Working in the Coal Mine

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"Working in the Coal Mine"
Original vinyl release
Single by Lee Dorsey
from the album Working in the Coal Mine - Holy Cow
ReleasedJuly 1966
Songwriter(s)Allen Toussaint
Producer(s)Allen Toussaint and Marshall Sehorn
Lee Dorsey singles chronology
"Working in the Coal Mine"
"Holy Cow"
143 BPM

"Working in the Coal Mine" is a song with music and lyrics by the American musician and record producer Allen Toussaint. It was an international hit for Lee Dorsey in 1966, and has been recorded by other musicians including Devo in 1981.

Lee Dorsey original version[edit]

After Toussaint returned to New Orleans from the U.S. Army, in which he served from 1963 to 1965, he formed a production company, Sansu (also known as "Tou-Sea Productions"), with partner Marshall Sehorn. He produced a number of singles performed by Lee Dorsey in 1965 and 1966, including "Ride Your Pony" and "Working in the Coal Mine".[1]

Written, arranged and produced by Toussaint, the song concerns the suffering of a man who rises before 5 o'clock each morning in order to work in a coal mine, five days a week, where the conditions are very harsh and dangerous, but which offers the only prospect of paid employment. The singer repeatedly asks the Lord, "How long can this go on?" and complains that when the weekend arrives, he's too exhausted to have any fun. In the instrumental section, as in the song's fade, he says: "Lord, I'm so tired / How long can this go on?" The song features the sound of a pickaxe clinking, as if the musicians were working in a mine. Says producer Allen Toussaint "There wasn’t as much percussion as you might think on there. It was a certain drummer and we had my brother hit the mic' stand with a drum stick for the pick sound. Those were the two percussion instruments."[2]

The recording took place at Cosimo Matassa's Governor Nichols Street studio in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Musicians included guitarist Roy Montrell, drummer Albert "June" Gardner,[3][4] and bassist Walter Payton.[5]

It was a hit for Lee Dorsey, released on Amy Records (catalogue number 958), and entered the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 on July 23, 1966, eventually peaking at #8, while reaching #5 on the Billboard R&B chart.[6] It also reached #8 on the UK Singles Chart.[7]

Toussaint said that neither he nor Dorsey had ever been down a coal mine: "We didn’t know anything about a coal mine". He said of Dorsey:

"He was very good to work with. Very inspiring because he had such a happiness about him. He loved what he was doing when he was singing. He was a body and fender man when he wasn’t singing and even at his peak, when he would come off the road at the end of a successful tour, he would go and get into his grease clothes, his dirty work gear and go and work on cars. Straightening out fenders and painting bodywork. But really it was his finest hour when he was singing. He was a very good person for me to work with and he totally trusted me every step of the way."[8]

Over time, Dorsey's version of "Working in the Coal Mine" has been featured in many movies and television programs, including Where the Action Is (1966), Everybody's All-American (1988), Moonlighting (1988), Waiting for the Light (1990), Married... with Children (1990), The Wonder Years (1990), The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1993), Casino (1995), Secret Diary of a Call Girl (2010), Muppets Most Wanted (2014), The Simpsons (2019) and The Conners (2019).[9]

Chart history[edit]

Chart (1966–1967) Peak
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 8
US (Billboard) Best Selling Rhythm & Blues Singles 5
UK Singles Chart 8

Devo version[edit]

"Working in the Coal Mine"
Single by Devo
from the album Heavy Metal OST
B-side"Planet Earth"
ReleasedAugust 17, 1981
GenreNew wave
Songwriter(s)Allen Toussaint
Producer(s)Robert Margouleff
Devo singles chronology
"Beautiful World"
"Working in the Coal Mine"

In 1981, a Devo cover version was included as a bonus 7" single packaged with their album New Traditionalists. This version was used in the end titles of the film Heavy Metal.[10] It entered Billboard Sept 5, 1981, reaching No. 43 on the Hot 100, and was also a Top 10 single in New Zealand.[11] It has also been used in the film Employee of the Month[12] and as theme music for the show Working.

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1981) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[13] 20
Canada RPM Top Singles 17
New Zealand 8
U.S. Billboard Hot 100[14] 43
U.S. Billboard Hot Dance Club Play[15] 30
U.S. Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks 53
U.S. Cash Box Top 100 36

Other versions[edit]


  1. ^ 2006 inductees: Allen Toussaint Archived November 23, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "Masters of Louisiana Music: Allen Toussaint - OffBeat Magazine". OffBeat Magazine. Retrieved 2016-12-25.
  3. ^ "The Penguin Discography: Working In The Coal Mine". 2006-08-10. Retrieved 2015-11-12.
  4. ^ "Drummerszone news - In memoriam: Albert \"June\" Gardner". Retrieved 2015-11-12.
  5. ^ "Allen Toussaint". Retrieved 2016-12-25.
  6. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Record Research. p. 169.
  7. ^ Betts, Graham (2004). Complete UK Hit Singles 1952-2004 (1st ed.). London: Collins. p. 234. ISBN 0-00-717931-6.
  8. ^ "Features | A Quietus Interview | Born To Do This: Allen Toussaint Interviewed". The Quietus. Retrieved 2015-11-12.
  9. ^ "Lee Dorsey - IMDb"., Inc. Retrieved 20 October 2019.
  10. ^ "Soundtrack for Heavy Metal". Retrieved 2015-11-12.
  11. ^ Steffen Hung. "Devo - Working In The Coal Mine". Retrieved 2015-11-12.
  12. ^ "Soundtrack for Employee of the Month". Retrieved 2015-11-12.
  13. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992. St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 88. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  14. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2013). Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles, 14th Edition: 1955-2012. Record Research. p. 235.
  15. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Hot Dance/Disco: 1974-2003. Record Research. p. 77.
  16. ^ "IAJE What's Going On". Jazz Education Journal. 37 (5). Manhattan, Kansas: International Association of Jazz Educators: 87. April 2005. ISSN 1540-2886. ProQuest 1370090.
  17. ^ Make It Funky! (DVD). Culver City, California: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. 2005. ISBN 9781404991583. OCLC 61207781. 11952.