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Work, from "Proud Mary," a rock song by Creedance Clearwater Revival

Subthemes: Bosses, Job Hopping, Reactive, Social Side,

A song of escape from work, “Proud Mary” by Creedence Clearwater Revival sketches the oppression of someone trapped in long-hour or dead-end jobs who finds escape on a riverboat and the communal river ethos. With just a few lyrics, the song tells of one man’s flight from capitalism and jobs that ground down his spirit.

“Proud Mary” (Credence Clearwater Revival)

Left a good job in the city
Workin' for the man every night and day
And I never lost one minute of sleepin'
Worryin' ‘bout the way things might have been

Big wheel keep on turnin’
Proud Mary keep on burnin'
Rollin', rollin', rollin' on the river

Cleaned a lot of plates in Memphis
Pumped a lot of ‘tane down in New Orleans
But I never saw the good side of the city
‘Til I hitched a ride on a river boat queen

Big wheel keep on turnin’
Proud Mary keep on burnin’
Rollin', rollin', rollin' on the river

If you come down to the river
Bet you gonna find some people who live
You don’t have to worry cause you have no money
People on the river are happy to give

[remainder omitted]

album cover


Workin’ for the man every night and day

encapsulates the subservience of having The Man tell you what to do, when to do it, and how to do it – and on top of that set your pay and wield the threat to fire you. Most people have someone they report to, who evaluates them, who can snip the life thread of their paycheck. All kinds of inequities follow from the master-servant relationship of boss to bossee. Bosses can wear Prada, can be predators, or can be pretty awful.

Not only may working for a boss be unpleasant and exhausting you also may have little control over your work conditions. If you pumped a lot of ‘tane you were hardly pumped up about it and you may have shortened your lifespan by inhaling the fumes.

Job Hopping:

Left a good job in the city Workin' for the man every night and day

Working too many hours, even in a decent job, did not appeal to the guy in the song. Nor did the mindless, depressing toil of dish washer or gas pumper:

Cleaned a lot of plates in Memphis Pumped a lot of ‘tane down in New Orleans

When people recognize they are in a dead-end job or a job where the boss or conditions are lousy, they may take another job if something is available. What you do in the struggle to make money degrades to a treadmill of unsatisfying low-end jobs. You gain no marketable skills or progress in a career when you are sweeping floors or clocking time as a night security guard. Worse yet, the less desirable the job, the lower the pay. People might quit more often except that in economically depressed areas or for people who have few skills or who endure discrimination, alternative jobs may not be available.

Reactive: Another characteristic of much employment is that you wait for customers to come to you. As you pump gas, you are not expected to market your services or do more than fill up the next car and collect payment. You may be monitored and measured for your work, so that you cannot goof off, but all managers pay attention to is throughput. The task is only to screw in that left bolt, over and over, and keep pace with the line.

Social Side: Many people endure jobs that others would mock as boring and repetitious (although some people don’t seek challenge and change at work, so being a toll taker on a bridge is just fine). What keeps them showing up are their friend coworkers; what keeps them going is the social network of work. You like your colleagues, even if they are only proximity friends, and indeed many marriages have flowered among co-workers. Others, such as delivery people, make friends with clients and customers. The person in the song makes no mention of desk mates or acquaintances who worked with him but he likes the people on the river [who] are happy to give. Counterbalancing the lousy job might be the camaraderie of your fellow card punchers.


We can hear in this down-home twang about unsatisfactory jobs and one person’s flight to a better life a story of rejecting authority, the treadmill of commuting and office work, the deadening of grunt jobs where the cog-like worker passively awaits the next task. The singer might also have been lonely in his jobs, although others find work friends.

To consider subthemes of Work that are not closely associated with this rock song or the other three creative works, please visit the post, Additional Subthemes. Read this for more about Themes from Art.

We invite you to read about other rock songs discussed on this blog, and their themes. Here they are:

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