Working Man: Background

“The song centers on the repetitious drudgery of working a day job and describes how work gets in the way of living. The traditional working-class separation of labor from life is dramatized: work is an economic necessity but a personally meaningless, alienating activity, while leisure provides meaningful personal space. The end of each verse makes clear the desire for escape from the workaday lifestyle, when Geddy sings, “It seems to me I could live my life / A lot better than I think I am,” delivered during the song’s most intense dynamic build-up. The song presents hope for upward mobility or a more personally satisfying way of spending one’s time, though without a great deal of certainty or expectation. Isolation is a key theme in the song as well, as the ‘I’ persona comes home, pours himself a beer, and wonders ‘why there’s nothing goin’ down here.’ The home context seems removed from life as well; working is not living in this song, and leisure time at home is an inadequate respite, empty and inactive.”—Christopher McDonald, Rush, Rock Music, and the Middle Class

It’s “the only song the band ever recorded [as of the late 1980s] which deals with blue collar workers . . . When Rush returned to contemporary characters many years later, they wrote about the suburban kids they once were. But no matter what you do for a living, ‘Working Man’ is a great song to play loud after a bad day at work. It was always popular with audiences and stayed in the live set for many years.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

If the song is an anomaly lyrically, it’s not musically. It “looks forward to what Rush would become, a fast-fretting power trip carried by Lifeson’s lightning-fast guitar leads. The jam-session format of this 7-minute workout showed just how exciting the band could be live.”—John Swenson, “Rush Chronicles”

“‘Working Man’ was the weapon of choice [for Donna Halper of WMMS-FM in Cleveland, who helped introduce the band to the United States by giving the song airplay and telling music tastemakers about it].” After she debuted the piece, “the phone lines were summarily flooded [about 50 callers], many fans under the impression they had just heard fresh Zeppelin music.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

“‘Bob Roper, who was an A&M of Canada representative, sent me this record by a group that had never heard of,” said Halper . . . I dropped the needle down on the longest cut and I knew immediately that it was a Cleveland record.’ Halper told one of her DJs to play the song that night on his show to see how it went over. Denny Sanders (the DJ) found that ‘Working Man’ stirred quite a reaction from the blue collar audience . . . ‘They were asking about where they could get the record, and of course they couldn’t—there was only one copy.’ Halper phoned Ray Danniels and Vic Wilson [of the band’s management agency]. They worked out an arrangement to have a box of Rush records sent south to Cleveland. The albums were placed in the local Record Revolution store. The box sold out in a few days.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

“Cliff Burnstein, a Mercury A&R rep, after receiving a copy of Rush, called Donna Harper, who said the record was getting a great response and that ‘Working Man’ is the song. ‘I hung up the phone, put it on, and sure enough, it was a motherfucker.'”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“Our parents were hard-working,” Lee explains. “Life was a struggle for most people, no one was wealthy. You thought a lot about your future, and what kind of life do you want to live? Is it going to be enough for me to have that kind of life, where it’s all about work, and a beer at the end of the day and a hug from your kids, and do it all again? So, it’s kind of an ode to that guy who we worked so hard not to be, in a sense. We wanted to be musicians, and that was our ticket out of there. That was our escape for what was sort of inevitable for all of our friends and the world that we came from. . . . It’s hard to hear the record without going back in time. Your first record is such a milestone. It’s like the impossible feat: you never think you’re going to get signed, you never think you’re going to get to make a record . . . The first version of our first record was really crappy, and that’s when we met the guy who really changed our lives, which was Terry Brown. And he became our producer for the next 10 years and taught us so much about making records. . . He saved that album, when I think of that album, I think of him, I think of that first session, when we took those poorly recorded versions of those songs, and he decided what was salvageable and what we should just re-record.”—Geddy,, March 27, 2014

More about “Working Man”

Three “Working Man” tribute versions.

Back to Rush Vault

~ by rvkeeper on January 11, 2011.

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