It Was Hard Out There in the ’80s, Too

by Kira Garcia

It’s Monday, so you’re probably slogging your way through a work day. After all, those burgers need flipping, the phone needs answering, and the law needs… legislating? Perhaps you’re looking for a musical boost. Who could blame you? I’m here to give you some alternatives to the Lily Allen snoozer. As it turns out, the second-wavers had plenty to sing about how hard it was out there in the ’80s. And as an added bonus, their hair was amazing. So let’s minimize the Lily Allen and click on over to Donna Summer for an afternoon pick-me-up.

“She Works Hard for the Money” — Donna Summer, 1983
If Lily thinks she has it bad, she should try spending a day in this lady’s Easy Spirits. Our protagonesse scrubs floors, serves coffee to ass-grabby diner patrons, puts in a shift at a sweatshop, and goes home to wrangle her unruly brood, all while maintaining a magnificent lady-mullet. The flawless Ms. Summer looks on, singing the soundtrack of her life with empathy. Don’t miss the choreographed troupe of uniformed working gals dancin’ through their struggle at 2:55. (Dig the lady cop!)

“9 to 5” — Dolly Parton, 1980
Is it depressing that a movie as aesthetically dated as Nine to Five is still relevant? Probably. Regardless, this song remains an irrepressibly perky commuter anthem. Dolly never sounds angry, but she’s savvy to the boss man’s exploitation, and she’s got dreams he’ll never take away. You probably do, too. During less successful chapters of my career, I actually sang that line about “pouring myself a cup of ambition” every morning to myself while making coffee.

“Manic Monday” — The Bangles, 1986
I always wondered what kind of shit job Susanna Hoffs had that her boss wouldn’t even pay her if she showed up late. I mean, at that point, don’t you just lawyer up? And can you blame her if it “takes her so long just to figure out what she’s going to wear”? She looks flawless. Unlike some of our other heroines, the Manic Monday gal’s main problem is that work is interfering with her white-hot sex life. But I still love this song.

“Let the River Run” — Carly Simon, 1988
Between the fog-shrouded cityscape, the big hair, and Carly Simon’s majestic teeth, this video is a bit overwhelming. But stick with it for some of the best snippets from Melanie Griffith’s career highlight, Working Girl (which is seriously worth revisiting, and not just for the topless vacuuming scene). Sigourney Weaver is at her ice queen best, and Joan Cusack’s eye shadow baffles as it delights. Never before, or since, has the Staten Island Ferry felt so transcendent.

Previously: A Conversation with Adrienne Truscott

Kira Garcia enjoys puns, feminism, textiles, and history. She lives in beautiful Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn with her girlfriend and two handsome cats.