Saturday, September 6, 2008

Work: W.O.R.K.

Bow Wow Wow: W.O.R.K. (N.O. Nah No No My Daddy Don't) Extended Version


Besides the Sex Pistols, if Malcolm McLaren ever stole brought anything to Pop music, it was the Burundi Beat. One of his bands, Bow Wow Wow, used it to excellent result in W.O.R.K. (N.O. Nah No No My Daddy Don't). The group was fronted by 14-year-old Annabella Lwin, who was discovered working in a launderette by a friend of McLaren's. In W.O.R.K., Annabella sings about demolition of the work ethic, how technology leads to autonomy - back in 1981, that seemed a bit silly. For those that work from their laptops on flex-time, not so much now.

Here's a rare video of W.O.R.K. uploaded by old school music blogger Lil Mike:


Bob Frank and John Murry - Bubba Rose, 1961


Well. What better way for me to end my participation in the work week that with the finality of death? In this song Bubba does the thing we've all wanted to do at one time or another...he shoots his boss.

What makes this song different than most (and the album for that matter) is that Bubba Rose was (is?) a real person and in 1961 he really did shoot his boss. Neither Bob nor John knew Bubba or his family. They just wrote the song based on a newspaper clipping. That's the case for all the tracks on their 2007 effort, World Without End. Yup, instead of the traditional murder ballad thing that's been done, redone, remixed, and undone many times before them, they took a different route. They decided to start researching stories about real murders and write about them as they happened, sans the morality and rationalization commonly present in such songs.

Here. You get Bubba Rose. In 1961, he killed his boss.

Work: The Life Cycle of a Coal Mining Town

One could conceivably create a musical about coal miners and the towns they lived in, using existing music.

In Act One, the coal company finds coal, and creates a new town where none existed before. Two songs eloquently describe the conditions in which the miners live and work. Autopsy IV has already done an amazing job of presenting these here and here

In Act Two, the miners form a union to try to improve their lot. There is a strike and this song is used during a strike montage sequence.

Sting: We Work the Black Seam


(Sting wrote We Work the Black Seam as an expression of solidarity with striking coal miners in England.)

During the strike, a few of the miners become desperate, and return to work before the strike is over, becoming strike breakers, or “scabs”. This song is used to convey the conflict between them and the miners who remain on strike.

Steeleye Span: Blackleg Miner


(After Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span is the best known of the British folk-rock bands. Over the years, many musicians have been official or unofficial members of both bands..)

In Act Three, the mine becomes played out. The coal company closes the mine, leaving behind a town with no further reason for being, and leaving the former miners and their families to fend for themselves. Sadly this actually happened far too often. This song closes the show.

Michelle Shocked: The L&N Don‘t Stop Here Anymore


(Michelle Shocked created the concept of “folk-punk” to describe her music. I believe that this is her first appearance on Star Maker Machine. I hope it won’t be her last. For another excellent version of this tune, seek out the one by Norman Blake.)

Friday, September 5, 2008

Work: More About John Henry

Tom T. Hall: More About John Henry


You've already heard about John Henry this week, thanks to Darius' great post.

Well, here's some more information about Mr. Henry from one of my all-time favorite songwriters.

And now you know the rest of the story.

Work: Keep On Working

Pete Townshend: Keep On Working


Unfortunately this song about the constant demands of work is too often the story of my life. Fortunately it's a nice little tune from an underrated album.

This Rhino Podcast has a great feature about Pete's Empty Glass, as well as a few other interesting items. Check it out!

Work: Weird Al

Weird Al Yankovic: Dog Eat Dog


Weird Al Yankovic: Callin' In Sick


Yeah. That's right. Weird Al.

Just for fun, here are two tracks from an artist I absolutely idolized as a kid. I still buy his new albums for a bit of nostalgic indulgence. You want to judge me? That's fine. I'm posting them anyway.

Of course, Al is known mostly for his parodies of hit songs, but he also writes original tunes too. Here are two of Al's originals that deal with the plight of the working man.

