Songs about work

It’s Labor Day weekend. I just published a link to a list of songs about working people on my Facebook page for Dan Loves Guitars. I thought I’d put together my own list of random songs concerning work. I’ve tried to keep the selections to those involving my favorite musical instruments – guitars, banjos and other stringed things. There wasn’t a big selection process. Just tunes I remembered – and of course, one thing led to another.

Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn “Railroad”

This is a unique and interesting version of I’ve Been Working on the Railroad. I love the interplay of Fleck’s 3-finger picking against Washburn’s clawhammer style. Working on the railroad may not be a job that comes to mind in the modern world but it defined a historic era of growth. Also, of robber barrons …

Josh White – John Henry

I remember watching Josh White on TV as a child. What a great guitar player. Many people have recorded the Ballad of John Henry, but Josh White’s version is one of my favorites.

Dire Straits – Money for Nothing

The guitar playing of Mark Knopfler is of course great. But I enjoy the lyrics. I can just picture a couple of average guys, working at an appliance center, envious of the rock stars on MTV.

Bang on the drums all day ( Todd Rundgren Live From Daryl Hall’s House).
My kids used to like listening to this song as I drove them to school. Listening to the song on the radio with them, I didn’t want to go to work either. I would have rather stayed at home with my children and play guitar or drums or run around outside – anything but work.

The version I’ve linked to isn’t the one you hear on the radio but a more relaxed version recorded at Daryl Hall’s home in Hawaii.

Huey Lewis & the News – Workin For A Living

From the lyrics: “Taking what they’re givin’ cause I’m working for a living.” Too many people are in that situation. Not a happy thought.

Randy Bachman ‘Takin’ Care Of Business’
So many of these rock work songs are about the work of being a rock musician.

Jeff Beck and ZZ Top – Ernie Ford’s SIXTEEN TONS
This isn’t Ernie Ford’s classic version of the song. But it’s a lot of fun.

Haul Away Joe

Working on boats is probably as popular as working on the railroad for folk music and work songs.


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