Classic Songs About Money

Pink Floyd performing onstage against album light show.
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Everyone needs it and, increasingly, everyone around the world seems to be suffering from lack of it. The paradox of money is a subject well-represented in popular music, and with rock getting so much of its fuel from blues and R&B, oldies music tends to hit the subject even harder. This list features the most prominent oldies songs about money wherein the artists explain the need for, the things we do to get, and, sadly, the highly volatile nature of financial wealth. 

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"For The Love Of Money" by The O'Jays

Close up of The O'Jays' "For the Love of Money" record.

Courtesy of musicstack

The O'Jays smash hit "For the Love of Money" received remarkable airplay despite its seven-minute runtime. The title of the track is said to originate from the Bible verse, 1 Timothy 6:10, which reads, "For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows."

Indicative of the Philadelphia musical movement of the time, the Gamble-Huff production belied the notion ​Philly Soul was all sweetness and light; indeed, many consider this to be one of the Seventies' finest protest songs.

That ominous opening bass line, for example, alternately drenched in echo and slapped in your face, sets up the stark no-bull reality of the lyrics to come, which detail just how far humanity will sink in pursuit of what the song itself calls "mean green."

What will people do for the love of money? "A woman will sell her precious body." "People can't even walk the streets." And the most damning words of all, which no folkie protester could surpass: "For a small piece of paper, it carries a lot of weight." A line so on point they didn't even bother rhyming it.

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"Money (That's What I Want)" by Barrett Strong

This early Motown classic put the Motown label on the map; almost a stark blues notion, "Money (That's What I Want)" lays out the necessity of cold hard cash as a commodity worth more than most emotions: "Your lovin' gives me such a thrill / But your love don't pay my bills."

Singer Barrett Strong would go on to become one-half of a legendary Motown songwriting team with Norman Whitfield, who co-wrote such hits as "I Heard It Through The Grapevine," "War" and "Ball Of Confusion." 

Strong's hard-headed practicality in his later hits is already on display here. John Lennon, when covering this with the Beatles, ad-libbed "Yeah, I want to be free" — the Freudian slip of a class capitalist or the exhortations of a free spirit yearning to rise above the physical world?

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"Money Honey" by The Drifters

A classic R&B story-song where the everyman singer just can't catch a break — everywhere he goes, he finds himself lacking the one thing everyone wants from him: money.

Asking your significant other for rent money is probably a bad idea, especially if he or she is already in the process of trading you in for a richer model. The dubious moral: Always get a mate with money of their own.

Forget the strutting nature of the rhythm section or the too-cool snap of the production, in the world of "Money Honey," money's a joke for which the listener is always the punchline — too bad it rings so true for so many of us!

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"Money" by Pink Floyd

Graced with one of the most ingenious uses of sound effects in rock history, the odd 7/8 rhythm of "Money" is suggested by a symphony of cash registers shot through with an appropriately ominous low guitar line. Roger Waters is well-known for providing some of the Seventies' more misanthropic lyrics, but for once he has a universal subject worthy of his bile: the less-than-golden rule which states that those who have, get more.

The utter frivolity of the rich ("Think I'll buy me a football team") balanced against the utter neglect shown to the poor ("I'm all right, jack / keep your hands off of my stack") makes for an intriguing little polemic.

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"Money, Money, Money" by ABBA

Done in the Swedish supergroup's usual light-but-theatrical Europop style, this bit of cabaret functions as a sort of distaff update to Fiddler on the Roof's "If I Were A Rich Man" (decades before Gwen Stefani!).

"Money, Money, Money" first appeared on ABBA's 1976 album "Arrival," and featured a catchy chorus that decried the disparity between the rich and poor. With lyrics like "money, money, money, must be funny / in a rich man's world," ABBA used their synth-heavy disco to drive home the point.

Although delivered with a deadpan audacity, the mix of jangly, nervous piano and dark guitar filigrees underlines the heart-breaking fallacy behind thoughts like "I wouldn't have to work at all, I'd fool around and have a ball." Consider this Bertolt Brecht for disco-era females. Or desperate housewives of any era.

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"Busted" by Ray Charles

Brother Ray held forth on the bipolar nature of money in several of his songs, decrying the necessity of it to buy love in "Greenbacks" and yet still fantasizing about just how much love it could buy him in "Smack Dab In The Middle."

But it's in the swinging soul smash "Busted" — which occurs smack dab in the middle of his fertile early-Sixties period on the ABC label — that Ray Charles best described the pervasive and insidious nature of the beast: reduced to begging from friends and family, he soon finds that everyone's in the same boat he's in.

Things are, indeed, tough all over, and the hard-luck stories really hurt: "My wife and my kids are all down with the flu, and I was just thinking about calling on you," sings Charles. 

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"Your Cash Ain't Nothin' But Trash" by The Clovers

Best known for its mid-Seventies Steve Miller cover, this 1954 R&B hit tells the ultimate shaggy-dog tale. "Your Cash Ain't Nothing But Trash" tells the story of an unlucky soul who can't get what he needs to get the girl of his dreams and winds up getting mugged and left to rot in jail, mistaken for a drunk loiterer and without a nickel to put towards bail. (Okay, he actually has one nickel: the "buffalo" mentioned near the end.)

Maybe the reason it took 20 years to get this song some recognition in the mainstream is because you have to be in a state of near-poverty to appreciate it.

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"First I Look At The Purse" by The Contours

The Contours will always be best remembered for boldly passing off the ability to dance as a sign of sexual attractiveness in 1962's "Do You Love Me?" But thanks to bar bands everywhere — especially The J. Geils Band, who made this song famous for a whole new generation — "First I Look At The Purse" went on to be featured in the annals of gigolo fame. 

An unrepentant ode to the art, it not only suggests that love isn't as important as money, it suggests one feeds the other. Its bold stance of a man hunting for a rich woman serves as one of the greatest gender-role reversals on vinyl. 

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"Funky Dollar Bill" by Parliament

Like a lot of funk and hip-hop classics, this transmission from the P-Funk mothership moves beyond bitching about being stuck in a capitalist bag and just accepts money-grubbing as a kind of modern urban blues: hard, yeah, but completely natural, and utterly unavoidable.

To that end, the freaky psychedelic music of "Funky Dollar Bill" seems to be telling you to get that money anyway — better to err on the side of caution. Hate the game, in other words, not the player. And that game's spelled out pretty well, in just a few quick strokes: "It'll buy you life, but not true life."

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"It's Money That I Love" by Randy Newman

You can always count on Randy Newman to make pointed commentaries on society, speaking through characters so offensive they'll immediately scandalize anyone who doesn't get his meta-joke.

This 1979 song, "It's Money That I Love," is surely no exception. Written as an autobiography, it tells the story of a man who isn't smart, pretty, or good, but thanks to money, he doesn't have to be. He doesn't have to deal with petty things like emotions, either, especially love, pity, concern or faith.

Newman sings "They say that's money can't buy love in this world. But it'll get you a half-pound of cocaine and a sixteen-year-old girl." What could be better, right?