It’s time to clock in—we’ve got the 40 Hardest Working Songs in Country Music.
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. 4, 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.
#40. “Beat Me Down”
Whether it’s a foreman breathing down your neck, a boss riding your butt, or logging too many miles on the road until it feels like my brain is fried, feels like my soul is dead, a beatdown is a beatdown. Have a drink and listen to Wade Bowen’s thumping rocker. You’ll feel better. And, as Wade suggests, you’ll get back up again.
#39. “The Dollar”
Don’t get so busy making a living, you forget to make a life. That’s the message in this heartbreaking ode to the hard-workin’ man, whose son wants to pay Daddy a fair wage for a little of his time. Jamey’s typically gravelly voice softens in this tune making it worthy of two tear-filled tissues.
#38. “This F***ing Job”
The title says a mouthful, but DBT does more than put into verse the way many people feel about trying to live on fast food wages. There’s the underlying message of chasing your dream, and when you accomplish it, knowing you have to work extra hard because that crappy old day job is still nipping at your heels.
#37. “Amarillo Sky”
Thanks to an incredible arrangement that builds within the verses to a pleading chorus, a visual-filled lyric that includes lines like On his knees every night he prays “Please let my crops and children grow,” and Jason’s almost crying vocal, you can feel he anxiety that the farmers honored in this song have every growing season.
#36. “Family Man”
Even temp work is better than no work in Craig Campbell’s aching ballad about living paycheck to paycheck. From wondering how he’ll buy food for his babies, to paying for a used truck over time, it’s real life in 4/4 time.
#35. “Call the Captain”
Steep Canyon Rangers
The Steep Canyon Rangers’ despondent bluegrass ballad about the perils of coalmining sounds like it could have been written a century earlier. Within that turn-of-the-century aura is the relatable everyman struggle of yearning for a better life outside of the mines where there are clear blue skies and a whole lot more.
#34. “Long Hot Summer Day”
The Turnpike Troubadours took the John Hartford bluegrass ditty, which harkens back to the Twainesque era of working on barges and tugboats, and punched it up with an electrifying fiddle solo and boot-stomping beat that almost makes working on the Illinois River in the summer heat sound idyllic.
#33. “Working in the Coal Mine”
The Judds reference a classic work song setting in their take on “Working in the Coal Mine,” originally a hit for R&B singer Lee Dorsey. Along with anvil noises, the lyrics are pure, searching misery wondering when the hardship will end, while the upbeat arrangement adds an almost-jeering counterpoint.
#32. “Workin’ Man (Nowhere to Go)”
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Being out of work is tough, and the situation never sounded grimmer than in the Dirt Band’s late ’80s hit. You feel for the guy’s shame and embarrassment, both professionally and socially, of not being able to find gainful employment.
#31. “One More Dollar”
This folky tune from the Americana darling depicts a day laborer in the orchards who yearns to return home to his family. He puts his money away a dollar at a time, but with the freezing branches and a bad roll in a dice game, it’s unlikely he’ll ever make it.
#30. “Drinking Class”
There’s not a dang thing wrong with earning an honest living breaking your back and working up a sweat. In fact, it’s a source of pride as Lee Brice boasts in this anthemic salute to working hard and playing harder.
#29. “Something More”
At some point, we all have the sneaking suspicion that we’re wasting our lives eight hours (or more) a day at work. This breakout Sugarland hit floats the idea that we should work to live, not live to work and that bigger and better may be out there somewhere.
Robert Earl Keen
There’s a tender ache in REK’s voice as he sings about Mariano, a virtuous Mexican laborer who works just like a piston in an engine so he can send his family all his weekly wages, saving nothing for himself. Eventually deported and unaccounted for, Mariano’s plight for a better life becomes too haunting to forget.
#27. “Workin’ for a Livin’”
Garth Brooks & Huey Lewis
’80s faves Huey Lewis and the News, whose members collaborated on the song, were a blues/rock band at heart. But they had plenty of country in their souls. With lines like, Damned if you do / Damned if you don’t / I’m supposed to get a raise next week / You know damn well I won’t, this tapped right into the frustrations of the average working stiff. Garth and Huey pound it out with fervor.
#26. “The Factory”
Kenny’s touching tune about the daily struggles of a factory worker with a family of nine serves as a poignant reminder that it’s OK to dream bigger, but don’t forget to be thankful for what you have. That’s why Papa got down on his knees and prayed, Please help me through another day / Thank you, Lord, for my job down at the factory.
#25. “One More Payment”
Why do we work so hard? Livin’ isn’t free, unfortunately, and there’s always some damn house payment to be made or car that needs to be fixed. Clint’s bright, Texas swing arrangement adds a touch of levity to the proceedings, but this much is clear: we get out of our obligations only when we check out for good.
