As you gaze dreamily out the window from your desk (or till, or pickup truck), the starry echelons of pop might seem unreachable, but take heart, aspiring musicians, because the employment history of now-revered icons can make for inspiring reading.

Grafters with a musical dream, we salute you: here's to the humble origin story.

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1. Calvin Harris, shelf stacker

Dumfries DJ Calvin Harris's first attempt at breaking into the music industry turned out to be something of a damp squib: believing he'd find more luck in London, he headed south, working as a shelf stacker while hoping to meet like-minded people who could give him his big break. But a combination of scant opportunities and spiralling living costs forced him to return to his parents' house in Scotland.

Back in his old haunt, he found himself grinding away in a familiar job. "I worked at Marks & Spencer in Dumfries," he later told Prestige. "On the sales floor, in the warehouse, on the tills, stocking shelves. I showed people where the corned beef was and date-rotated the yogurt."

But he kept plugging away with his other ambitions, too, recording songs on his own cheap equipment and uploading them to MySpace in the hope of attracting industry interest. "I was literally on the shop floor and got a call that EMI was offering me £30,000 for three years," he said. "I was earning £20,000 a year and I was thinking if I should really leave. Thank God I did."

It's unlikely he regrets it: since then, he's sold over eight million singles and one million albums in the UK alone, and US business magazine Forbes claimed that he was the world's highest-paid DJ for three years in a row between 2013 and 2015. According to them, he's currently worth around $63 million.

2. Madonna, doughnut seller

[LISTEN] BBC Radio 2 - Madonna interviewed by Jo Whiley, 2015

Not everyone gets the chance to leave their 9-to-5 behind like Harris did, though; some get booted out of the door with their P45 in hand instead. Long before she reigned as the Queen of Pop, Madonna was a talented student who was handed a scholarship to the University of Michigan School of Music, Dance and Theatre. But by 1978 she'd grown tired of studying and quit so she could pursue her dreams of stardom instead.

Moving to New York, she combined working with modern dance troupes with a gig at the branch of a doughnut chain. She wasn't a natural, though: according to the singer, she was fired when she decided to squirt jelly meant for the doughnuts all over the customers instead. Whether she channelled those food-serving experiences into her first band, The Breakfast Club, is unclear, although both jobs served as little more than footnotes into what was to come next: her decision to go it alone as a solo act instead was vindicated when she became the planet's most famous popstar and, according to the Guinness World Records, the biggest-selling female artist of all time, and fourth most successful ever.

3. Rick Ross, prison guard

[LISTEN] BBC Radio 1Xtra - Rick Ross interviewed by Charlie Sloth, 2014

Few musicians have been as secretive about their past as rapper Rick Ross, whose previous life as a prison guard has been the subject of great scrutiny in the hip hop community. For years, Ross denied rumours that he had worked as a corrections officer in his native Florida before he found musical success, despite evidence to the contrary: a photograph of the musician in his uniform first surfaced online, then documents allegedly detailing how Ross, born William Leonard Roberts, had started working for the Florida Department of Corrections as a 19-year-old and held the position for 18 months.

Fellow rapper 50 Cent was among those who made fun of Ross's past, accusing him of phoniness as "a correctional officer that is rapping like a drug dealer", but Ross later told Rolling Stone he only took the job as a last resort after a friend of his was sentenced to 10 years in prison for trafficking drugs. "This was my best friend, who I ate peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches with, and pork and beans with, my buddy, my partner, my number-one dude. Suddenly I'm talking to him over federal phone calls. Hearing the way it was building, I knew I couldn't take nothing for granted."

4. Morrissey, office clerk

[LISTEN] BBC Radio 4 - Desert Island Discs: Morrissey

As frontman of The Smiths, Morrissey often sang of the grey miseries of work: both Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now and Still Ill spoke of an existence tethered to a boring desk while life's more exciting possibilities passed one by. Upon leaving school (another experience that would inspire some of his songs), he landed a job working for the Inland Revenue in Manchester as a filing clerk. Typically, he found the role uninspiring and, after finding his other brief flirtations with work equally unsatisfactory (jobs included a clerk for the civil service and a hospital porter), he quit and began claiming the dole instead.

However pointless it may have seemed to him at the time, it still had its benefits: having money in his pocket allowed him to buy tickets for gigs and make friends in Manchester's music community, leading him to brief stints with local bands The Nosebleeds and Slaughter & The Dogs. By 1982, he'd struck up a friendship with guitarist Johnny Marr; the two of them formed The Smiths, leaving those office memories firmly in the past.

5. Brandon Flowers, bellhop

[WATCH] BBC Two - The Killers: Somebody Told Me (Later Archive 2004)

Once Morrissey had left the Inland Revenue to become a pop star, he helped inspire a new generation of aspiring musicians working in jobs they found unsatisfactory. When Brandon Flowers discovered The Smiths as a 12-year-old, his life was changed - he later told the Guardian that hearing the band's single Panic for the first time was what made him fall in love with pop music.

