‘Takin’ Care of Business’: A Playlist for the Workaday World

By Sherry M. Adler

From the nagging mother in the Doo Wop hit who hounds her son to “Get a Job” sha na na na, sha na na na na to the four lads AKA the Beatles who “should be sleeping like a log” during “A Hard Day’s Night,” many songs throughout the years have a common theme. Work! They celebrate it, berate it, ponder it, reject it but nonetheless use career issues as the centerpiece for the lyrics. Even the Seven Dwarfs factor into this discussion. As they march in unison, they hum “heigh ho, heigh ho, it’s off to work we go” in the 1937 animated Disney film Snow White  

Find out about a cross-section of such songs and sample them too. Directly from the vault of Creative Circle comes this playlist all about business and employment. As you’ll note, those chosen to provide a mix of points of view and genres. Some are iconic; others are lesser known. Irksome at times, yet entertaining, they are, above all, good listening.  

Workin’ for a Living – Huey Lewis & The News, 1982

Rocking the Bay Area sound, frontman Huey Lewis and company croon about the rigors of certain occupations. The band does this in clever tongue-and-cheek style. “Somedays won’t end ever/And somedays pass on by/I’ll be working here forever/At least until I die.” The daily routine for this job segment is a grind, yet it provides barely enough money for rent and car payments. “I get a check on Friday, but it’s already spent.” That’s why “I’m taking what they giving ‘cause I’m working for a livin’.” Lewis wrote the song based on his experience as a truck driver before becoming a musician. He held some of the other jobs mentioned, namely busboy and bartender. These stints motivated him to create this “tribute to the working man” and woman. Catch the ‘80’s vibe and harmonica solo in this portrait of what it’s like to be “workin’ for a living.”    

“She Works Hard for the Money” – Donna Summer, 1983

Inspiration can come from any source at any time. In this case, an encounter with an exhausted restroom attendant at Chasen’s restaurant in Los Angeles served as the springboard for Donna Summer to co-write this song. It tells the story of a woman, a blue-collar worker, who “works hard for the money.” Summer credits the role model, Onetta Johnson, in the lyrics. “Onetta there in the corner stand/And she wonders where she is/And it’s strange to her/Some people seem to have everything.” This tune skyrocketed to number one on the Billboard R&B singles, where it stayed for three weeks. A signature piece for Summer, she performed it to open the Grammy Awards in 1984. Its message lives through the years: “She works hard for the money/So hard for it, honey/She works hard for the money/So you better treat her right.”  

“Work to Do” – The Isley Brothers, 1972

He’s a busy guy. The person portrayed in this song has “so many things to do/Oh, I got work to do/I got work baby/I got a job baby/I got work to do.” Perhaps his lady love feels ignored, as though his interest in her has waned. But he insists that’s not true. He would “love to spend more time.” But he can’t because “I gotta make it for you and gotta make it for me.” Don’t fret, that’s the way it has to be for now. “So keep your love light burnin’” and “get used to me/Coming home a little late.” The Isley Brothers tell it like it is with a cool blend of funk, rock and soul and heavy percussion. After all, “everybody’s got work to do/Oh, so much work baby/I got work.” It’s rhythmically pulsating and in the groove!      

Get a Job – Gossip, 2012

Perfect ring tone material, this catchy tune makes a decisive point. “Girl, you better get a job/Oh girl, you need to work real hard.” The number of occupational pursuits is endless but the need for one is critical. Why? Lacking gainful employment “was adorable when you were in your 20s/Not so cute anymore now that you’re pushing 30.” From the album A Joyful Noise, this song is the creation of the singer-songwriter known by the stage name Beth Ditto. She formed the indie rock band Gossip in 1999, which recorded five studio albums, this being on the first. The lyrics underscore the importance of work, which it conveys by repeating that word consecutively eight times. And it acknowledges that finding it takes grit and effort. “You gotta try, try, try/I know it’s hard but/You never know, how it’s gonna go, end up tomorrow.”   

“Hard Workin’ Man” – Brooks & Dunn, 1993 

The title track of the album by the same name, this song tells the story of a man who Got everything I own/By the sweat of my brow/From my four-wheel drive to my cowboy boots/I owe it all to my blue-collar roots.” He “can ride, rope, hammer and paint/Do things with my hands that most men can’t.” But he “can’t get ahead no matter how hard I try.” So, he’s “burnin’ my candle at both ends” by doing many things. He also “like[s] to party hard.” But “Come Monday mornin’, I’m the first to arrive” on the job. Decidedly country with an up-tempo beat, this song hit number four on the US Country Charts and won Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals in 1994. No wonder — it’s rousing and rhythmic. Try not to tap your feet when listening — impossible! 

