The Defiant Meaning Behind Johnny Paycheck’s “Take This Job and Shove It,” an ’80s Pop Culture Phenomenon

Take this job and shove it

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Six words. Take this job and shove it tells a whole story in just those first six words. Songwriter David Allan Coe started with those words, and Johnny Paycheck was the perfect artist to deliver the ultimatum. The song tells the story of the frustration of a factory worker and his contempt for the people above him. He’s a bitter man who has been pushed to his limits. Let’s take a look at the meaning behind “Take This Job and Shove It” by Johnny Paycheck.

Producer Billy Sherrill always suggested turning an everyday phrase into a song. Coe uttered the phrase “Why Me, Lord?” in front of Kris Kristofferson, who promptly turned it into a No. 1 song.

The inspiration for another country chart-topper came out of the mouth of Coe. While on the way to Johnny Cash’s house, a dock was on fire. Coe released several boats and pushed them out into the water, away from danger. The local news picked up on the story, and someone remarked that Coe should get a job with the fire department.

“Man, they can take that job and shove it,” Coe responded.

Take this job and shove it
I ain’t working here no more
My woman done left and took all the reason
I was working for
You better not try to stand in my way
As I’m a-walkin’ out the door
Take this job and shove it
I ain’t working here no more

[RELATED: The 4 Best Country Songs with Spoken Interludes]

Say It Like You Mean It

Sherrill reminded Coe of Kristofferson’s success with his phrase and encouraged him to do something with this line. Coe went home and composed the song. He brought the song to Sherrill, a master at matching artists with songs. “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” by Tammy Wynette and “He Stopped Loving Her Today” by George Jones were just two examples. Sherrill also wrote or co-wrote classics such as “Stand by Your Man” by Tammy Wynette and “The Most Beautiful Girl” by Charlie Rich. 

The plan was to have George Jones record “Take This Job and Shove It,” but the singer didn’t show up, so Paycheck recorded it. The song blew up and became the first number-one song of 1978. It would be forever associated with Johnny Paycheck.

I’ve been workin’ in this factory
For now on, fifteen years
All this time, I watched my woman
Drownin’ in a pool of tears
And I’ve seen a lot of good folk die
That had a lot of bills to pay
I’d give the shirt right offa’ my back
If I had the guts to say

Outlaw of Outlaws

Johnny Paycheck recorded under different names throughout his career. He was the outlaw so many other country singers (including Coe) claimed to be. His first success came on the Little Darlin label, where he reached the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart with “The Lovin’ Machine.” After multiple singles failed to chart, the label went out of business. In 1971, Paycheck was signed to Epic Records, and Sherrill began reshaping his sound. They had a big hit right out of the box with “She’s All I Got,” which peaked at No. 2.

Take this job and shove it
I ain’t working here no more
My woman done left and took all the reason
I was workin’ for
You better not try to stand in my way
As I’m a-walkin’ out the door
Take this job and shove it
I ain’t workin’ here no more

Over the next five years, Sherrill and Paycheck had a solid run of Top 30 country hits. Songs like “Mr. Lovemaker” and “Slide Off of Your Satin Sheets” hit the Top 10, but they were having trouble finding the song to match the success of “She’s All I Got.” Then, “Take This Job and Shove It” showed up. It was a smash hit in both the U.S. and Canada.

Well, that foreman, he’s a regular dog
The line boss, he’s a fool
Got a brand new flattop haircut
Lord, he thinks he’s cool

The Feud

When Paycheck appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, he was asked who wrote the song. He replied, “Some guy in Nashville.” Coe took offense and viewed it as a slight. He went on to write a follow-up song called “Take This Job and Shove It, Too” and released it on his 1980 album I’ve Got Something to Say. 

The song took a swipe at Paycheck. This ain’t the first job I ever quit / And I know it won’t be my last Paycheck / Who knows, after today / You may be a thing of the past.

One of these days, I’m gonna blow my top
And that sucker, he’s gonna pay
Lord, I can’t wait to see their faces
When I get the nerve to say

Take This Job to the Silver Screen

In 1981, “Take This Job” was still a minor phenomenon and a movie was released based on the hit song. It starred Art Carney, Barbara Hershey, David Keith, Eddie Albert, Martin Mull, and Robert Hays, who had just starred in the movie Airplane! The movie became a surprise hit, featuring Paycheck and Coe in minor roles. It was the first appearance of a “monster truck” in a film, leading to a national craze sparked by Bigfoot, the jacked-up 1974 Ford F-250 pickup.

Take this job and shove it
I ain’t working here no more
My woman done left and took all the reason
I was workin’ for
You better not try to stand in my way
As I’m a-walkin’ out the door
Take this job and shove it
I ain’t workin’ here no more

The song title turned into a catchphrase used in everyday life. The phrase has been so accepted that some people who aren’t even familiar with the song use it. Other lyrics to have had the same effect are “See You Later, Alligator” by Bill Haley and the Comets, “Bust a Move” by Young MC, and “Drop It Like It’s Hot” by Snoop Dogg.

Take this job and shove it

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Image

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