Nose to the Grindstone – Songs About Work

Posted: May 16, 2013 in Country Music, Folk Music, Rock Music
Tags: , , , , , ,


Although there is some debate about the origin of the term “nose to the grindstone”, most scholars attribute all the early citations to holding someone’s nose to the grindstone as a form of punishment. This is more in keeping with the notion of the continuous hard labour implicit in being strapped to one’s bench.

The phrase appears in print at various dates since the 16th century. It was well-enough known in rural USA in the early 20th century for this picture, which alludes to the ‘holding someone’s nose to the grindstone’ version of the phrase, to have been staged as a joke (circa 1910).


This must have been the original cast of Saturday Night Live.

I’ve been working and travelling even more than usual these days and I haven’t had much time for The Eclectic Ear.  So what better way to kick off a new series of posts than focusing on work?


Here are few classic gems to get you going:

  1. “9 to 5” – Dolly Parton.  A huge hit for the woman who once said “It costs a lot to look this cheap”.  I love that line “pour myself a cup of ambition”.
  2. “Sixteen Tons” – Tennessee Ernie Ford.  This was a big hit for Ford back in 1955. Showcasing TEF’s amazing voice, “Sixteen tons, and what do you get? / Another day older and deeper in debt.” Says it all.
  3. “Working Man” – Rush.  Another classic rocker from this year’s newest members of the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. Geddy’s vocals shine through on this riff-based rocker. Nice solo from Alex too.
  4. “Money For Nothing” – Dire Straits.  A combination of a working song and the joy of being a rock star. ‘Cause you’s money for nothing and chick’s for free”. Yeah, that’s Sting singing background vocals on this track.
  5. Summertime Blues” – The Who.  Originally a rockabilly hit for Eddie Cochran, The Who turned this into an anthem of what it’s like to be a teenager with a boss. “Well I went to the boss said I had a date. My boss said “No dice, son, you gotta work late”
  6. “Millworker” – James Taylor.  A beautiful ballad from JT about the experience of a young single mother doing mill work to feed her family.  Originally for a play that didn’t last the song is a moving tribute well worth a listen.




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