#24. “Blowin’ Smoke”
Let’s be honest. Every job, no matter how much you love it, can be a grind now and then, but if you’re on your feet all day slingin’ hash, making less than minimum wage and pulling doubles for the tips, the grinds are a little greater. Kacey nails the attitude of a waitress who doesn’t have a damn left to give.
#23. “Cafe on the Corner”
This classic pays homage to a farmer forced from his fields because of falling prices. He’s relegated to sipping coffee at a local cafe, feeling completely out of place, and wondering if he’ll ever tend to the earth again.
#22. “I’m Tryin'”
With his rumbling baritone, Trace Adkins can convey a message like no other, and in “I’m Tryin,” he vacillates between anxiety and apology for simply doing the best he can to provide for his family and make his daddy proud. Listen to the original on his Chrome album. The opening strings will break your heart.
#21. “Lord Have Mercy on the Working Man”
Travis Tritt’s spin on the working man’s anthem highlights the economic imbalance of working people and the wealthy. The working man breaks his back to break even, while the wealthy man dances unawares. It’s as relevant today as it was in ’92.
#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.
#10. “Six Days on the Road”
The life of a long-haul trucker is lonely and exhausting, white lines stretching on to infinity with nothing but coffee to keep you going and your loved ones miles away for days at a time. Dave Dudley perfectly captured that in this classic trucking tune, which has been covered by George Jones, Sawyer Brown, Steve Earle, George Thorogood and many others.
#9. “Workin’ Man’s PhD”
Aaron surely knew about blue-collar life, having worked at an aluminum company while he was trying to make it as an artist. In this hit, he pays sincere tribute to the men and women who get up early and put in long hours to build America and keep it running. It’s not something you learn in a college course—you earn those credits in sweat.
#8. “Coal Miner’s Daughter”
This iconic tune was pure biography for Loretta—born into a family of eight kids in Appalachia, Loretta witnessed her coal mining father breaking his back to put food on the table. Her mother’s hands bled from the washboard she used on the clothes. Luxuries for the kids were few and life was hard, but Loretta remains defiantly proud of how she grew up.
#7. “Forty Hour Week (For a Livin’)”
About the time this was released in the mid-1980s, the American industrial worker was being given the boot by the government and society in general. So along came this song that paid proper respect to the Detroit auto worker, the folks in the Pittsburgh steel mills and the Kansas wheat field farmer, all name-checked in the lyrics, by the way. A great big thank-you to a deserving group of people.
#6. “Hard Workin’ Man”
Brooks & Dunn
It’s good to take pride in your work, which is exactly what Brooks & Dunn say in the title track of their sophomore album. The people they describe end each day with calloused hands and sweat on their brows, but still look forward to getting up the next day just to do it again.
#5. “Amarillo by Morning”
It’s the definitive ode to the traveling rodeo cowboy, but those who toil in any occupation could make it their own. What makes this tune a little different is the plaintive joy it evokes, even in the midst of the cowboy’s broken bones and endless miles of travel. As the third verse sums up, I ain’t got a dime, but what I got is mine/ I ain’t rich, but Lord I’m free. Surprisingly, this never hit the top spot for George, even though some consider it his signature song.
#4. “Sixteen Tons”
Tennessee Ernie Ford
There is a bucket load of coalmining songs on this list but none of them are as heartbreaking—or backbreaking—as Tennessee Ernie Ford’s forlorn tale of wasting away down in the mines. You load sixteen tons, what do you get? / Another day older and deeper in debt sounds depressing enough, but when you factor in the debt bondage of owing you soul to the company store, it makes you thankful that labor unions put and end to the truck system.
#3. ‘Take This Job and Shove It”
Who hasn’t wanted to walk up to the boss at least once in their lives and declare this working man’s manifesto? And who better to serve as spokesman than the gritty Mr. Paycheck himself? But even Johnny has to admit that it’s a fantasy at best, as the lyrics declare, I’d give the shirt right off of my back/If I had the guts to say/Take this job and shove it. Still, as fantasies go, it’s pretty kicking. This classic spent two weeks at No. 1 in 1978.
#2. “Workin’ Man’s Blues”
Merle wrote this as a tribute to the folks that largely made up his core audience: the blue-collar working class. It’s part lament and part declaration of pride, as Merle brilliantly describes the can’t-get-out-from-under existence of the average working guy. But because our main character works so diligently, he’s “never been on welfare” and furthermore, never will be. That’s the working man to a “T.
#1. “9 to 5″
Even in the corporate world, anyone not at the top of the food chain is drained of valuable resources and slowly ground down one day at a time. Dolly masterfully illustrated that in her Grammy-winning classic from the film of same name: they use your mind and they never give you credit, she says, but the workers keep showing up. But in keeping with the buoyant, danceable disco beat of the tune, there’s a sliver of hope in Dolly’s message. The boss can’t take away your dreams, and one of these days the tide is going to turn for the better. It almost sounds like she’s talking about revolution.