Career Opportunities – The Clash, 1977

Here’s something novel: a punk rock song that presents a life lesson. This English rock band advocates that, in considering “career opportunities,” even those who are unemployed should be careful. Don’t jumpif at all possible. Assess each option. “They offered me the office, offered me the shop/They said I’d better take anything they got.” That’s because “Every job they offer you is to keep you out the dock.” Don’t be pressured or shamed into saying “yes.” Hold out for something challenging, rewarding, and suitable. Being without a job until the right one comes along may prove better than getting stuck in a role that provides no future and no hope. This boy band conveys this message in not such eloquent language and dulcimer tones, but gets the point across in raw style. When mulling over “career opportunities,” aspire to “the ones that never knock.”  

9 to 5 – Dolly Parton, 1985 

work playlist must, this is a Dolly Parton standard. She wrote it, performs it and, upon its release, saw it peak on three Billboard charts and receive an Oscar nomination for best song. The lyrics scale the emotional highs and lows of working, starting with “I tumble outta bed and stumble to the kitchen/Pour myself a cup of ambition.” It transitions to the frustrations of “working 9 to 5, what a way to make a living/Barely getting by, it’s all taking and no giving.” Then it stays downbeat: “They just use your mind, and they never give you credit/It’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it.” And flips to the upside: “The tide’s gonna turn, and it’s all gonna roll your way/Working 5 to 9, making something of your own now.” Over the years, this rollicking tune has become an anthem for workers, especially women 

Take this Job and Shove It – Johnny Paycheck, 1977   

Let’s face it — at one time or another, we all wanted to walk off a job. Something or everything gets to you. Who but a country singing star by the stage name of Johnny Paycheck could wail those thoughts into a number one hit for two consecutive weeks? When you pay close attention to the words, you may get the impression the man featured in this song is only contemplating this drastic action. Or is he actually calling it quits? “I’d give the shirt right offa’ my back/If I had the guts to say/Take this job and shove it/I ain’t working here no more.” It’s a powerful phrase, forceful, seething with resentment and memorable. It must be all that and more because it spawned a movie of the same name in 1981. Both the writer of this song and Johnny Paycheck had minor roles in that film.   

All Work and No Play – Van Morrison, 2002    

More than 30 years after scoring a mega hit with “Moondance,” Sir George Ivan Morrison, known to most of us as Van Morrison, laments about “All Work and No Play.” Why? Because it “makes Jack a dull chap.” Moreover, “When it comes to the crunch/It’s too much I’ve got to stop/No pain and no gain it’s driving me insane.” Sounds like a serious situation. So, what does this stressed out Jack do? He daydreams about being elsewhere, such as “down at the beach/Relaxing at the sugar shack.” What’s the moral of this story? Take a break, as in “chill out in style.” But don’t operate heavy machinery while in this mode. By all means, give this thumping bluesy work by this Northern Irish singer-songwriter and instrumentalist a try. It could be the pause that saves the poor chap in this song from “going down the drain.”     

Money, Money, Money – ABBA, 1976 

The Swedish pop group ABBA presents an interesting point of view. Not everyone relishes a career or sees work as a means to obtain the stuff you need to live and then some. The woman lead in this song presents an alternative to resolve this situation. I work all night, I work all day to pay the bills I have to pay/Ain’t it sad?/And still there never seems to be a single penny left for me/That’s too bad.” Is what she proposes an idea or fantasy? “In my dreams I have a plan/If I got me a wealthy man/I wouldn’t have to work at all. I’d fool around and have a ball.” Why is that? Because she’ll have “money, money, money” and days will be “always sunny.” Aha, the concept is to marry and marry up, way up. Hmm… exactly how does that work?  

Creative Circle wishes that you enjoy the melodies and messages in this collection of music. Now, with that said and done, get to work! 


About the author.
You name it, she covers it. That’s the can-do attitude Sherry M. Adler brings to the craft of writing. A polished marketing and communications professional, she has a passion for learning and the world at large. She uses it plus the power of words to inform and energize stakeholders of all kinds. And to show how all of this can make a difference, she calls her business WriteResults NY, LLC