Labor Day Play List, Put Your Work In

In honor of Labor Day weekend I am giving you eight songs about working. This list could easily have been a hundred songs long so please add your own in the comments.

Tennesse Ernie Ford - 16 Tons

The list starts with 16 Tons. Of all the many kinds of dangerous, unrewarding and onerous types of manual labor few are more infamous than working in a coal mine, and there is not a better or more known coal mining song than 16 Tons

Desmond Dekker and The Haitians - The Isrealites

Labor as Desmond Dekker thinks of it is not for money, luxury or comfort. "Get up in the morning slaving for bread sir." This song also marks what will be a theme in this list of labor and the plight of the laborer leading to crime.

Masta Ace - On Da Grind

"Is anybody out there on the grind like me?" Its funny how work can make you feel like a mindless cog in a larger machine and at the same time isolated from that machine. But more than a protest against work this song is a cadence for Masta Ace to work to. it's not just about being on the grind its that I'm still on the grind.

Cake - Opera Singer

Ok, an opera singer is a ways from a coal miner, but this song is ultimately about work and how a person profession can define her, or in this case him. "I am an opera singer."

Animals - House of the Rising Sun

While the language in this song is moody and suggestive and this version is sung by a man this song is ultimately about prostitution. The House is a bawdy house. The work is the worlds oldest profession.

Ella Fitzgerald - Love for Sale

Men are not the only ones who labor, and all those who work (male, female or otherwise) have at some point felt as though they were selling themselves. It's that feeling of giving too much of what we to the boss, business or consumer that makes this kind of work a metaphor for all kinds of work.

Sam Cooke - Chain Gang

Sam Cooke took his inspiration for a labor song from prison laborers.

Long John

But, with all respect to Sam Cooke, this is the sound of the men working on the chain gang.

What did I miss? Please, add your suggestions in the comments below.


  1. I should shout out Alex Brazeal at the endof this post for inspiring me to write a new playlist. Get your grind on cousin.

  2. This AM, I made a worksong list for evening singing. Yours is cooler. I started w' "16 Tons," too. Added "Dark as a Dungeon" (Way Down in the Mine), "I Been Working on the Railroad," "When I First Came to this Land," Pay Me My Money Down." I'm stealing yours, tho.

  3. Exactly what I'm talking about.

    "I been working the grave shift
    and I ain't made $@#%
    I wish I could by me a Spaceship"

  4. Colleen I love your list, great minds think alike.



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