A Song for Labor Day

There aren’t many songs out there about Labor Day, but even so, I have a clear favorite.  Released in 1955 exclusively on a hard-to-find benefit LP for paraplegic civilians, this is a song so catchy—and so unintentionally humorous—that I can’t resist trying to rescue it from its present obscurity.  So give it a listen and see if you don’t agree that this is something twenty-first-century audiences truly deserve to hear.  (I haven’t restored the audio, and the copy I digitized is somewhat worn, but good luck getting your hands on another one.)

Back in 1882, Peter J. McGuire of the Knights of Labor suggested to the Central Labor Union that a day be put aside to honor the working people of our nation.  That year, the first Labor Day celebration was held in New York.  Twelve years later, in 1894, the Congress of the United States passed a bill making the first Monday of September a national holiday dedicated to all the men and women through whose toil our country has grown and become great.

Work
is a thing we never shirk;
it will bring the greatest pride
that we’ve ever felt inside.
Learn that the worthwhile man
has worked since the world began;
it’s fun
just to know a job’s well done.

Refrain (×2)
Then honor every working man;
work for you and me
means human dignity.
So in September
there’s a day to remember;
it’s a fine and important holiday.
The very first Monday
we observe as the one day
when we all celebrate our Labor Day.

“Labor Day” is track eight on Nine Days for Americans, a ten-inch LP on the short-lived Marlong Records label run by Gerald Marks and Dave Dreyer.  Here’s a full track list:

  1. What Shall We Sing About America?
  2. Lincoln’s Birthday
  3. Washington’s Birthday
  4. Armed Forces Day
  5. Memorial Day
  6. Flag Day
  7. Independence Day
  8. Labor Day
  9. Veteran’s Day
  10. Thanksgiving Day

After a patriotic introduction about celebrating American holidays in general, the tracks each start with the story of some specific holiday—written by historian Allan Nevins and recited by General Omar N. Bradley—that leads into a corresponding song with lyrics and music by Gerald Marks.

The LP’s catalog number is GM-1776, but “1776” must just be a reference to the year of American independence, since the only other Marlong disc release for which I can find any documentation was Ten Catholic Holy Days (1953), an LP with a similar structure of songs and narration that was “sold via mail order and key stores in large cities.”  Ten Catholic Holy Days was also re-released in 1958 by Candle Records—a label possibly sold through Hammond organ dealerships—alongside two other titles, Ten Protestant Holy Days and Ten Jewish Holy Days, all likewise made up of Gerald Marks compositions.

Marks seems to have hit upon a clever formula here: write a bunch of songs for holidays that don’t otherwise have them and then group them onto long-playing records based on the target audience that celebrates the holidays (Catholic, Protestant, etc.).  However, Nine Days for Americans was distinctive in being marketed expressly as a benefit album, as we read in the July 23, 1955 issue of Billboard:

‘ROLL CALL USA’
Paraplegics Promoting Special LP

NEW YORK, July 16.—An LP disk, “Nine Days for Americans,” has been enlisted to help raise $1,000,000 for the Paralyzed Veterans of America.  PVA, an organization of 5,000 paraplegic ex-servicemen, has tagged the push “Roll Call U.S.A.” and has earmarked the earnings from LP sales for a program of aid to civilian paraplegics.  Most of the major TV and radio personalities are expected to lend active support to the project via plugs this fall.  Officials of the government are also co-operating.

The LP itself is a collection of stories in song dealing with patriotic holidays, with music and lyrics by Gerald Marks.  Script is by Allan Nevins, professor of history at Columbia University, and the narration is by General of the Army Omar N. Bradley.  It is produced and manufactured by Marlong Records, and the material is published by Dave Dreyer’s Marlong Music firm, an affiliate of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.

Nine Days for Americans was offered by mail order from Paralyzed Veterans of America for five dollars.  The organization’s national secretary said: “We want every family in the nation to own a copy.  We feel it is not only an entertaining and informative way of revitalizing the real meaning of our patriotic holidays, but also, through sales of the album, PVA will be able to help finance its program of research and rehabilitation counsel for this country’s paralyzed men and women.”

But Nine Days For Americans isn’t a common LP today, suggesting that it can’t have sold nearly as many copies as hoped.  WorldCat shows only a single library-held exemplar at Bowling Green State University (oclc 54113220).  I picked up my own copy for a quarter, without a dust jacket, at the Monroe County Public Library book sale over twenty years ago, but googling “Nine Days for Americans” plus “Marlong” or “LP” doesn’t turns up a single reference to any others having turned up for sale on eBay or anywhere else.  I haven’t seen mention of any surviving specimens of the Marlong issue of Ten Catholic Holy Days either, although the Candle reissue is listed on Discogs.org, with seven copies shown in WorldCat (oclc 13767507).  That said, the supply of Marlong LPs has probably been about equal to the demand.

The “Labor Day” song itself is equally esoteric and seems to have had no life to speak of apart from the Marlong benefit LP.  Gerald Marks copyrighted two different Labor-Day-themed compositions on October 29, 1948: “Labor Day” (EP 31168) and “Labor Day, march” (EP 31172), but I’m not sure which of these two compositions is the one featured on Nine Days For Americans, and I don’t see any easy way to find out, since WorldCat shows only a single copy of the sheet music for “Labor Day” extant worldwide, at the British Library (oclc 498101203).  The copyright for both works was renewed in 1975, and something called “Labor Day” by Gerald Marks is currently part of the Kassner Music catalog, but with no recordings or sheet music available for interested parties to review, it’s hard to imagine anyone having tried to license it sight unseen—or music unheard.

Maybe that will now change.  I assume the “Labor Day” song was supposed to be taken seriously back in 1955, but that it didn’t stand out then as anything particularly special.  Today, however, the charming incongruity of its music, subject matter, and wording retrospectively elevates it into the cherished “so bad it’s good” category.  Work for you and me means human dignity, bumpa-tum-tum…..  Surely this has the potential to go viral.

If you want to exploit “Labor Day” commercially, kindly contact Kassner Music for a license and tell them I sent you—I know there’s some controversy about the impact of music blogs on the music industry, but I’m pretty sure any income they might now get from this long-forgotten work would be due to this post, and not in spite of it.  Meanwhile, if you happen to think “Labor Day” is just the coolest song ever and want to give something back for the new joy it’s brought into your life, you could always make a donation to the Paralyzed Veterans of America—the same charitable organization which Nine Days for Americans was originally released to benefit.  Maybe they’ll hit that original million-dollar target yet.

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