape for the broken-hearted: “There’s one part of my life I won’t let you tear down/Yeah and that’s my work—right now I’m goin’ to work…Oh I got to stay busy that’s the only way/Throw myself into my business and collect my pay.”
Released as part of the country pop singer’s second album, The Way That I Am, the track gives full play to McBride’s soprano range and touch-to-the-bones lyrics. She’s actually been called the Celine Dion of country music—and with the soaring peaks and dark valleys in this song, you can see why.
9 TO 5 (1980)
by Dolly Parton
In this country classic, which was written for the comedy film 9 to 5, Parton uses her inimitable twang and a jaunty tone to describe an office employee whose disparaging boss steals her cash and takes all the credit (“Workin’ 9 to 5, what a way to make a livin’/Barely g’tting’ by, it’s all takin’ and no givin’”). But Parton’s not going to let it get to her: like a good accountant, she understands the value of investing for the long term: “Waitin’ for the day your ship’ll come in/An’ the tide’s gonna turn and it’s all gonna roll your way.”
The song garnered her an Academy Award nomination and two Grammys for “Best Country Song” and “Best Country Vocal Performance, Female”. It’s one of the first of a number of ’80s tunes that pay tribute to the plight of U.S. workers, especially women (other examples include Donna Summer’s 1983 disco classic She works hard for the money and the soundtrack for the 1988 movie Working Girl).
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TAKIN’ CARE OF BUSINESS (1974)
by Bachman-Turner Overdrive (BTO)
For all office workers who have ever yearned to embrace the freelance lifestyle, this classic rock tune, penned by Canadian musician Randy Bachman, just might tip the balance. It paints a scary portrait of a drone-like commuter who, after being roused by an alarm, takes the 8:15 into the city: “There’s a whistle up above/And people pushin’, people shovin’/And the girls who try to look pretty/And if your train’s on time/You can get to work by nine.”
In the narrator’s eyes, the alternative to this colourless fate is to become like him—a self-employed musician who basically “does nothing all day.” (But as any accountant knows, that doesn’t necessary add up, either.) Takin’ Care of Business became one of BTO’s most enduring and well-known songs, and Bachman himself uses it as the theme song for his CBC Radio music show, Vinyl Tap.
A HARD DAY’S NIGHT (1964)
by the Beatles
As the title suggests, this iconic song by the English rock band tells the tale of a man who is completely exhausted after having worked all day—and all night, too. The line is credited to a remark made by drummer Ringo Starr in an interview: “I came up still thinking it was day, I suppose, and I said ‘It’s been a hard day…and I looked around and saw it was dark so I said,…night!” So we came to ‘A Hard Day’s Night’.”
But even though the narrator says he’s been “working like a dog” and “should be sleeping like a log”—something most office workers, including accountants, can relate to at one point or another—he’s thrilled because he’s returning home to see his honey. With its strident opening guitar chord and catchy chorus, the song topped the charts in both the U.K. and the U.S. when it was released as a single.
BIG BOSS MAN (1960)
by Jimmy Reed
Although first recorded by Reed, this 12-bar blues shuffle has been performed by a variety of artists, from Elvis to B.B. King and Junior Reid (it’s the Reid rendition that is featured on the soundtrack for the popular 1999 movie Office Space). And with its infectious guitar groove and defiant lyrics, you can see why the tune has appeal across so many genres.
In the song, the thirsty and hard-working narrator, Al, just wants his “boss man” to give him a drink of water—but his quite understandable plea is falling on deaf ears. No wonder Al is becoming frustrated and defiant: “Well you ain’t so big, you know/You’re just tall that’s all.” Finally, like any self-respecting worker who’s had enough, he decides he’s soon gonna be outta there: “I’m gonna get me a boss man/One that’s gonna treat me right/I work hard in the day time/Rest easy at night.” In 1990, the song was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame.
GET INSPIRED THIS SUMMER
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