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?