The Greatest Hits Collection

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Like careers, music is an important part of my life. I rarely get a chance to combine the two, but I sometimes think of making a mixtape of songs about careers. Here’s what I would include:

“Get a Job” by the Silhouettes. This song came out in 1958, during a recession. The lyrics are slurred quite a bit and therefore hard to follow in places, but someone has compared them to the opening chapter of Native Son.

“Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. This 1978 release by the two country outlaws is one of the few songs that deal specifically with career choice. It points out one career development issue that is often overlooked: the effect of career choice on one’s significant others.

“Dark as a Dungeon,” by Dolly Parton. This is from a whole album with careers as a theme: 1980’s “9 to 5 and Odd Jobs.” The song was written by Merle Travis, who was born and raised in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, the heart of coal-mining country. He has said he was trying for a folkish sound with the opening, something like “Come all ye fine and tender maidens.”

“When I Grow Up (To Be a Man),” by The Beach Boys. This song from 1965 deals with some of the issues, including career choice, that adolescents face. The backup singers count off the years “18, 19, 20, 21” in a way that is a little bit ominous.

“Take This Job and Shove It,” by Johnny Paycheck. David Alan Coe wrote it and recorded it in 1978, which unsurprisingly was not during a recession. This was a brilliant idea for a song, because everybody has fantasized saying this at one time or another. I remember having this go through my head when I actually did quit a job.

“Working in the Coalmine,” by Lee Dorsey. This 1966 hit was written and produced by the New Orleans great Allen Toussaint. It’s a reminder of how soul-killing some work can be. I’ve always loved the spoken line, “Lord, I’m so tired! How long can this go on?”

“Detroit City,” by Bobby Bare. This 1963 song points out that the ability to move from place to place in pursuit of a career is a great asset but also can be the source of a lot of stress. “By day I make the cars,/By night I make the bars.”

“Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos),” by Joan Baez. This song, from her 1971 album “Blessed Are…,” was written by Woody Guthrie in response to an actual plane crash that killed several undocumented farmworkers who were being deported to Mexico after the harvest was over. It’s a reminder that, for all they are demonized by some politicians, border-crossing farmworkers are not only vital to our economy but are fellow humans with families and dreams of their own.

“Welcome to the Working Week,” by Elvis Costello. This song is remarkably brief, reflecting the aesthetic of Costello’s 1976 debut album, “My Aim Is True,” and also the fatalism that is its theme: “You gotta do it till you’re through it so you better get to it.”

“Don’t Talk to Me About Work,” by Lou Reed. This song was originally on his 1983 album “Legendary Hearts” and is a sardonic look at some of the stresses of the workday.

“Big Boss Man,” by Elvis Presley. This is a 1967 recording. Jimmy Reed originally popularized the song, but it was written by Al Smith and Luther Dixon. It highlights some of the tension between managers and the workers they supervise, who sometimes wonder why their boss is in a position of authority. Speaking of The Boss....

“Jersey Girl,” by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Tom Waits wrote this song, but Bruce made it one of the most famous B-sides of all time. This is the obvious choice for me to end this mixtape, partly because I’m a fellow native of the Jersey Shore, and partly because the song is about the joys of being finished with the workday. (“I know that job you’ve got leaves you so uninspired.”) I might have included The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” for a similar theme.

It’s significant that resentment of work is the overwhelming theme of these songs, and it would be difficult to find a collection that emphasized the more positive aspects of work. I think this may happen because popular songs are appreciated mostly as entertainment, as diversions from such practical matters as making a living.

I welcome any suggestions for additional career-related songs that deserve inclusion.


Post a Comment