Working Class Man (J Cain) – Jimmy Barnes 1985
Barnesy (real name James Swan, adoptive name James Barnes) the ex-Cold chisel front-man launched his solo career in 1984 and took the Chris Sandford composition I’d Die to Be With You Tonight to #7 for his first solo hit. It was very much an American affair, Sandford was a journeyman US tunesmith who had written hits for John Waite (Missing You) and Stevie Nicks (Talk to Me), he played guitar on the recording along with Waddy Wachtel, Kim Carnes (Bette Davis Eyes) provided backing vocals and the session was recorded at Rumbo Recorders in LA.
Clearly Barnesy was gathering a coterie of songwriters, producers and musicians in the States that would help him chart a pathway to solo success not only here in Australia, but in the large and lucrative US market.
Barnes returned to his American team to craft a follow up hit and Working-Class Man became that song, written by US performer John Cain, a former member of the Babys and Journey for whom he had written Don’t Stop Believing and When You Love a Woman.
The song parallels Cold Chisel’s Khe Sanh as it also deals with returned Vietnam vets who are “still mad at Uncle Sam” but the protagonist here is not as bitter or dispossessed, he sees a future with his “little woman (who) someday he’ll make his wife”.
Opening piano chords soon give way to guitar power chords and drums as the song steams ahead to the rousing chorus and the rallying chant at the conclusion, it charted at #4 in ’85 and has subsequently assumed an iconic anthemic status in Australia, not unlike such songs as Farnham’s You’re the Voice, Braithwaite’s The Horses, and the Angels Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again.
This song which Aussie working class blokes so closely associate with, was however written and produced by an American, recorded in the MCA Whitney Studios in Los Angeles, by session musicians there including REO Speedwagon guitarist Dave Amatao, bassist Randy Jackson, and drummer Tony Brock, referencing such American phenomena as cyclones in the wild mid-western sky and personifying guys with “blue denim in their veins” who “believe in God and Elvis”. Despite attempts to link all this to comparable Australian images, the lyrical iconography is as American as Starbucks, Barnesy had even taken to wearing a US Civil War button up front panel shirt with an American Eagle emblazoned on the front, at his performances in the eighties.
Surely Working Class Man was a last gasp attempt by Jimmy to crack the US market which had so badly burned Cold Chisel when they previously toured there in 1981, and lead to their post-US tour album being titled Circus Animals in condemnation of their record company who the band believed had failed to support or promote them in the US. Barnesy had even penned the bitterly excoriating You’ve Got Nothing I Want, aimed squarely at unappreciative US audiences and constituted a particularly visceral attack on Elektra records senior executive, Morty Schwartz.
Working Class Man did not chart overseas, and Barnes would never really crack the US market, but it was a sizeable solo hit for him in Australia and has aspired to anthemic status over time, lung-screaming vocals also became the order of the day for a solo Barnes after this record, even though he had revealed a great rock voice with Cold Chisel, capable of more complex, subtle yet equally impassioned performances.
The promotional video was variously filmed in fiery sugar cane fields near Cairns and iron ore smelting plants in Port Kembla and the song has been covered by such local artists as Shannon Noll and Redgum’s John Schumann. Jimmy Barnes was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame as a solo artist in 2005, in a stellar field which included the Divinyls, Rose Tattoo, Helen Reddy, Daddy Cool, Icehouse and Lobby Lloyd.