Gary Littman


Garry Littman is the owner and director of The Language House in Geneva which organises English language training for professional people, companies and students. He was a radio and newspaper journalist in his native Australia and ran a restaurant in Kathmandu in his younger days. He is an English language trainer and an aficionado of pétanque.

Songs about work

It’s been a hard day’s night and I’d been work’in like a dog…

Work is a relatively modern human activity. Anthropologists believe that our hunter and gatherer ancestors spent about four hours a day searching for food. The rest of the time was leisure.

Today many of us slave, slog, serve, strain, sweat and stress 40 or 50 hours per week, 48 weeks a year. We rise from our beds in the dark and Heigh Hi, Heigh Ho, off to work to we go, and return home in the dark. We are slaves to the 9 to 5 rhythm? Are you work’in like a dog?  Here are 14 songs about work to help you get through another manic Monday.

Which songs are we missing?

1. 9 to 5 - Dolly Parton 1980
A bright and bouncy song with some dark lyrics from the film of the same title. The song and film became an anthem for female American office workers in the 80s.

Barely getting by / It’s all takin’ and no givin’ / They just use your mind/ and they never give you credit.

Listen here

2. Chain Gang - Sam Cooke 1960

The song was inspired by a chance meeting with an actual chain-gang of prisoners on a highway, while Sam was on tour. According to legend, Sam Cooke and his brother Charles felt sorry for the men and gave them several cartons of cigarettes. You can hear the clink of the metal chains.

Listen here

 3. Hard Day’s Night -The Beatles 1964

The title of the single, album and the film came from a Ringo Starr malapropism.

“We went to do a job, and we'd worked all day and we happened to work all night. I came out still thinking it was day I suppose, and I said, 'It's been a hard day...' and I looked around and saw it was dark so I said, '...night!'", the Beatles drummer told a DJ in 1964.

It's been a hard day's night, and I'd been working like a dog
It's been a hard day's night, I should be sleeping like a log
But when I get home to you I find the things that you do
Will make me feel alright
You know I feel alright
You know I feel alright

The film trailer

 4. Heigh Ho – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs 1937

Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, it’s off to work we go...Seven dwarfs sing about the joys of working in a mine. Walt Disney introduced hundreds of millions of children to the pleasure of digging underground from dawn to dusk.

Well, we dig dig dig
Well, we dig in our mine the whole day through
Dig dig dig, that is what we like to do
And it ain't no trick to get rich quick
If you dig dig dig, with a shovel and a pick
Dig dig dig, the whole day through

Listen here

Tom Waits’ version adds a few shovelfuls of social realism to the fairy tale.

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 5. Slave to the Rhythm – Grace Jones 1985

A song about slavery in Afro-American history or is about the exploitation of musicians by record companies…?

Axe to wood in ancient time / Man machine, power line / Fires burn, hearts beat strong / Sing out loud the chain gang song

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 6. Get Up - Chinese Man 2012

A funked-up and fun version of a 1950s folk song by the French trip hop collective which features the immortal lines:

Get up, get out, you lazy lout
Get into your working clothes
Up to your knees in oil and grease
And a grindstone to your nose

Read more here and listen here

 7. Five O’clock World by The Vogues 1965

Who’s lucky enough to finish work at 5 o’clock nowadays?

Up every mornin just to keep a job
I gotta fight my way through the hustling mob
Sounds of the city poundin in my brain
While another day goes down the drain

Listen here

8.  Manic Monday by The Bangles 1986

Prince wrote and recorded this song in 1984 but then put it aside. Two years later, he offered it to The Bangles, an all-women group based in LA. When Prince offers you a song you don’t say no. You sing: Heigh ho, Heigh ho, it’s off to the recording studio we go…
It's just another manic Monday
I wish it were Sunday
'Cause that's my fun day
I don't have to run day

Listen here

9. Working for the Man - Roy Orbison 1962

An ode to a summer working in the oil fields from “the Big O”. The term "the Man" is a slang phrase reference to a corporation or government in a position of power.

Oh well I'm pickin' 'em up and I'm laying 'em down
I believe he's gonna work me into the ground
I pull to the left I heave to the right
I wanna kill him but it wouldn't be right

Listen here

10. Money - Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd reminds us why we work so hard.

Money, get away
Get a good job with more pay and you're O.K.
Money, it's a gas
Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash
New car, caviar, four star daydream,
Think I'll buy me a football team

Listen here

11. Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos) - Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie documented the Great Depression with his guitar. This song was initially a poem written in 1948 after the crash of a plane carrying about 35 Mexican farm labourers. It speaks of the inhuman treatment of Mexican migrant workers. Probably just as relevant today.

Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted / Our work contract’s out and we have to move on / Six hundred miles to that Mexican border/ They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves

Listen here: Bob Dylan and Joan Baez duet  


 12. Working In The Coal Mine - Lee Dorsey - (1966)

 This song is about a man who gets up at 5am in order to work in the coal mine. When the weekend arrives, he's too exhausted to have any fun.

Five o'clock in the mornin'
I'm already up and gone
Lord, I'm so tired
How long can this go on?

Listen here

13. Work B**ch  - Britney Spears 2013

Britney shares her secret of success.

You want a hot body? You want a Bugatti? You want a Maserati? / You better work bitch / You want a Lamborghini? Sip martinis? Look hot in a bikini? / You better work bitch / You wanna live fancy? Live in a big mansion? / Party in France? / You better work bitch, you better work bitch / You better work bitch, you better work bitch / Now get to work bitch! / Now get to work bitch!

Listen here

14. How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live? - Blind Alfred Reed

 Recorded in December 1929 in New York City during the Great Depression. Blind Alfred Reed on fiddle and vocals and his son Arville Reed on guitar.

There once was a time when everything was cheap,
But now prices nearly puts a man to sleep.
When we pay our grocery bill,
We just feel like making our

Listen here

Have we missed any great songs about work?

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