Music

'9 to 5': The Story Behind the Film and Dolly Parton's Anthem for the Overworked & Underpaid

ASSOCIATED PRESS

With the lyrics 'Tumble outta bed and I stumble to the kitchen/ Pour myself a cup of ambition,' Dolly Parton wrote a mantra for workers everywhere. But "9 to 5," the theme song for the 1980 movie of the same name, is more than just a song about the daily grind. It's about ambition, yes, but also daily disappointments, horrible bosses and being overworked and underpaid. It was a song every worker could relate to, particularly the women who were joining the paid workforce in droves after a significant increase in the late '70s.

A story about fed up, overworked and underappreciated women is exactly what Jane Fonda set out to make when she conceived the project. Fonda was inspired by the work of  labor organizer Karen Nussbaum, the founder of 9to5, the Women Office Workers Union.

"Office workers were invisible, but we were the largest sector of the workforce. There were 20 million women office workers. One out of 3 women worked in an office in those days," Nussbaum told Makers. "So this notion about whether there would be an audience was one that Jane Fonda understood and tapped into...Her genius about this was understanding that it had to be real. It had to really reflect the way women talked, what their issues were, how they felt abou it. It couldn't be didactic. It had to be a comedy."

The Making of 'Nine to Five'

Fonda knew she wanted comedian, actor and Laugh-In alum Lily Tomlin for the role of Violet Newstead after seeing Tomlin in her one-woman Broadway play Appearing Nightly. One night, after driving home from Tomlin's play, Fonda heard Dolly Parton's "Two Doors Down" on the radio.

"I suddenly [got] an image of Dolly Parton sitting at a typewriter," Fonda said. "And I thought that would be something, to have Dolly Parton in her first movie playing a secretary in a movie that, among many other things, is going to touch upon sexual harassment. She's perfect."

Though the film was written with Parton and Tomlin in mind, Carol Burnett and Ann-Margaret were also considered for Violet Newstead and Doralee Rhodes, respectively.

"It was written for Dolly and Lily, but we did not have them under contract. We really wanted them, but we did have some backup ideas in case they turned us down," Patricia Resnick, who wrote the original 9 to 5 screenplay, told Rolling Stone in 2015. "But I had Dolly, Lily and Jane in my head the whole time, and we were really hoping that's who it was going to be."

Read More: Dolly Parton's Film Debut '9 to 5' is the Subject of a New Documentary

An Anthem for Working Women

Parton, who made her film debut in 9 to 5, agreed to do the part, but only if she could write the theme song.

"I said, 'well, this is a good opportunity, but I'll only do it if I can write the theme song," the country music legend said.

During downtime on the film set, Parton frequently clicked her acrylic nails together, playing them like a washboard, which led to a breakthrough for the movie's theme song.

"I always play the nails and I'd come up with little things that I would see on the set, like I tumble out of bed and I stumble to the kitchen, pour myself a cup of... And I thought, 'Wow, that sounds like a typewriter,'" the Tennessee native said.

Parton's co-stars knew Parton had written something special. (The song was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1981 and won Grammy Awards for Best Country Song and Best Country Vocal Performance, Female. The song hit No. 1 on the Billboard Country Chart, the Billboard Hot 100 and the Adult Contemporary Chart in 1981.)

"Lily and I looked at each other and we had goosebumps," Fonda said. "And we knew, this is not just a movie song, this is an anthem."

"9 to 5," featured on Parton's album 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs, has been an anthem for workers for 40 years now.

"I think the song is brilliant," Nussbaum told NPR in 2019. "It starts with pride: 'Pour myself a cup of ambition.' It goes to grievances: 'Barely getting by.' It then goes to class conflict: 'You're just a step on the bossman's ladder.' And then it ends with collective power: 'In the same boat with a lot of your friends.' So in the space of this wildly popular song with a great beat, Dolly Parton just puts it all together by herself."

Parton recently worked the song for a Squarespace ad, flipping "9 to 5" to "5 to 9," proving once again that "9 to 5," like Dolly, is timeless.

 

 

'9 to 5' Lyrics:

Tumble outta bed
And I stumble to the kitchen
Pour myself a cup of ambition
And yawn and stretch and try to come to life
Jump in the shower
And the blood starts pumpin'
Out on the streets
The traffic starts jumpin'
With folks like me on the job from 9 to 5
Working 9 to 5
What a way to make a livin'
Barely gettin' by
It's all takin'
And no givin'
They just use your mind
And they never give you credit
It's enough to drive you
Crazy if you let it
9 to 5, for service and devotion
You would think that I
Would deserve a fair promotion
Want to move ahead
But the boss won't seem to let me
I swear sometimes that man is out to get me
Mmmmm...They let you dream
Just to watch 'em shatter
You're just a step
On the boss man's ladder
But you got dreams he'll never take away
In the same boat
With a lot of your friends
Waitin' for the day
Your ship'll come in
And the tide's gonna turn
And it's all gonna roll you away
Workin' 9 to 5
What a way to make a livin'
Barely gettin' by
It's all takin'
And no givin'
They just use your mind
And you never get the credit
It's enough to drive you
Crazy if you let it
9 to 5, yeah, yes they got you where they want you
There's a better life
And you think about it, don't you
It's a rich man's game
No matter what they call it
And you spend your life
Putting money in his wallet
9 to 5
What a way to make a livin'
Barely gettin' by
It's all takin'
And no givin'
They just use you mind
And they never give you credit
It's enough to drive you
Crazy if you let it
9 to 5, yeah, they got you where they want you
There's a better life
And you think about it don't you
It's a rich man's game
No matter what they call it
And you spend your life
Puttin' money in his wallet

 

Now Watch: Dolly Parton's Siblings: Then & Now

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'9 to 5': The Story Behind the Film and Dolly Parton's Anthem for the Overworked & Underpaid