“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.
Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties
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If you haven’t driven to work jamming this song have you truly lived? This song gets the blood pumping more than any cup of coffee has.
Wow… what a strong run of #1 singles with the 3 songs reviewed today! I knew we were going to go 3-for-3 on A grades when I saw the songs reviewed today. “9 to 5” is my favorite of this exceptional group. To think, there was a time when I didn’t like this song. I found it too poppy, and I was too young to relate to the lyrics. I was wrong, and it’s now one of my favorite songs. The lyrics and melody are amazing, and it’s so catchy.
I like that Kevin appreciates well-done songs on both ends of the poppy/traditional spectrum. Another great review!
I remember reading a review in New Country magazine about The Essential Dolly Parton One, which focused on her eighties hits for RCA, and the writer said something along the lines of it being a bad sign that the disc opened with “9 to 5.”
There was a pretty pervasive POV for a long time that Parton’s crossover work was an abomination that undermined her work from the previous decade, which coincided with the narrative that Urban Cowboy and crossover nearly killed country music and the new traditionalists led by Randy Travis saved it by returning country to its roots.
I bought into that view for years, but it seems silly to me now. Too many classic records incorporate pop elements for it to pass muster.
“9 to 5” is every bit as important and brilliant as “Coat of Many Colors,” “I Will Always Love You,” and “Jolene” in Parton’s songwriting catalog, and it’s only rivaled by “Jolene” for being the best record of the four.
Dolly during her crossover era is very hit or miss for me with her singles but most of her albums really come no where close to her albums from the late 60’s to mid 70’s (Some are even very bad). That being said when we get to the mid to late 80’s Dolly was nothing short of brilliant from there to now. I just look at some the 80’s material as down period for her creatively. All artists for me have a little bit of that in their discography. That being said she’s the biggest quadruple threat (Singer, Songwriter, Musician and businesswoman) artist in country music. She’s #1.
An iconic song that is very relatable. One of Dolly’s many best.
One of Dolly’s biggest hits, but far from her best effort. Solid C+ – catchy tune
This song is a brilliant classic. Easily one of Martin’s best and most important recordings.
I think we can drive a flag in the ground with this massive cross-over hit, and the following one by Eddie Rabbit, marking the transition towards more markedly pop sounding country productions going forward.
What often goes un-celebrated, however, is just how brilliant these ground-breaking pop-country songs were, as well as how many new listeners were brought into the country music fold because of them.
An old friend,and fellow country fan, and I used to DJ one night a month at The Beaconsfield pub in Toronto, Ontario. We played older country music to an audience of young, urban hipsters. Whenever we felt we were losing the room, we knew with absolute certainty we could recapture it by playing this song. It was an instant shot of energy and excitement. Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy” was our other ace in the hole. I never forgotten that lesson about the power and reach of pop appeal in country music.
Genre expansion and growth is always uncomfortable and uncertain, especially in the moment. New sounds threaten old traditions.
This feature has already revealed how many classic country songs were recorded in 1980 alone. A signature hit by the Hag has kicked off 1981. The common narrative going forward is that country music will lose its flavour and soul. We should expect a creative wasteland populated only with soul-less and talentless hacks who sold-out, until Randy Travis, Dwight Yoakam, Lyle Lovett, and Steve Earle come along and save the genre with their respective 1986 debuts.
Why even bother with these next five years?
Can’t ignore George Strait, Steve Warriner and The Judds!