Labor Day Playlist

by J.A. Myerson

Here: fifteen songs about work, workers and unions — some of them are obvious choices, others are from a little farther afield. Enjoy, and a happy Labor Day, even though…

1. Mos Def – Worker’s Comp

The best song to come out of the Great Recession so far.

2. Sam Cooke – Chain Gang

Do you realize what a radical song this was, coming from the dude whose previous big hit was Wonderful World and before that Everybody Likes to Cha Cha Cha?

3. Dan Reeder – Work Song

Can’t get no more honest than that.

4. Leonard Cohen – Solidarity Forever

I really like Cohen’s articulation of this one, don’t you?

5. The Almanac Singers and Pete Seeger – We Shall Not Be Moved

I had to struggle to choose which of the classic union songs I would present Pete’s version of. This one ultimately won, though everyone should hear Mavis Staples do it as well.

6. Old Crow Medicine Show – Union Maid

Why isn’t Woody’s version of this on YouTube? Mysterious. Anyhow, OCMS captures the spirit of the thing, I think. We need an alternative last verse to the Lady’s Auxiliary one.

7. Bob Dylan – Maggie’s Farm

That dude was angry, huh? 

8. Tom Morello – Which Side Are You On?

Sarah likes this version because of Morello’s hot voice. Can’t really blame her. Otherwise, I would have posted Pete’s version.

9. Joan Baez and Mimi Farina – Bread and Roses

Everyone should know about this project, if they don’t already. Also, I refer to this article anyone who objects to my use of “they” as a singular gender-neutral pronoun.

10. Jimmy Reed – Big Boss Man

Most bosses are such shit, right?!

11. The Coup – IJustWannaLayAroundAllDayInBedWithYou

There is nothing about this song I don’t love. One of the greatest labor songs in history, and nobody counts it as such.

12. Lee Dorsey – Working In The Coal Mine

Listen to his articulation of those lines and that harmonic phrasing. Gold.

13. James Taylor – Millworker

This is from “Working,” a musical based on the Turkel oral history (and one that I was in, incidentally) — total tearjerker.

14. XTC – Earn Enough for Us

Apart from the ’80s-ness of the production value, this album is such great pop music, really on a level with anything post-Beatles. The earnestness of the sentiment expressed in the lyrics is also impressive.

15. Paul Robeson – Joe Hill

Nothing to be said here. The master performing the great labor ballad. Close your eyes and dive in.