take this job and shove it

By Robbie on January 24, 2013

I must have heard this song hundreds of times (and produced a creditable version too, I must say), but it wasn't until I was listening to it on Elizabeth Cook's morning show the other day that it dawned on me -- the character never in the action of the song actually says the words, "Take this job and shove it." He just fantasizes that he's brave enough to say it. Am I the last person to realize, and puzzle over, this cowardly guy? Why were the verses of the song written to bend the narrative this way and contradict the fist-pumping chorus spirit?

One reason I may not have paid enough attention to the verses before is that their clunkiness encourages you to move past them in a hurry, just like the lyricst seems to have. I imagine David Allan Coe being struck by the chorus in a bright flash, and then taking care that the inner lines that are sandwiched by the hook were sound. Then running out of patience. Filling in some remaining verse holes on his way from the control room to the vocal booth, maybe. "I'd give the shirt right off my back/If I had the nerve to say." Who would say that or ever has? That violates both colloquial speech and logic. If the character would undergo any sacrifice to stand up to his boss and say he's quitting, and the example of high sacrifice is losing his shirt -- well, losing your shirt, literally and otherwise, is just what happens when you stop making money. If the prospect of being shirtless and cold doesn't sway him, then I just don't understand his timidity.

I'm a little disappointed to be forced to reconceive this song as the "My Girl Bill" of blue-collar work songs, one that puts forward a stark, provocative hook and then explains it down to bland normalcy with an easy verbal trick. However, I suppose it has attained and kept its great stature with country fans because we are able to turn a half an ear to verse lyrics, especially when they are sung softer and pitched lower than the chorus, and are much less emotionally sensational than the payoff right around the corner. In pre-1960s pulp novels, readers could whack off to pervy sex scenes and skim through or ignore altogether the moralistic, just-rewards-dispensing final chapter that was deemed obligatory. Strange to think that we might bring the same selective apprehension to songs, which we necessarily consume in real time. Or am I off-track?

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10 comments

  1. avatar Nick Barber Posted about 3 hours later

    I quoted it selectively in the video that I made when I left my last school -

    http://youtu.be/za0NdYr9EBo

  2. avatar Jill Posted about 4 hours later

    I had a similar experience! I never listened closely to this song until we performed it at a benefit concert about 8 years ago. I printed out the lyrics, read them over and the head scratching began. The protagonist's wife has bailed (what woman WOULD'NT leave such a cosmic loser!), so now he doesn't need to work anymore? Is that the point of quitting? But he can't tell off his awful boss, because he can't work up the courage? That's his problem? Bigger than the wife leaving, problem-wise? I could never mine the depths of our hero's mixed messages. All I could figure out was that this guy is not a DOER.

    But that damn chorus was catchy enough to inspire the 1981 movie "Take This Job And Shove It" starring Robert Hays and Barbara Hershey!

  3. avatar jim Posted about 19 hours later

    The thing to consider is that the chorus is so strong that it can support the weakness preceding it. Heck, as Jill notes, it supported a MOVIE. I think that is a special kind of creation.
    As far as internal logic goes, well, sometimes you want to feel, not think. That's true in most art forms I think.
    Having said that, I'll still take 'Moonlight In Vermont' over 'Take This Job' about 999 times in 1000.

  4. avatar Mr. Pink Posted about 20 hours later

    This is certainly not the only song to be misunderstood and praised for the wrong reasons, thanks to a catchy/hooky chorus. As the biggest Springsteen fan on the planet let me cite two: "Born In The USA" and more recently "We Take Care of Our Own". Nuff said.

  5. avatar Mike Long Posted 1 day later

    When I actually listened to it, I rather liked that it was such a trick. Seemed to me to be the point of the song, that he did not have the courage to say what he felt.

    My question, not that this is the forum for it to be answered in depth, is this: Do writers ever write a song with analysis leading to a desired product? This is an issue I deal with in teaching writing (not songwriting). I teach it as construction, but I think most gifted writers simply create. The analysis is for later. But I'd like to know more real-world experiences from songwriting and writing in general: Is it ever pure intention? Is it almost always black-box magic, with structure appearing more as a workman's habit than an engineer's plan?

  6. avatar Nick Barber Posted 2 days later

    Mike - I once had a conversation with the author (of children's books) Nigel Hinton and I commented on how he was good to use in English class, as he wrote exciting passages containing lots of dynamic verbs. He simply replied

    "Did I?".

    That's liberal pluralism in action for you.

  7. avatar david Posted 5 days later

    I always loved that song for this reason. Wish fulfillment made the object not the purpose of the lyrics. With an overwhelmingly brilliant chorus demonstrating wish fulfillment. It's like Starship Troopers.

  8. avatar Mike Long Posted 5 days later

    That's great to hear, Nick! Just what I was wondering. A good example.

  9. avatar Sandy Mackay Posted 10 days later

    It will be interesting to pose this question to my countrier than thou friends- "Does the guy in 'Take This Job and Shove It' actually quit his job in the song?"

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