Workin’ for a Living

Labor Day 2020

As our pandemic summer nears its end I’m grateful that the people I know and care about are safe and healthy. And I’m thankful to be working when so many are not.

Here in the US we celebrate working with a last weekend of ease. And what’s more fun than work? Well, poking fun at it, of course.

In the spirit of fair play, I’m limiting myself to songs that liberally borrow from, refer to, or are critical of marketing and advertising. One of my first bosses used to say when it comes to advertising, everybody’s a maven. Turns out that includes songsters. Look for some extra tracks in the Spotify playist.

Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing in a HurryHelen O’Connell w. the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra (1941)

I always like to reach back to show that some ideas are almost always with us, or at least have been around quite a while. I’ll admit including this number is a bit of a stretch. But at the end of the intro, the lyric asks “Why did I read that advertisement? Where it says, “Since I rumba, Jim thinks I’m sublime!?” And it makes me think of that great John Caples ad, “They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano…” As a bonus, the  video contains some great images of Swing Era New York, a treat I never tire of.

Satisfaction GuaranteedThe Mourning Reign (1965)

Before the Bay area spit forth psychedelia it was an epicenter of garage bands, a tale we’ve already encountered. So don’t take that folk-singers-who-turned-on stuff too literally. Okay, don’t ignore the turned on part. This band from San Jose didn’t. They certainly managed to work an early reference to hallucinogenics into what otherwise seems a fairly common critique of consumer culture. But it’s got a great beat and you can dance to it.

Being for the Benefit of Mr. KiteThe Beatles (1967)

The album that allegedly changed pop music from a disposable commodity into high art from the biggest band in the world infamously featured a song cribbed entirely from a vintage poster. I’m kind of an apostate on the Pepper front (Revolver‘s a better record IMO), and the whole calliope thing grates, but the repurposing of copy into lyrics has always amused me.

Step Right UpTom Waits (1976)

Anyone who’s heard me on the subject of Mr. Waits might be surprised to find me adding him to a list anywhere. My objections, for the record, are largely focused on his singing, if you care to call it that. Here, though, his rasp serves as the perfect vehicle for what I take as a riotous send-up of jazz poetry and hard-sell ad copy.

Lost in the SupermarketThe Clash (1979)

The late 1970s British bands that I love mostly shared a common political outlook. It was, in the dawning age of Thatcher, almost impossible to find a band that wasn’t oriented toward the Left. Leave it to the ironically labeled (as far as this post is concerned) only band that mattered to pen the catchiest swipe at the very notion of why we shop. You’ll also want to check out the Buzzcocks take on the subject in the playlist.

 You May Already Be a WinnerJohn Hiatt (1982)

Arguably the least welcome form of promotion is the mail you didn’t ask for that arrives every day. Here, before he had his mid-90s flirtation with big success, John Hiatt borrows liberally from a sweepstakes letter and paints a far gentler picture of consumers who, for once, aren’t too cartoonish.

 

Bonus Track and Playlist

Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing in a Hurry–Susanah McCorkle (1977)

I’ve never before posted two videos for one song but I have to this time. My first encounter with this great Victor SchertzingerJohnny Mercer tune from “The Fleet’s In,” was on Susannah McCorkle’s late 1970s record of Johnny Mercer songs.  I hope you’ll agree it improves on the great early recordings.

 

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