“9 to 5”
Written by Dolly Parton
Radio & Records
#1 (3 weeks)
January 16 – January 30, 1981
#1 (1 week)
January 24, 1981
Yes, the greatest working person’s anthem of the last fifty years was written in a trailer on a movie set, with the songwriter composing it over the clicking and clacking of her acrylic nails.
Even in 2022, there is still the working person stereotype of men in hard hats working at factories or in the coal mines. In reality, the working class is remarkably diverse in race and gender, with home health aides and office secretaries and food service workers being just as able to relate to the “Workin’ Man Blues” as the guys who come to mind when that song is playing.
Parton’s “9 to 5” is a searing indictment of the obstacles put into place by a working girl just trying to get ahead:
“It’s a rich man’s game, no matter what they call it, and you spend your life putting money in his pocket.”
“They let you dream just to watch them shatter, you’re just a step on the boss man’s ladder.”
“Want to move ahead, but the boss won’t seem to let me. I swear sometimes that man is out to get me.”
So how did this also end up one of the catchiest pop hits of the eighties, despite such harrowing lyrics? The answer can also be found in the lyrics, as we witness Parton gearing herself up for her workday:
“Tumble out of bed and I stumble to the kitchen. Pour myself a cup of ambition. Yawn and stretch and try to come alive.”
“You’re in the same boat as a lot of your friends, waiting for the day your ship will come in, and the tide’s gonna turn and it’s all gonna roll your way.”
“9 to 5” captures the relentless drive of an ambitious worker who is fully aware that the system is rigged against them, but who also knows that the system will fall apart completely if it doesn’t allow a few of the underclass to get ahead. She’s determined that it’s going to be her. Parton may have chosen a musical career over an office job, but aside from that, she can certainly relate to working hard and playing by the rules until you’re powerful enough to rip up that rule book and chart your own path.
“9 to 5” went to No. 1 on the pop charts, spending two non-consecutive weeks atop the Hot 100, interrupted for one week by the next single on this list. Parton two Grammys, including her first for her songwriting, which was also acknowledged by the Academy Awards with a Best Original Song nomination. It also served as the foundation for a concept album about workers of all kinds, from border crossing day workers to nomads working on the road. We’ll see the next single from the album a little later in 1981.
“9 to 5” gets an A.