It’s time to clock in—we’ve got the 40 Hardest Working Songs in Country Music.
Today, Sept. 1, we’re featuring #11–20.
Country music throughout the decades has not only embraced its working class roots, it’s made a point to praise them. Yes, work is tough, as Merle Haggard wrote in “Workin’ Man’s Blues” or as George Strait sang in “Amarillo by Morning.” But to the hardcore country fan, hard work and sticking to it also represents a badge of pride. That’s why so many country songs are devoted to the working class—after all, it’s the core audience.
As we observe Labor Day on Monday, Sept. 5, we’ve picked 40—in honor of the 40-hour workweek—country songs that truly get to the heart of the working man and woman.
So, take a little time from your stressful day, kick back and savor these 40 songs—only one from each artist—about what all of you do every day: namely, keep this country moving with your work and dedication.
#20. “Eat at Joe’s”
Food service is difficult, thankless work—a combination of salesperson and shrink, as this jazzy album gem from Suzy makes clear. At an all night diner, she peddles greasy food and attends to the drunks and night owls of the world for measly tips, hoping her Prince Charming may one day sit at a table.
#19. “Runnin’ Behind”
A big chunk of folks out there can count on having to work their whole lives and maybe never feel totally secure. Tracy’s “Runnin’ Behind” is a lighthearted look at that grim reality, which means the fragile balance can come crashing down if the car won’t start.
#18. “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses”
Longtime trucker Charlie is rolling those big wheels one last time before he hangs up his driving hat, to spend the rest of his life with the one that he loves. Writers Gene and Paul Nelson penned this song so perfectly and with such loving detail that you actually conjure up a mental picture of its hard-working protagonist. This won CMA Single of the Year in 1988.
Kenny Chesney & George Strait
Holding down inconvenient hours at the convenience store is nothing but a bunch of shiftwork. And they are saying “shiftwork,” right? Because the way they extend the first syllable almost sounds like . . . well, you get the picture. Amazing how a song about the monotony of everyday work can actually sound fresh and non-repetitious.
#16. “Hard Hat and a Hammer”
Country’s patron saint of working people, Alan gives kudos to the blue-collar workers who put in their house and never complain about the call of duty. The upbeat song also features the sound of Alan striking an anvil once owned by his father, who passed away in 2000.
The sawmill of Mel’s tune is a grueling place where no worker ever turns a profit. The character singing can’t even scrape together enough cash to keep his woman living in the same town. Not that he needed any more excuses to get out, but not being able to provide for family is a good sign it’s time to move on.
#14. “East Bound and Down”
Leave it to Jerry Reed to upshift the unsavory occupation of bootlegging beer into an anthem for every truck-driving Southerner with an unquenchable thirst for adventure. When The boys are thirsty in Atlanta and there’s beer in Texarkana, the big-riggin’ Snowman will bring it back no matter what it takes.
Johnny Paycheck may have told his boss to take this job and shove it, but Johnny Cash’s hard-working man doesn’t tell his supervisor, Oney, anything. On his last day on the job, he plans to show him who’s really the boss. And the chuckle that Cash releases at the end sounds a little “been there, done that.”
#12. “Working Man”
With a simple title of “Working Man,” John Conlee does what he does best: painting a picture of working for a man who is never satisfied. John examines several different professions and reveals that each has its own struggles that slowly wear down the worker just trying to make ends meet.
#11. “John Henry”
Bill Monroe’s bluegrass ballad “John Henry” gives a literal connotation to the phrase “working yourself to death.” The song chronicles the folktale of John Henry, a steel-driving man for the railroad who lives up to his premonition that outworking the steam-powered drill will lead to his death, proving that sometimes it pays to half-ass a job.