The first, "Dog Eat Dog," comes from the 1986 release Polka Party. In it, Al channels David Byrne in a Talking Heads style rant against corporate America.

"Callin' In Sick" is from 1997's Bad Hair Day and pays tribute to a time honored tradition in the work place... calling in sick to play hooky from work. Al details all of the strange and slightly gross things he plans to do with his day off.


Charlie Parr- Miner's Lament


I thought I'd follow my post of Sixteen Ton's with another about the plight of the miner. Making my posts this week sort of a mini-theme inside of a theme.

Duluth, Minnesota's, Charlie Parr plays a self-taught version of the Piedmont Blues that sounds like it’s hopped right off an Al Lomax field recording and into your living room. He has six albums to his name including 2004's King Earl which features this particular song.

Work: Cardboard Boxes

Rebekah: Cardboard Boxes


A lot of songs about work are about the struggle of the everyday working man. The laborer, the rat race, there's plenty of songs about those, but what about that more modern struggle of just getting that job in the first place? This song is about that struggle which is why I find it so unique. The struggle is not only in getting hired, but also in simply finding the motivation to get out of bed every morning and try again. All that, and it's also catchy and fun as well.

Rebekah Jordan released this one rock album back in 1997, back when female singer-songwriters were still being played on the radio. She had a single on the radio called "Sin So Well" that I enjoyed so I got her album. Since then that album "Remember to Breathe" has been relegated to the bargain bins, but I must say it's not because it lacked quality. I still love it, and this song in particular always stuck out to me because it was both lamenting and fun at the same time.

Gotta get a life
Gotta get it soon
'Cause rent is due
And cardboard boxes ain't cool.

Submitted by Anne of Curiously Tasty Music

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Work: Earn Enough for Us

XTC: Earn Enough for Us


All week we’ve been hearing about how work can be such a grind. So what keeps people going in dead-end jobs? Earn Enough for Us is one man’s answer.

Work: John Henry

In the 1880s, large numbers of newly freed slaves were hired to help build the railroads. In this period, the legend of John Henry was born.

One of the most important jobs at that time was cutting blasting holes into the sides of mountains; explosives were than placed in these holes to make tunnels. These blasting holes were originally cut by hand by men like John Henry, who wielded large hammers to accomplish the task. In time, technological advances brought the steam drill, and threatened these men’s jobs. The legend and the song tell of how John Henry had a contest against a steam drill to prove that he could perform as well as the machine that sought to replace him. The specifics of the contest are long outdated, but the theme of man versus technology is universal, and still very much with us today.

Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee: John Henry


Maybe that is why their are so many versions of the song. Here I am featuring the first version of John Henry I ever heard, by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. Their music springs from blues, but swells to encompass spirituals. It could be argued that their performance of John Henry is a secular spiritual.

When planning this post, I asked Boyhowdy to collaborate with me on it, by contributing cover versions and additional commentary. As some of you may be aware, his new job has him too busy this week to do so. But he did send me a truckload of versions to use as I saw fit. Here are a few of my favorites.

Woody Guthrie: John Henry


In Woody Guthrie’s hands, John Henry becomes a heroic tale of the working man. Guthrie has the listener believing that this is a Depression-era tale, when it is actually much older.

John Renbourn: John Henry


John Renbourn is a British folk artist and founding member of Pentangle. He reminds us that the British had their own railroad boom. Remember that Thomas the Tank Engine was originally British.

The Mammals: John Henry


The Mammals prove that John Henry works very well as a bluegrass number.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Work: Charlie Dunn

Jerry Jeff Walker: Charlie Dunn


This would have been a great song for the Footwear theme, but I hadn’t stumbled upon SMM at that time. It fits equally well as tribute to an under-appreciated worker.

These days, people don’t think twice about their footwear. They just go to the nearest shoe store and get a new pair. But, especially for day labor-ers, good boots are the most important thing they put on each day. Here, Jerry Jeff pays homage to the lost art of the boot-maker. Charlie Dunn is portrayed as a humble, little man with a gift for making custom boots.

