Work Songs

Posted on by Julie Tisdale Pardi, MA


The 2015 American Music Awards air this Sunday, November 22nd (8 pm EST in case you’re interested). Why is NIOSH blogging about this you may ask? Well, we’ve blogged about workplace safety and health themes in: movies twice (three times if you count the recent blog on James Bond’s occupational hazards), books, the theater, and figured it was time we looked at music to see if safety and health is represented in this medium. Turns out, we are not the only ones who have thought about this.  In honor of Labor Day,  Billboard released a list of 20 songs about Working for the Man, HitFix posted the 15 Greatest Songs About Working for a Living, the Tucson Sentinel collected Songs for Labor Day: Union tunes & working man blues, and NPR shared Labor Day Blues and Grooves. Song Facts’ list of Songs About Working  is pretty comprehensive, including the Banana Boat Song, Flamethrower, and Heigh-Ho (yes, by the Seven Dwarfs).  There is also Top 10 ’80s Songs About Work, Oldies For Workers, and Taste of Country’s 10 Best Work Songs. In 1999, the Smithsonian’s released Blues Routes: Heroes and Tricksters: Blues and Jazz Work Songs and Street Music and the Colonial Williamsburg website includes Slave Work Songs.

Work is a universal theme and there is truly something for everyone. Admittedly, all of these songs do not delve into safety and health issues but the majority touch on themes that impact workers’ overall well-being (think long hours, stress, unemployment, lack of control over work tasks, and low pay).

See if your favorite is on one of these lists (warning – some of the music sites may be blocked by your workplace) or just post your top pick it in the comment section. To get you thinking, we’ve included a few songs below:

  • She Works Hard for the Money – Donna Summer
  • Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald – Gordon Lightfoot
  • Industrial Disease – Dire Straits
  • Work Hard Play Hard – Wiz Khalifa
  • Working on the Highway – Bruce Springsteen
  • Working in the Coal Mine – Lee Dorsey
  • Allentown – Billy Joel
  • Working Man Blues – Merle Haggard
  • 9 to 5 – Dolly Parton
  • Shiftwork – Kenny Chesney and George Strait
  • Sixteen Tons – Tennessee Ernie Ford

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention that listening to your favorite work anthem too loudly can cause music-induced hearing loss. Those who work in the music industry are also at risk for noise-induced hearing loss (see related blog).

After reading this blog maybe you’ll add She Works Hard for the Money or Working in the Coal Mine to your playlist.

**Note:  We posted a List of Songs with Workplace Safety and Health Themes based on reader contributions on 12/18/2015 and will continue to update it as suggestions come in.

Julie Tisdale Pardi, MA

NIOSH Science Blog Coordinator

Posted on by Julie Tisdale Pardi, MA

19 comments on “Work Songs”

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    And let’s not forget how many times we read about falls by singers/members of band during their concerts.

    REM’s “Finest Worksong” is a great one (and on the same album as “Oddfellows Local 151”–a title that brings organized labor to mind).

    I’m glad to see a Bruce Springsteen song in the mix, as working men and women are often the protagonists in his lyrics.

    This is a fun post for those of us who are passionate about OSH. Thanks for sharing.

    A Hard Day’s Night and Lovely Rita – Beatles
    Sail on Sailor – Beach Boys
    My Old Man – Steve Goodman
    My Name Joe – David Massengill
    Pasture’s of Plenty – Woody Guthrie

    While not strictly related to a “work” theme, one of my favorite theme songs for EHS professionals is The Safety Dance by Men Without Hats.

    This is a different twist on safety which I think is refreshing. In today’s workplace employees need something new and fresh to remind them to think “Safety”. The same ole same ole gets mundane and overlooked. Thanks for the ideas!

    Wreck of the Old 97 – 1924, said to be the first million-selling country music record – nine men on a train crew die in a high-speed derailment and wreck. Based on an actual disaster

    Drivin My Life Away – 1980 – long hours and fatigue in truck driving — “Well the midnight headlight/ find you on a rainy night/ steep grade up ahead /slow me down / makin no time/ gotta keep rollin”

    “Mercury Poisoning” by Graham Parker:

    The company is crippling me,
    the worst trying to ruin the best, the best
    Their promotion’s so lame
    They could never ever take it to the real ball game
    Maybe they think I’m a pet
    Well I’ve got all the diseases
    I’m breaking out in sweat, you bet, because

    I got, Mercury poisoning
    It’s fatal and it don’t get better
    I got, Mercury poisoning
    The best kept secret in the west

    This is fun! I actually collect “workplace hazard” songs. A lot of them are about mining — think “Big John” by Jimmy Dean (how is that not on the list?). “Industrial Disease” is a favorite of mine. I’ve added a few from this post!

    Great Blog!
    As well as working in OHS in noise control in Australia, I am a member of the Working Voices Choir – see We sing songs about working life and other social justice issues.
    Some of our favourite songs that concern OHS issues are:
    Bruce Spingsteen’s “Working Life (Factory)” ;
    Sweet Honey in the Rock’s “More than a Paycheck”;
    Ron Angel’s “The Chemical Worker’s Song” ; and
    James Oppenheim’s “Bread & Roses”

    Song is certainly another way to get the messages across.

    There are a lot of great labor songs as well as on other issues like diseases such as influenza, TB and “jake leg”, a neurological disorder,

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