I passed seven years working for the same employer recently (by some considerable distance the longest I’ve worked for one company in the two decades that I’ve had jobs), and while things haven’t always been plain sailing, currently I’ve got the kind of role I wanted.
Not only that, but in the ten years I’ve been writing this series, I’ve never looked into songs about working. Perhaps I did in the past, but couldn’t find enough songs – certainly I didn’t appear to have a great deal of choice when I started researching this one (there were more than ten, mind).
Anyway. This is songs about jobs. About working for the man, being a slave to the wage, about earning a crust. But isn’t about cleaning windows.
9 to 5
9 to 5 and Odd Jobs
It is, however, about working nine to five. A song – and the film that it comes from – that took it’s title, and was inspired by the work of 9to5, National Association of Working Women. A rousing song of female empowerment, and combined with the film one where women get one up and over on their shitbag of a (male) boss. It’s interesting reading the organisation’s website, though, just how poor workers’ rights in the United States are, and just how much further there is to go, even compared to the UK at the moment.
When the Sun Goes Down
Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not
For someone who lived in Sheffield at the time, there was something glorious about the detail in Alex Turner’s lyrics on their first album, as he detailed the various things going on after dark in the city. Be that drinking and clubbing in the City Centre, or events elsewhere, as this one suggested.
Set in the then-grim area of Neepsend (the old industrial area by the River Don, hidden behind the A61 on the way out to Hillsborough), the area was for a long time a red light district, and perhaps not an area many others would go at night. Sadly, there are still some who see prostitution as meeting a need to make money (and it has a very, very long history as a “job”), and as this song details, the people involved (the pimps, the punters in particular) are often not good people. Interestingly enough, though, the area has seen a fair amount of gentrification in the decade since the song was written, with student flats and shiny new (expensive-looking) flats re-using many of the old industrial buildings.
It was tough call on which to pick here – Chemical World could easily have fitted, too – but the glorious character study of Tracy Jacks won out. From the Britain-conquering Parklife, of course, this sunny, crowd-sing-a-long hides a darker side, detailing the apparent breakdown of an otherwise mundane civil service worker, who has enough of the daytime drudgery and decides to impulsively do a number of things (like getting the first train to the Essex coast, stripping and jumping into the water, or bulldozing his house) to make his life more interesting, or suchlike.
The bleak despair – and sixties girl-group influences – of the first album by Glasvegas was, somehow, a massive success upon release. Their dark lyrics were coupled with astonishing, soaring melodies and immensely catchy choruses, and it was a bit of a disappointment to find them lose their way with their following albums. But this song – a soaring anthem of hope and love, is revealed in the last line to be about Geraldine (Lennon), a social worker that singer James Allan knew, and perhaps unusually shows the profession in a positive light, one that can do good, rather than the usual demonising in the press.
Bohemian Like You
13 Tales From Urban Bohemia
The real breakthrough hit for the Dandys (Not If You Were The Last Junkie on Earth might have been a minor hit, but it was nothing on this), thanks to a Vodafone advert and various film appearances, aside from the ultra-catchy chorus it is actually as astonishingly bitchy song.
Clearly a dig at the then-new hipsters in Portland, it sneers at the oh-so-hip lifestyles, complete with dead-end service jobs (“Oh yeah, I wait tables too“), vegan food and loveless one-night stands.
I Work In A Saloon
The Week Never Starts Round Here
Aidan Moffat’s bitterness, particularly in his earlier songs, seeps through every word, and here’s one of the best examples. Here is a tale of a time in a bar that he worked in, “pulling shit pints for shit wages“, his evening brightened for a short moment by a woman he clearly rather likes (or is going out with), who turns every head in the bar, asks for a drink he doesn’t have, then leaves with a smile.
I’ve worked in shit bars, for shit wages, and had bizarre things happen. Like chatting up a visiting student in the uni bar, whom I ended up dating back home a year or more later. Or making friends with fellow rivetheads that I’ve known ever since. But mostly, the nights were dull, the days even worse, and the pay no better.
Sadly, Victoria Hesketh never really lived up to the promise of her astounding early singles (particularly New In Town), and has rather faded from view since. This is not to say her later material isn’t good, it is just, perhaps, rather less pop-oriented. This song seems to deal with imposter syndrome, as the titular working girl fights with her own mind and her job to make herself a success – needless to say, perhaps a mirror being held up to her own musical career.
There is a whole lot of untapped fury in this country at the moment, that will at some point boil over – wages have long since not even been keeping up with (low) inflation, and wage disparity is increasing still, meaning that workers have less and less to spend. There are occasional outlets for this, and one has been this band formed by some friends of mine in the past couple of years, their stark, short-sharp-shock punk very much aimed at the shitty working environments right now. Yes, I could have used Phone In Sick, but for many the relentless stream of LinkedIn “add” requests (the repeated refrain of this song will be familiar to anyone who has used the website) is rather tiresome. So fucking what, another social fucking network where people add others for “networking” and “sales opportunities”. What’s worse is that it is becoming a common way to job hunt, too…
Why Don’t You Get A Job
Fun fact – this was where I finally gave up on this band. A world away from their (actually really quite great) earlier material, on this album they broadly left behind their punkier roots for…well, some kind of pop music with punk touches.
This was a song that for some reason I’ve always been uncomfortable with. A couple of protagonists have apparently freeloading partners, and the answer is “get a job”. The same answer that right-wing Governments (such as the US and the UK) usually have – cutting safety nets because you should get a job, no matter how badly it pays and how much worse off you might be.
I Hate My Fucking Job (Imperative Reaction Mix)
Finally – and yes, I’ve featured it before, but that was a long time ago – even if you do get a job, you might well hate it. As is the case with Arizona-based band The Strand, where lead singer Dave has had enough of shitty fucking jobs, with awful bosses, stupid politics for fuck-all money. The hatred and fury is, needless to say, obvious from the title onwards, and the song has no less bile in it. We’ve all been there, right? Certainly in my past I’ve been able to identify with this song on more than a few occasions…