A Love That Costs a Little More – Remembering the Early Mekons

Work All Week

The third single put out by the Mekons is “Work All Week”, an anti-materialist anthem disguised as a love song. Like “Where Were You”, it’s a song that reveals its true identity after repeated listens (you’ll have to get this song on your own as copyright does not allow me to post the original version, only the 2004 folk reggae version). Though the song can, at first, seem to be a typical love and marriage tune, upon closer examination it bears that signature post punk cynicism and satire. In most love songs the object of the speaker is to woo their potential partner, or to express their love/devotion/affection in some way, “Work All Week” shows that love and marriage seem to be impossible without killing yourself trying to make the money to buy the materials which signify happiness. In a love song the object of the speaker’s affection is a person, in “Work All Week” the object of the speaker’s affection is the objects needed to barter for love.

The songs starts with a ‘70s-sounding “oriental” riff straight out of Carl Douglas’s “Kung Fu Fighting”, then moves into a lilting chord progression that’s a bit out of time with the drums. An excellent bass run fills in the simple chord progression and gives a good background to the misleading lyrics. The refrain of “I work all week” is a constant reminder that most things that the speaker discusses are impossible without constant labour.

The first lyric is straight forward enough: “I work all week to buy a ring / I work all week / Extra hours to get real gold / I’ll buy you anything / You know I’ll buy you anything / I work all week / Not put off by signs saying sold.” Love is supplanted with a ring — there’s no mention of who he’s buying the ring for or what the ring symbolizes, the goal of working seems to be the acquisition of a ring made of real gold. The song is boastful when the speaker says “You know I’ll buy you anything”, as if these possessions are enough, the cost of love is the value of his person.

In the second verse we get the line “There’s work by us but more by them / More work by them / And don’t forget the sites we go to / That day by them / A lovely day by us and by them”, which reveals the personal time that these two “lovers” are able to spend together is facilitated by a work hierarchy; they are able to have a good time because there are some poor suckers who work even more than the speaker. This verse leads into the chorus, which makes the satire explicit: “A certain kind of something for a certain kind of life / That certain kind of treasure for that certain kind of life”. Once it’s been revealed, they are able to expand more fully on the love of/for money.

The third verse relies even more heavily on money as affection: “I work hard for extra interest / I work all week / The love that costs a little more…I’ll buy you things you can’t ignore / I’ll work all night / I’ll work all night for the best”. At this point love is lowered to being equal with affection. “The love that costs a little more” is only gained when buying things that the potential love can’t ignore. Even when “love” is mentioned in this song it is explicitly pointed to as an object, it has a cost.

As the Mekons third single, “Work All Week” completes their promising triumvirate. Though the Mekons never delivered on a post punk level, their career has gone on to become the most varied, progressive and prolific of any band that began in the late ‘70s British punk scene.

A cover of “Work All Week” appears on their 2004 release, Punk Rock, as a Proclaimers-meet-reggae deal, which has its charms but lacks the immediacy and punch of the original. In the past five years there has been renewed interest in the Mekons’ post punk years and if their first three singles are any indication this is a band that knows how to write catchy, interesting, and lyrically layered, punk songs.