Power house mechanic working on steam pump
by Lewis Hine, 1920. (Wikipedia)
[Music for Labor Day Weekend 2020] -- I haven't had a full time job since I was laid off in February 2019. And, thanks to a global pandemic, I know many others are likewise unemployed, at least for the foreseeable future. Still, many others are in the difficult position of having work but not necessarily a safe working environment. And we should be mindful of the issues that were already impacting Working America prior to the pandemic. So, as we enter our latest Labor Day holiday weekend, how about a few songs from our 1980s catalog that highlight work, labor, and unions? Read and hear more after the break!
Flashback #1: "We bring more than a paycheck to our loved ones and family."
Written by Y.M. Barnwell circa 1981, and beautifully recorded by Sweet Honey in the Rock in 1988, "More Than A Paycheck" resounds with meaning. On one hand, you can hear the message that a job is more than a paycheck. Much more importantly, the words vividly describe what else laborers often bring home to their families: "We bring asbestosis, silicosis, brown lung, black lung disease. And radiation hits the children before they've even been conceived." And, in still far too many cases, when workers speak up about the dangers and ill effects of their jobs, they are ignored or simply replaced.
Flashback #2: "Now the lessons of the past | Were all learned with workers' blood."
Billy Bragg is no stranger to political activism in music. And his 1986 album, Talking with the Taxman About Poetry, was no exception. Among the gems on this record is the non single track, "There Is Power in a Union," which shares, perhaps, a kindred spirit with Joe Hill's 1913 protest song of the same title.
Flashback #3: "Someday, mister, I'm gonna lead a better life than this."
Bruce Springsteen has made a career of crafting anthems for the working stiff. Some are much more popular than others. But "Working on the Highway" -- the fourth track on Side A of his seventh studio album, Born in the U.S.A. (1984) -- is an under-appreciated gem. It's a direct examination of how a dead-end job can adversely impact a person and their desperate choices.
Bonus Flashback: "It's a sacrifice working day to day | For little money, just tips for pay | But it's worth it all | To hear them say that they care."
Is there truly a better choice for a playlist about work and working than Donna Summer's chart-topping 1983 hit, "She Works Hard for the Money"? Peaking at #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart, and #3 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the Dance Club Play charts, "She Works Hard for the Money" was one of the most popular songs of 1983. But beyond the dance beats and Summer's excellent voice, this tune highlights the hard work and exhaustion that many a blue-collar woman still experiences to this day.
That's all till next week. Dedicated 80s-philes can find more flashbacks in the Prophet or Madman archives or via Bookended's 80s Flashback tag. As always, your comments are welcome on today's, or any other, flashback post. And if you like what I'm doing here, please share the link with your friends. If, however, you don't like the flashback, feel free to share it with your enemies.
I'll see you in seven!