Working in the Coal Mine

Album: Working in the Coalmine (1966)
Charted: 8 8

Songfacts®:

  • Although "Working in the Coal Mine" sounds just like a jazz standard that could have been handed down from generation to generation of the American Old South, it was actually written by Allen Toussaint in the early 1960s. Toussaint, as a pianist, writer, and producer, was part of the second wave of New Orleans' Jazz and Blues culture. He worked with many big names from the era including Fats Domino, Chris Kenner, Benny Spellman, and Diamond Joe.

    In the '60s, Toussaint wrote and produced several hits for Lee Dorsey, including "Ride Your Pony," "Get Out of My Life Woman," "Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky," and "Holy Cow."

    In 1965, Toussaint wrote a song for Dorsey called "Work, Work, Work," which was appropriate since Dorsey loved working on cars as much as he loved making music - he worked at a body shop and was often seen covered in grease. When he wrote for a specific artist, Toussaint would craft the song to that artist's personality, which he did on "Working in the Coal Mine."

    Mining is very unpleasant work, but the incessant background vocals ("Workin' in a coal mine, oops, about to slip down") and Dorsey's enthusiastic delivery turned the song - about a guy who is so tired from work that he can't even have fun on Saturday - into a campy romp. An artist who didn't appreciate and enjoy real work couldn't have pulled it off, but Dorsey was the right man for the job. When he left the music business, he went back to bending fenders full-time.
  • That backing band on this track is The Meters, who were mainstays of the New Orleans funk sound. The Meters went on to work with Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney and Robert Palmer. They were also very successful recording on their own - in 1969 they hit #23 US with "Cissy Strut."
  • A popular cover of this song was recorded by Devo and included on the soundtrack to the 1981 animated film Heavy Metal. Their version made #43 in the US.

    In 1985, the country duo The Judds released the song on their album Rockin' With The Rhythm.
  • This was recorded at J&M Studios in New Orleans, which was where just about every hit from that city was put to tape in the '50s and '60s. "Coal Mine" was one of the last hits recorded there, as financial problems led to its demise a few years later.
  • Dorsey's label, Amy Records, commissioned a promotional film for his song (what would later be called a "music video"). The clip shows Dorsey emerging from the listening booth of a record store covered in dirt and wearing his work clothes. The clip was used to promote the song on British television shows.
  • You can also hear a snatch of this song in the Blaupunkt car stereo commercial of the '90s. While we're on the subject, we're reminded of the fantastically popular (even record-breaking) indie video game Minecraft which has been storming the Internet gaming forums since its alpha release in 2010. Should the developers decide to create a TV advertisement, we can think of a song to recommend.

Comments: 3

  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyAllen Toussaint died November 9th, 2015 while on tour in Spain. He was 77...
    May he R.I.P.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn July 17th 1966, "Working In The Coal Mine" by Lee Dorsey entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #90; and on August 28th, 1966 it peaked at #8 (for 2 weeks) and spent 12 weeks on the Top 100...
    It reached #5 on Billboard's Hot R&B Singles chart...
    Between 1961 and 1989 he had nine Top 100 record, with two making the Top 10, his other Top 10 record was "Ya-Ya", it peaked at #7 (and reached #1 on the R&B Singles chart)...
    May Mr. Irving Lee Dorsey R.I.P. (1924 - 1986).
  • Bubblesk from Memphis, TnWell shut mah mouth! I was starting college at Univ. of Kansas when this hit the charts & I loved it then and love it now. It's just super-funky and great to dance to. I loved Lee Dorsey's songs. Back in the mid Sixties at KU, I could get AM radio stations from the South that played lots of R&B like Dorsey's songs & the soul artists like James Brown & Wilson Pickett. But Dorsey had a funk to his songs that was irresistible to your sillier side. Dorsey was big in my hometown of Memphis too. Still love this song & it pushes my" soul buttons!"
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