“Charlie’s been makin’ boots over there,
he says about 50 some-odd years.
Once you wear a pair of his hand-made boots,
you know, you’ll never wear a store-bought pair.
Charlie can tell what’s wrong with your feet,
just by feelin’ em with his hands.
He can take a look at the boots you wear,
and know a whole lot about the man.”

Here’s to the modern-day cobbler, the man behind every American Worker.


Johnny Cash - Sixteen Tons


No work themed week would be complete without this song.

Sixteen Tons was originally written and recorded by Merle Travis in 1946 but it was Tennessee Ernie Ford's cover in 1955 that put the song on the Billboard charts.

Sixteen Tons laments the miseries of coal mining and the debt bondage system where workers were not paid cash; rather they were paid with unexchangeable credit vouchers for goods at the company store making it impossible for workers to accumulate any cash savings.

Work: The Old Figurehead Carver

Gordon Bok: The Old Figurehead Carver


When I was in high school, I had a good friend who introduced me to many wonderful folk artists. His knowledge was much deeper than mine ever became, so I heard of but never heard Gordon Bok. That didn’t change until I discovered Kat’s wonderful blog, [Keep the Coffee Coming] . So, with this post, I would like to thank Kat for turning me on to so much wonderful folk music.

“The Old Figurehead Carver” is a change of pace, compared to the other songs posted as I write this: here is a man who loves his work and feels fulfilled by it. Incidentally, Gordon Bok knows what he is talking about in this song: Bok is not only a folk musician, but also a wood carver.

Note: if you are concerned about bit rates, be aware that Kat posts all of her songs at 32 kps. I still recommend you make Coffee a regular stop, even if you get the songs elsewhere. If you don’t know what bit rates are, please disregard this note.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Work: Welcome To The Working Week

Elvis Costello: Welcome To The Working Week


If you are going to make rock and roll your career, then you need come strong with your first album. Make a good impression and all.

How did Elvis Costello start his rock and roll career?

With this clever and memorable first line from the first song on his first LP:

“Now that your picture’s in the paper being rhythmically admired
and you can have anyone that you have ever desired,
all you gotta tell me now is why why why why…”

“Rhythmically admired.” Heh. What a way with words Elvis has.

Can you think of another artist or band whose first line on their first album was so good?


Willard Grant Conspiracy - The Work Song


There is only one good thing about work. Leaving. Be it for the day or the weekend.

Willard Grant Conspiracy is vocalist Robert Fisher and a rotating cast of some 30 members depending upon who's available at the time.

The Work Song comes from their 2004 effort, There But for The Grace Of God.

Work: In Tall Buildings

John Hartford: In Tall Buildings


I hate work. They say it's harder to be in charge of a business, but I know I won't be happy with my career until I'm my own boss, with my own terms. And I'm not meaning to live a life like John's, few have a career so fantastic. I just want the hell out of this office.

Considering how every workday I trudge through the subway crowd (like so), wearing clothes and tucked in shirts that make me feel ill, sit in front of the screen, and feel half of my life slip away... this song really resonates.

Gillian has a nice version too.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Work: Millworker

James Taylor: Millworker (1979)


James Taylor: Millworker (live, 1994)

[out-of-print, from 2 Meter Sessies, Vol. 5]

Written for the score of the musical Working, which was in turn based on the Studs Terkel novel of the same name, James Taylor's Millworker found its way to his 1979 album Flag, which I discovered long ago buried among the rest of Taylor's catalog in my father's record collection. Neither the play nor the album were terribly well received, but I've always liked this song, and ol' JT clearly does, too, or he wouldn't keep recording it, trying to find just the right balance between the resignation and the desperation of the narrator, a widowed blue-collar millworker and mother from my home state of Massachusetts.

The second version above is from a long out-of-print collection from the 2 Meter Sessies series, which feature amazing live performances of various artists originally performed for Dutch TV and radio. Like much of Taylor's work in the mid nineties, it is mellow and pensive, even moreso than the original, which was a slow standout on an album otherwise dominated by the kind of easy listening poprock (Up On The Roof, a cheesy cover of Day Tripper) that keeps most folks from taking him seriously today.

