November 8

The Story of Johnny Paycheck’s “Take This Job And Shove It”

The Story of Johnny Paycheck's “Take This Job And Shove It” 1

It is quite ironic that a country artist whose name was “Paycheck” would achieve his only No. 1 single with a song called “Take This Job And Shove It.” The song’s composer, David Allen Coe, had been asked during an interview if he would ever want to be a fireman, and he responded, “They can take that job and shove it.” He wrote the tune initially as a joke, but the longer he worked with the song, the more confident he was that the thing might actually have some merit. Coe took the song to producer Billy Sherrill, who decided it was just what he needed for Johnny Paycheck. It was one of the easiest songs Paycheck ever recorded, and it became an anthem for working people everywhere. “Take This Job And Shove It” yielded Paycheck his second Grammy nomination and became the title for a film.

Johnny Paycheck’s real name was Donald Lytle. He began his music career under the stage name “Donny Young,” but changed it again in 1965, taking his third and last handle from a former Golden Gloves boxer from Des Moines, Iowa named Johnny Paychek. Paychek’s claim to fame was that he once fought Joe Louis in Chicago for the heavyweight title and he lost. Most people incorrectly assumed that Lytle’s second stage name was a knock-off of “Johnny Cash.”

In addition to his background vocal duties, Lytle (as “Donny Young”) began making solo records in 1959 for Decca without any success. A switch to the independent Hilltop label provided him with his first two Billboard chart entries in 1965 under his new name. Johnny logged a few more lesser-charting singles with Little Darlin’ through 1969, then he left Nashville for the West Coast, playing small clubs in the Los Angeles area where Billy Sherrill spotted him and brought him back to Music City to ink a contract with Epic. “She’s All I Got,” Paycheck’s first single with his new label, vaulted all the way to #2 in 1971, and Johnny was on his way to becoming a star. Observing the success of Waylon Jennings’ and Willie Nelson’s careers, Paycheck decided to “crash the party” and tie himself to country music’s “outlaw” movement, which was breaking wide open in the mid-1970s. Johnny adapted a more “shaggy” appearance to better fit in as a rebel, and he began to participate in various types of misbehavior to conform to his new “outlaw” image. “Take This Job And Shove It” was the perfect song to perpetuate that image, and it became Paycheck’s only chart-topper on January 7, 1978.


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