Back in May 1 this year, I heard Jason Bentley put together a pretty fitting mix for May Day (a.k.a. International Workers’ Day) on Morning Becomes Eclectic, which featured The Clash, Manu Chao, Jimmy Cliff, and The Wailers singing songs of freedom and protest. With Labor Day today, here’s a list of songs in (dubious) celebration of the toil and drudgery of working, of finding a job that hopefully doesn’t suck too much, and of the desire of breaking out of the rat race.
H I G H L I G H T S
“Bank Holiday” – Blur
We may not have “bank holidays,” as they’re called in the British Commonwealth countries, here in the United States, but this raucous rocker by Blur from their 1994 magnum opus Parklife adequately sums up the attitude that most of us here in the States might have towards Labor Day like all other holidays outside of the winter solstice: a temporary interruption in our work schedule or an excuse for beer and BBQ, before we all head back to our miserable jobs… “A-G-A-I-N!!!”
“Career Opportunities” – The Clash
In solemn dedication to those working part-time jobs, temp jobs, or internships, or those looking through job sites and trying to find at least one “entry-level” opening that doesn’t require a few years’ experience doing the same work. This B-side cut from The Clash’s 1977 debut is for you, in remembrance of your Sisyphean struggle.
“Working for the Man” – Roy Orbison
Roy Orbison’s comical ditty about working, whether it’s in a factory or in a hellish clerical office (or wherever you work), and his ultimate ambition to be the boss and to win the boss’s daughter’s affections, set to a shuffling rhythm-and-blues beat lightens the mood here.
“The Lodgers” – The Style Council
After UK-based mod punks The Jam broke up, singer and guitarist Paul Weller took his R&B and soul fixation to greater heights with The Style Council. Trading enraged, overdriven guitars for glistening synths and the hollow drum machines of 1980s pop did little to dull the acerbic edge and youth/working-class activism that he honed during his years in The Jam, as exhibited in this track from their 1985 album Our Favourite Shop. Here, Weller and Dee C. Lee rail against the supply-side voodoo economics and the nepotistic, old-boys’-club attitude of Thatcherite England, which entrenched wealth and privileges for the wealthy and powerful, instead of expanding opportunities for prosperity for all people as they may have promised on the campaign trail. The 80s may have passed, but many still have fond memories of such times, especially in the Republican (USA) and Conservative (UK) parties today.
“Still Holding My Stomach In” – The Tenderfoot
Rounding out the set is this number from UK-based The Tenderfoot’s second album, Save the Year, and featured on Q magazine’s Summer 2006 compilation Mellow Gold. Humming bass, sparse guitar, and a pared-down cymbal-and-snare rhythm create a downcast mood as singer Darren Moon sings of struggling to make ends meet as a teen while working a weekend job and paying union subs. I couldn’t find it uploaded on YouTube, but here’s a live video. Apologies for the subpar audio.
It may be a bit of a downer, but it should be fitting, since Labor Day didn’t come about without a lot of bloodshed, such as the suppression of the Pullman Strike, and without a lot of resistance from entrenched industrial interests during the so-called Gilded Age. (Or hell, read this piece from the Smithsonian National Museum of American History here.)