“Keys. Wallet. Headphones.” For many, the last item on this list is as vital as the rest, if not more so. Similarly, a lot of us Freelancers find a good moan about work as energising as our morning cup of coffee. With that in mind, this list hopes to help you find some catharsis in some of Pop music’s greats gripings about their jobs; whether that be the occupations they had before they were famous or the trials and tribulations of life on the road. Find some solace in these tales of professional woe, while also getting a direct injection of upbeat musical energy, on your morning commute or on your way back home.
Harry Nilsson has been referred to as the fifth Beatle, and his greatest hits demonstrate his credentials for that moniker. He wrote “Without You” which is probably better known as a hit for Maria Carey, and “Everybody’s talking” featured in the iconic opening scene of Midnight Cowboy- and its many parodies.
“Gotta Get Up” not only demonstrates Nilsson’s songwriting prowess but also begins our playlist, tackling the first trail of any working day: getting up. The chorus reflects the morning anxieties we’ve all had at one point, “what if I’m late, got a big date”. But what makes this song really ring true is how the verses capture a sense of nostalgia for good times gone by. The accented piano and ominous horn stings of the opening transition into a Dixieland party where “a time when we could dance until a quarter to ten” are recounted. I’m not sure if that’s AM or PM, but as busy freelancers know a night out that ends at 9:45 pm can still lead to regret the next morning. This is the perfect song for Mondays, or whichever day your out of whack working week begins. Pop this on if you’re hungover, missing the weekend, or just longing for less responsible times.
This song appears on Bridge over Troubled Water which would be the duo’s last album. “Keep the Customer Satisfied” might just point to some of the stressors that lead to this infamous break-up. Paul Simon was sick of his work being dismissed as saccharine by critics, and studio pressure to keep churning out hits was getting to him. So if you’re a freelancer in the creative industries struggling to hit your deadlines, you may identify with Simon’s plight. But the song’s hook, “I’ve been slandered, libelled, I heard words I never heard in the Bible, and I’m oh so tired”, speaks to the experience of anyone who has to put up with rude customers.
So the song meets the moaning quota of this playlist, but what feel-good musical motivation? Well, that’s supplied by the horn arrangement. The keyword here is escalation. The song starts with a blues affect heard in other Simon and Garfunkel songs, but in the second chorus, a punchy horn countermelody is introduced. From this point onwards the horns move up in register until the outro, where they are playing at the very top of their range. If anyone out there plays the trumpet they’ll know its playing up there is hard work. But the horn section’s hard work give us the kick we need to keep smiling and keep those customers satisfied
This one’s for the lovelorn freelancers out there, specifically those lamenting how their mental schedules mean that can’t see their significant other. “Work to do” comes off 7 + 7, and like many songs on the album combines their classic motion songwriting sensibilities with a psychedelic sound. The Isley Brothers were some of the smoothest men to ever live, so lyrics such as “keep your love light burning, and little food hot in my plate” might be translated into regular domestic exchanges such as, “I love you but don’t you fucking dare eat all the leftover chow mein while I’m at work”. The song also features a cowbell part to rival that of “Don’t Feat the Reaper, made famous by Will Ferrel’s sketch on SNL. Blue Oyster Cult uses the cowbell as a blunt force instrument, whereas the Isley Brothers use it as a subtle constant for all the groove and syncopation to bounce off.
Up until this point we have been wallowing in a lot of professional self-pity. But this next track focuses on the carrot (money) rather than the various sticks us freelancers have to put up with. We may not enjoy the luxuries Cardi does, “boardin’ jets” and driving in Coupes, but “Money” perfectly captures that overzealous payday feeling. The kind of mood brought crashing down by checking your bank balance a few days later- but we’re focusing on that sweet, juicy carrot! This focus is easily maintained when jamming to this song’s minimalist trap beat. Piano, bass and drums combine with Cardi’s flow to make the ultimate money-making anthem. This one is for the venture capitalists in all of us, to be popped on when you feel like one of the “people whose shit not together”.
The rest of this playlist deals with specific challenges of a working day, getting up in the morning, difficult clientele, the financial incentive that drives us. “9 to 5” seems to encompass everything bad about working a job your heart ain’t in. For instance, it features an antagonist strangely omitted in the other entries: the boss. We become freelancers to become our own boss, but end up just dealing with a string of malicious higher-ups. Dolly’s words sum up this struggle “they let you dream just to watch them shatter, you’re just another step on the bossman’s ladder”. Her entire oeuvre is filled with these diamonds of homespun wisdom, and “9 to 5” is no expectation. Even something as simple as calling coffee “a cup of ambition” demonstrates how Parton’s word were simultaneously timeless and yet thoroughly modern.
That’s what makes her sound so enduring, it’s based on a solid country and western foundation but channels the other great genres of the era it’s situated in. “Jolene” for instance features a 70s folk-rock aesthetic, and the album 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs (released 1980) combines her earnest songwriting with synths. There is also a thread of disco throughout, which is what makes “9 to 5” perfect for both the morning commute and the Friday night celebration of the end of the week.
Check out the Spotify playlist here!