Monday, February 20, 2012
Devo - "Working in the Coal Mine"
(Debuted September 5, 1981, Peaked #43, 12 Weeks on the Chart)
"Working in the Coal Mine" has been recorded several times since 1966, when it was first performed by Lee Dorsey. That version went to #8 on the pop chart and is undoubtedly the best-known version of the song. When Devo recorded it in 1981, it was kept off the LP New Traditionalists by their record label, so leader Mark Mothersbaugh let it be included on the soundtrack of the animated film Heavy Metal, where it was part of the final segment "Taarna." Interestingly, it would be the only charting single from the soundtrack, despite the presence of several big-name artists.
The song was written by Allen Toussaint, a New Orleans native who'd been writing, recording and producing since the 1950s. His influence has long been felt in the music business, even if it hadn't been overt. "Working in the Coal Mine" appeared shortly after he had done a two-year hitch in the Army, which might have helped inspire the song. There weren't that many coal mines to be found in the Mississippi delta area where he grew up.
Devo's version of the song is a radical reworking that strips the New Orleans-flavored rhythm and reworks it to fit the group's brand of post-modern electronic wizardry. They were able to bring what had been a familiar song into a new decade and put their own unique stamp on a relatively "old" standard.