Die Heuning Pot Literature Guide
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Technique

Earlier we said that the song's lyrics read kind of like a communist manifesto. That might have been an overstatement, but a) we were trying to get your attention, and b) we think there's a grain of truth there.

So stick with us for a minute. Compare "9 to 5" with a few traditional labor songs ("Hard Times" is a good one). Music has been important to the labor movement for as long as there has been a labor movement, and workers have often used songs in protests and strikes. Parton was writing for a Hollywood movie, not a group of real riled up workers, but the song has a spirit of workers' solidarity that ties it to a broad American tradition of work songs.

Check out the lyrics to an old song for the Industrial Workers of the World (the IWW or Wobblies), one of the most radical labor unions in union history:

Dump the Bosses Off Your Back, by John Brill

Are you poor, forlorn and hungry?
Are there lots of things you lack?
Is your life made up of misery?
Then dump the bosses off your back.
Are your clothes all patched and tattered?
Are you living in a shack?
Would you have your troubles scattered?
Then dump the bosses off your back.

Are you almost split asunder?
Loaded like a long-eared jack?
Boob - why don't you buck like thunder,
And dump the bosses off your back?
All the agonies you suffer
You can end with one good whack
Stiffen up, you orn'ry duffer
And dump the bosses off your back.

Here are some "9 to 5" lyrics with similarities:

Workin' 9 to 5
What a way to make a livin'

They just use your mind
And they never give you credit
It's enough to drive you
Crazy if you let it

Want to move ahead
But the boss won't seem to let me
I swear sometimes that man is out to get me

You're just a step
On the boss man's ladder
But you got dreams he'll never take away

It's a rich man's game
No matter what they call it
And you spend your life
Putting money in his wallet

Sure, the Wobblies are a little more militant in their approach, proposing a general dumping of the bosses (and, implicitly, an overthrow of the country's economic system). Parton's slightly more muted message calls out the boss for his wrongdoing and asks for a little more opportunity to pursue her own dreams; she's more irritated and exhausted than insurrectionary. But her anthem—and its lasting popularity—is a part of a folk tradition of work music that has deeply influenced country, rock, and hip-hop.

Not so keen on bellowing out folk anthems from the 1910s? Check out Aesop Rock's hip-hop adaptation of the "9 to 5" concept—he even quotes Dolly!

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