It’s time to clock in—we’ve got the 40 Hardest Working Songs in Country Music.
Today, Sept. 2, we’re featuring #1–10.
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.
#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.