Labor Day is a celebration of working men and women in the United States, and a holiday marked by parades, parties and backyard barbecues. It’s a day of rest and relaxation for Americans who do the work and make this country great. It’s also a day of remembrance for those who came before us.
Throwing a Labor Day celebration this year? Looking for a Labor Day Party playlist that strikes all the high notes? Here are 25 Labor Day Songs and Classic Tributes to both honor America’s workers and make you think:
Welcome to the Working Week (Elvis Costello). Elvis Costello at his best. First release on his My Aim is True Album (1977). This British rocker knows work when he sees it. “Welcome to the workin’ week. Oh I know it don’t thrill you, I hope it don’t kill you.” A great way to kick off Labor Day, don’t you agree?
Manic Monday (The Bangles) Who hasn’t wished it was still Sunday? Only the Bangles could sing this song. This particular tune soared to number 2 on the US pop charts in April 1986. Great Labor Day song.
Got a Job (Smokey Robinson) In 1958, Robinson, then with the Matadors, met legendary songwriter Berry Gordy who co-wrote “Got a Job” as an answer song to the Silhouettes’ hit “Get a Job.” The rest, as they say, is history. This single is a must for your Labor Day playlist.
Working in a Coal Mine (Lee Dorsey) As my grandfather said, “Never work underground…unless you have to…” Lee Dorsey brings a soft touch to a heavy job. A classic!
Working at the Factory (The Kinks) Nobody knows factories like the Brits. And, nobody sings about factory life like the Kinks.
Working for the Weekend (Loverboy) Who doesn’t? A fan favorite. This song hit #2 on the American music charts in 1982. This is one, high-energy addition to your Labor Day playlist.
To the Workers of the Rock River Valley Region, I Have an Idea Concerning Your Predicament, and It Involves a Shoestring, a Lavender Garland, and Twelve Strong Women… (Sufjan Stevens) Is this the longest song title you ever saw? “To the workers,” is on Stevens’ concept album entitled, Illinois where he pays tribute to the people of Illinois, and places like Rock River, a tributary of the Mississippi. Usually categorized as “pastoral pop,” the title alone gives Stevens’ song a perch on your Labor Day songlist.
Shadow Dreams (DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince) Philadelphia born and raised, nobody raps it like these guys do. “You work and you sweat and you push and you toil…” High notes for your Labor Day set list.
Cleaning Windows (Van Morrison) Watch out when Van Morrison’s on a tear. This song will make wanna put your bucket down, throw the rag and run for your life. Classic Morrison.
Working On The Highway (Bruce Springsteen) With lyrics like, “I work for the county out on 95. All day I hold a red flag and watch the traffic pass me by. In my head I keep a picture of a pretty little miss. Someday mister I’m gonna lead a better life than this…” how can you not be moved by this song? Tireless advocate for the invisible, the downtrodden, the working man and woman. Springsteen does it like nobody else. A must-have for your Labor Day party playlist.
Working on a Dream (Bruce Springsteen) “I’m workin’ on a dream, though sometimes it seems so far away…” Check out the Boss’ latest album on Labor Day. You’ll be glad you did.
Allentown (Billy Joel) Billy Joel was criticized by some for writing about the demise of manufacturing in Allentown and nearby Bethlehem. But, who couldn’t love this working class hero, with a heart to match? At least he puts a face on the American worker, and causes you to stand up and take notice. He got the heat, but the song lives on. An important addition to your Labor Day playlist.
Maggie’s Farm (Bob Dylan) They say there’s nothin’ harder than farm work. Even Bob says so, and we believe him in this classic song.
On the Picket Line (Joe Glazer) Workers unite and do what needs to be done in this classic by “Labor’s Troubadour.” Great tune for your backyard party on Labor Day.
Bread and Roses (Utah Phillips) “Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes; Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses!” A powerful song then, a relevant song today. Check out Utah Phillips who gives this song its voice.
9 to 5 (Dolly Parton) “What a way to make a livin’…” Tell us about it! Dolly’s got it down when she describes the white collar workplace. A great song for the times when it came out. As good or better today. Dolly delivers the goods to a white collar world. A must for Labor Day.
Casey Jones (The Union Scab) (Pete Seeger) Nothing worse than a scab. ‘Nuf said?
Dear Mrs. Roosevelt (Woodie Guthrie) Check out what FDR means to the working family. A real union favorite. A timeless treasure.
Union Maid (Woody Guthrie) Who’s been working behind the scenes, for years in relative obscurity? Check out why working men and women have what they have today in this great land of ours. “Can’t scare me, I’m stickin’ with the union…” A Woody Guthrie classic.
Dump The Bosses (Utah Phillips/Ani DiFranco) You can only imagine the topic of this great Labor Day song for your set list. Ani DiFranco is a gem.
Birth, School, Work, Death (The Godfathers) Serious. Righteous. Awesome. The Godfathers drive it home for Labor Day. Rolling Stone magazine called this single, “A nihilistic rocker that stands as a sort of “Satisfaction” for the twilight of the Eighties.” We agree. Put it on the Labor Day hit list.
It’s Not My Place (In The 9 To 5 World) (The Ramones) Love the Ramones, don’t you? Driving, rock and roll. “Cause when it comes to working 9 to 5, There ain’t no place for me…” Another great, working class anthem.
Times Are Not What They Used to Be (Hazel Dickens, Carol Elizabeth Jones, Ginny Hawker) If you like folk and bluegrass, you’ll love this song. Hazel Dickens, in particular, is a treasure. Born in June, 1935, and raised in West Virginia, Hazel Dickens grew up the eighth of 11 children. She eventually collaborated with Alice Gerrard, Mike Seeger’s wife, and recorded extensively in and around the DC area. Eventually, her poignant songs would find working-class films, like Harlan County USA and Babies and Banners. This song is great, a must for the Labor Day playlist.
Too Old To Work (Joe Glazer) This is one powerful song, by one powerful singer-songwriter. When he died at age 88, The LA Times reported, “Over a lifetime, Glazer performed at countless union rallies and conventions, civil rights marches and campaign rallies for Democratic Party candidates at all levels. His songs were meant to rouse, and they did. With his booming baritone voice, a thumping guitar, an infectious smile and a natural exuberance, Glazer intended to light up the venue, and he did. His songs were meant to rouse, and they did.” Put Glazer on your Labor Day playlist.
Land of the Bottom Line (John Gorka) John Gorka is a legend on the folk circuit for always having something important to say, with just the right touch. “I couldn’t bribe a wino on what I used to make, My Fortune was as sure as the wind…” Check out Gorka next time he plays in your hometown. A real original. Add this song to this year’s Labor Day playlist and you won’t be sorry.
Labor Day on History.Com
Woody Guthrie Foundation
Labor Heritage Foundation
“Joe Glazer, 88; Composer and Collector of Songs for the U.S. Labor Movement” in LA Times (September 22, 2006). As reprinted online at http://articles.latimes.com/2006/sep/22/local/me-glazer22
Rolling Stone Magazine
Reel Work – Labor Films
DC Labor Film Fest