I'd say more, but I start a new union job tomorrow morning, and I really need to get some sleep.

Work: Joe Hill

Joan Baez: Joe Hill


I can think of no better way to observe Labor Day than to recall its original meaning. The first Labor Day was celebrated in New York City in 1882. It became a national holiday in 1894. The holiday celebrated the working man and the labor movement.

Today, labor unions are regarded by many with suspicion or even outright disdain. It is all too easy to forget that the early days of the labor movement brought about worker’s rights that we now take for granted: the minimum wage, overtime rules, and required paid breaks are only the tip of the iceberg. And the men and women of the early unions were heroes who risked their lives for the rights we all enjoy now.

One such hero was Joe Hill. Hill was an organizer with the International Workers of the World (IWW) or Wobblies. He was also a songwriter, rallying pro-labor protesters with his music. In 1914, Hill was framed for the murders of John and Arling Robinson. Although some accounts say Hill was guilty, the more evidence you examine, the shakier the case against him becomes. In 1915, Hill was executed by a firing squad.

On his death, Joe Hill became a martyr. He became a symbol of the (often violent) struggle for workers rights. In 1969, Hill was still a hero to labor organizers and those sympathetic to them. The song “Joe Hill”, originally written in 1936, was still well known. When Joan Baez performed “Joe Hill” at Woodstock, it quickly became one of her signature songs.

Work: Workin' Man Blues

Merle Haggard: Workin' Man Blues


Merle Haggard was always a champion of the common man... the working man. He captured the life of the working man perfectly here on "Workin' Man Blues."

The working man takes pride in his craft. And while he may dream of having some time off or skipping out on his responsibilities all together, he goes right back to work with the crew on Monday morning. He may work til he drops... but he'll keep right on going until he can't go anymore.

Work: Working In The Coal Mine

Lee Dorsey: Working In The Coal Mine


Working In A Coal Mine brought together two Kings of the New Orleans music community - its greatest composer, Allen Toussaint and R&B singer/songwriter/musician, Lee Dorsey. It's hard to hear the words "coal mine" and not think of this song. Listening to Lee plaintively ask "how long can this go on?" causes me to start thinking of my nice comfy bed.

With Hurricane Gustav bearing down towards New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, let's send good thoughts to the folks living in the danger zone. I couldn't imagine what it would be like having yet another disaster hit the area in just three years time.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Work: I Can't Wait To Get Off Work

Tom Waits: I Can't Wait To Get Off Work - Story

Tom Waits: I Can't Wait To Get Off Work


Back in 1999, Tom Waits recorded an episode of VH1 Storytellers at LA's Burbank Airport, of all places. In "I Can't Wait To Get Off Work", Tom sings about being a cabbie, stock clerk, soda fountain jock jerk and a manic mechanic on cars. The first sound file is the story behind the song - enjoy!

Work: Julie's Been Working For The Drug Squad

The Clash: Julie's Been Working For The Drug Squad


No one said anything about honest work when this theme was introduced, did they?

Work: Work To Do

The Isley Brothers: Work To Do


Work To Do to finds the Isley Brothers in a transitional stage. In the 60s, they were a standard issue R&B band, complete with "doo wap" choruses. But during the 70s, while adding a younger crop of Isley instrumentalists, they became more socially conscience, with songs like Fight The Power and The Pride.

Oh I'm out here trying to make it, baby can't you see
It takes a lot of money to make it, let's talk truthfully
So keep your love light burning and a little food hot in my plate
You might as well get used to me coming home a little late

Work: Workin' For The Man

Roy Orbison: Workin' For The Man


Hey now you better listen to me everyone of you
We've got a lotta lotta lotta lotta work to do
Forget about your women and that water can
Today were working for the man.

I hate the man.

Work: 9 To 5

Dolly Parton: 9 To 5


I thought I would get this one out of the way! It was bound to come up, as we all feel like this sometimes, right?