Aretha. Just one word. Always when you heard or read about soul music she was always around, the godmother above and beyond. Yet she turned out to be mortal after all.
Her voice was rarely simpler or purer then in this song about that good old sun. This is a song primarily about work – and even if it‘s tempting to see the sun as a stand-in for the white man it‘s actually better simply to take it literally. This feeling to slave away in paradise – when the eyes are always on the mud, except for those brief moments when you look up and watch the sky. As in the chorus:
Up in the morning, out on the job
Work like the devil for my pay
But that lucky old sun got nothing to do
But roll around heaven all day
In it‘s simplicity the song tells us everything that is wrong with our capitalist inequality driven working culture – we may find paradise but we‘ll never enjoy it, not under those terms. It‘s always beyond the horizon. This is simply a song about work as serfdom. Perhaps it should rather be a Monday song.
Aretha wasn’t the first and she wasn’t the last to cover the song. The first were white crooners dressed in suits, men like Frankie Laine and Frank Sinatra, who were so far away from this reality that the words lost the meaning before they even uttered them. Louis Armstrong, Sam Cooke and Ray Charles came closer to the essence of the song later on – and also some white singers that did in some way speak to the working class, men like Pat Boone and Johnny Cash. Particularly Cash actually – he and Aretha understood the song better then anyone else. They understand this sun – or rather, that the song is not about her at all.
And of course you also understand this song if you lived behind the Iron curtain. Here‘s the Czech version, Stare Šťastné slunce, sung by Hana Hegerová – followed up by Hegerová covering it in very broken English.
Text: Ásgeir H Ingólfsson