Years later, Flowers found employment as a bellhop at the Gold Coast Hotel and Casino in Nevada, Las Vegas. Coincidentally, one of the guests at the hotel during his stint there was Morrissey guitarist Boz Boorer, with Flowers telling Spin that he once secretly rifled through his luggage. It was during his days as a bellhop that Flowers made his first inroads into music, too, with his first band Blush Response, and when the group split, the singer decided to stay in the glitz and glamour of Vegas, channelling its decadence into the music he made with The Killers.

6. Nicki Minaj, waitress and office manager

[LISTEN] BBC Radio 1Xtra - Nicki Minaj interviewed by Semtex, 2014

"I'd been fired like 15 times because I had a horrible attitude," Nicki Minaj told Billboard in 2010. The rapper-cum-singer had a string of jobs while trying to make it in the music industry - one of them, a position as a waitress at a seafood restaurant franchise, culminated in her chasing a customer out of the door so she could swear at her and "demand my pen back" - but the final straw was a role as an office manager. "The last job I had was as an office manager in a little, tiny room where I literally wanted to strangle this guy because he was so loud and obnoxious," she explained. "I would go home with stress pains in my neck and my back. That's when I went to my mother and said, 'Look, I’m not going back to work...'"

Luckily for Minaj, there's been no need to dust off her CV again: her musical star has gone supernova in the seven years since releasing her debut album Pink Friday in 2010, with a career that has encompassed critically acclaimed records, mega-selling singles and culture-defining music videos - in August 2014, her much-discussed Anaconda video was viewed nearly 20 million times in just one day.

7. Freddie Mercury, market stall salesman

[LISTEN] BBC Radio 2 - Johnnie Walker and Mark Blake remember Freddie Mercury

One of rock's greatest ever showmen, Freddie Mercury lived in Zanzibar until 1964, when the 17-year-old's parents fled the revolution and settled in Middlesex. Mercury went on to study at Ealing College of Art and, after graduating, ran a clothes stall in London's Kensington Market. Speaking to Classic Rock magazine, Queen drummer Roger Taylor explained that he and Mercury had set up a stall in 1971 while they were waiting for the band to become a success, using the money they got from flogging second-hand clothes and art to support themselves and fund the recording of demos.

"We were selling artwork from some of the students at Ealing," he said. "Then we sold Fred's thesis, which was all based on Hendrix. Things like that are probably worth a lot of money now."

The effort paid off two years later when they released their self-titled debut album, the first step in them becoming a world-conquering force of nature, although some people still remembered their experiences with a pre-fame Mercury. Asked by the Guardian about the provenance of his famous mirrored hat, Slade's Noddy Holder reminisced: "I got the hat off a guy in Kensington market, called Freddie. He said: 'One day I'm gonna be a big pop star like you.' I said: 'F*** off, Freddie.' He became Freddie Mercury."

8. Björk, fish factory worker

[LISTEN] BBC Radio 2 - Björk interviewed by Jo Whiley, 2015

Having played with punk bands Spit and Snot and Tappi Tikarrass as well as the jazz fusion outfit Exodus, 17-year-old Björk was already a Reykjavik scene veteran by the time she co-founded dark, anarchistic post-punkers Kukl in 1983. Yet along with her bandmates and future fellow Sugarcube Einar Örn Benediktsson (media studies lecturer) and Sigtryggur Baldursson (road builder), she was also still working full-time - in a fish factory.

Her particular role involved pulling worms from the fish with tweezers, to ensure that seafood lovers weren't infested with parasites. Grisly work, but it probably chimed well with her sensibilities at the time - between stinky shifts, she was reading surrealist works such as George Batailles's classic The Story of the Eye, a darkly sexual novella that lent its name to Kukl’s first album, The Eye. And despite all the fish worms, she never lost her love of nature.

9. Philip Glass, taxi driver

[LISTEN] BBC Radio 4 - Philip Glass: Taxi Driver

Examples of musicians who were earning a more traditional type of crust before making a living from their art aren't just limited to the pop world. American Philip Glass is one of modern music's most influential figures, but he made a living as a taxi driver until he was 42. In a Radio 4 documentary (above) about his bizarre double life writing breathtaking music and driving fares around New York, he says: "I would show up around 3pm to get a car and hopefully be out driving by 4. I wanted to get back to the garage by 1 or 2am before the bars closed, as that wasn't a good time to be driving. I'd come home and write music until 6 in the morning."

According to Glass, who also worked as a plumber, life in the city was violent at the time - he'd regularly have to escape being ambushed by violent gangs, and it wasn't uncommon for colleagues of his to be murdered - but he was able to find time to compose while working (his opera Einstein at the Beach, for example, was written and premiered at the Met in New York several years before he gave up his cab). Since then, he's gone on to write countless symphonies, concertos, chamber pieces, operas and film scores, with his famed minimalist approach to composition making him a revered figure across the globe.

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