In Lieu of a Letter of Resignation…
Top Ten Work Songs
Wilmer Watts and the Lonely Eagles were born of the Gastonia cotton mill culture in North Carolina, reaching the peak of their limited success in the late twenties before the stock market crashed. Watts himself a former cotton worker knew all too well the troubles of working to death and found an outlet in music to entertain himself and other workers. This song of his is a version of the murder ballad “Duncan and Brady” and was recorded in 1929 and available on the compilation Gastonia Gallop: Cotton Mill Songs and Hillbilly Blues.
Since Mr. Reeder’s chain-gang lyrics really said everything he needed to say so simply, perhaps it’s best if we don’t use a lot of words either.
8. “There Ain’t No Use In Me Working This Hard” by The Carolina Tar Heels
The Carolina Tar Heels feature two heavyweights in Carolina music traditions. Dock Walsh became known as “The Banjo King of the Carolinas.” Gwin Foster recorded first with the Tar Heels, then met David O. Fletcher and formed The Carolina Twins, a brilliant and haunting duo. This song, recorded in 1927, became a staple in black music, with variants that included “Crawdad Song” and “Sugar Babe.” This song is available on the ultimate box set from medicine shows: Good for What Ails You: Music of the Medicine Shows 1926-1937.
Todd Rundgren presents two options in this pop hit from 1983. The song has since been used to poke fun at members of the Occupy movement to celebrating touchdowns by the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.
While the folk movement of the Sixties liberated many people, Bob Dylan wrote “Maggie’s Farm” as a protest against the protest singers. He described this song as a liberation against the expectations of the folk community, even going so far to play it with an electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, much to the ire of many music critics and fans.
“Sixteen Tons” details the troubles of the American coal miner who lives “another day older and deeper in debt.” The company store mentioned in the song often was the culprit in mining communities as the miners were paid in scrip rather than cash, which essentially equaled a voucher that could only be spent in stores backed by the coal mining company. This led to many laborers unable to spend their wages outside of the community or to save money.
It should be pointed out that Steely Dan got its name from a steam-powered dildo in William S. Borrough’s Naked Lunch and that their original drummer was SNL veteran Chevy Chase. Just in case you didn’t know.
If you love the Johnny Paycheck or David Allan Coe song, you will really love the film of the same name from 1981, starring Robert Hays, Barbara Hershey, and Art Carney. The film was famous not only for its witty comedic screenplay, but for being robbed of its Oscar by Chariots of Fire.
First released on the awesome 1985 album The Queen is Dead,“Frankly” is said to be written about the studio head at The Smith’s Rough Trade record label who wrote “bloody awful poetry.” However these lyrics can apply to any boss in any job in any industry.
And then there’s Lead Belly, the quintessential lyricist from long, long ago. This song could be played in the cotton fields, on the chain gang, or in your office cubicle. Every worker in America should keep a hammer at their job and, when the time comes, hand it over the Captain to “tell him I’m gone, tell him I’m gone.”
Did I miss any? Come see me over at http://reverenderyk.blogspot.com/