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Songs for Labor Day

posted Sep 1, 2012, 1:28 PM by Steven Vaughan
Whether you love your job, dislike it or just wish you had one, celebrate all the joys and pains that come along with work by listening to a song about labor...

A century ago, in December 1911, James Oppenheim published his classic labor poem Bread and Roses; though most people know it from Judy Collins recording it with Mimi Farina and her sister Joan Baez.  Four years later, while covering the Kanawa coal-miners' strike in West Virginia, labor activist Ralph Chaplin writes Solidarity Forever, which has became one of the most famous union anthems thanks to Pete Seeger, the late Utah Phillips and The Nightwatchman.  It even has a hip hop version by Emcee Lynx.  And speaking of coal-miners, Tennessee Ernie Ford scored an unexpected hit in 1955 with his rendition of Sixteen Tons, a sparsely arranged  lament Merle Travis wrote about his family's experience in the mines of Kentucky. 

Not many songs deal with employee-employer relations in such a direct manner as Bob Dylan's Maggie's Farm.  Rolling Stones' Salt of the Earth salutes the common workers of the world.  Working Class Hero is from John Lennon's first post-Beatles solo album, and tells the story of individuals growing up and being processed into the middle-class of the mid-20th century.  And if you listen to Career Opportunities, you don't have to know much about The Clash to know these guys were pro-labor, pro-working class, pro-union and pro-little guy.

Winning Grammy Awards for both “Best Country Song” and “Best Country Vocal Performance, Female”, Dolly Parton's 9 to 5 owes its title to an organization founded in 1973 with the aim of bringing about better treatment for women in the workplace. 

Bruce Springsteen was inspired to write Youngstown and The New Timer after reading Dale Maharidge's book Journey to Nowhere: The Saga of the New Underclass, chronicling the story of middle-class Americans who lost their jobs and had become hobos, riding freight trains like in the Great Depression.
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