JIMMY BARNES 1984 – 2019

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I’d Die to Be with You Tonight (C Sandford) and Working – Class Man (J Cain) 1985 and Ride the Night Away (S Van Zandt/S Jordan) – Jimmy Barnes 1986

Jimmy Barnes had launched his solo career in 1984 with his debut album Bodyswerve, he and his new band were touring nationally, and an exhausted Barnes was on a treadmill, consuming large quantities of drugs and alcohol, to keep up the pace. Michael Gudinski stressed the need for Jimmy to have hits in the USA, and in autumn 1985 he departed for Los Angeles. His first meeting with Gary Gersh, Vice-President of A&R at Geffen records went well, Gersh explained that while he liked Jimmy’s debut album it was underproduced for the US market and would need to be re-recorded, and new material included. Despite serious misgivings about the changes to be wrought to his music, and a clannish suspicion about American record company executives generally, he signed a contract with Geffen Records and started working with local songwriters/producers Stateside.

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Chas Sandford (above) was a successful songwriter who had written hits for John Waite (Missing You), Stevie Nicks (Talk To Me), and he offered Barnes a song entitled American Heatbeat, which Barnes initially rejected, but it did finish up on his second album For The Working Class Man. Sandford also played part of a song he had written for himself which he intended to record on his next album, which Jimmy liked, he prevailed on Sandford to give him the song, entitled I’d Die to Be With You Tonight, and it became a new track on his album, and a #7 hit for Barnes back in Australia, his first top ten solo single hit.

A simple, straightforward breakup song which reflected the remorse of lost and unrequited love, two people who are physically separated, but where the man is desperate for another night of passion, and a possible resolution of their estrangement; Barnes would continue to return to this theme in future songs such as Ride The Night Away, Too Much Ain’t Enough Love, Lay Down Your Guns and Let’s Make It Last All Night.

The record was very much an American affair, Sandford was a journeyman US tunesmith who played guitar on the recording along with above left to right – Waddy Wachtel, while an impressive rhythm section of Tony Braunagel (above centre) (drums), and Ken Gradney (above far right) (bass), with backing vocals by Kim Carnes (Bette Davis Eyes) below, ensured a highly professional result when the song was cut at Rumbo Recorders in LA.

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Clearly Barnes 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 hopefully in the large and lucrative US market.

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Barnes returned to his American team to craft a follow-up hit and to complete the recording of what would become his second solo album, For The Working Class Man, which would feature five new songs written by American composers and seven re-mixed tracks from his 1984 debut album Bodyswerve. John Cain’s (above) Working- Class Man became the successful follow up hit, Cain was a former member of the Babys and Journey, for whom he had written the hits When You Love A Woman and Don’t Stop Believing respectively.

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The song paralleled Cold Chisel’s Khe Sanh as it also dealt 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.

Anthemic, rousing, visceral – its just so American though, echoes of Springsteen’s Born in the USA.

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 (below left), bassist Randy Jackson (below right), 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.(see footage of Barnes performing in the Made In Australia concert series in the mid-80’s below)

Surely Working- Class Man was a calculated attempt by Jimmy to crack the US market which had so badly burned Cold Chisel when they previously toured there in 1981, and led 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. Barnes 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.

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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 (#4) 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 and 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, it was also a country hit in the US for Lacy J Dalton.

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Gary Gersh also offered Barnes a song written by Steven Van Zandt (E Street Band), above with Barnes, and Steve Jordan entitled Ride The Night Away, for possible inclusion on Barnes second album. The song arrived as a rough demo recorded on a dictaphone, with acoustic guitar strumming, and some basic tabletop drumming, it was nothing more than a musical idea for a song, with Little Stevie scatting over the top of it. Barnes would bring Australian producer Mark Opitz to LA to produce the record for him, and they were joined in the studio by the legendary Mick Fleetwood (drums), Ken Gradney (bass), Charlie Sexton and Billy Burnette (guitars).

Performing at the Made in Australia Concert in 1986

The lyrics to Ride the Night Away could have been ripped from the pages of Barnes life story, he was a one-man demolition team when full of vodka, cocaine, and speed. A street child from the Glasgow slums who could be equally thuggish and combative, with an incandescent temper, raspy-voiced and tight-lipped, he was suspicious of outsiders, prickly and sensitive to criticism, and most of all suicidally self-destructive. The song was a propulsive rocker and the lyrics really cut through “I got a gun pointed at my head/ I put it there by myself/ I can’t ask ya but I need some help baby now/ And I’ve got a fire burning in my soul/ I’m dangerous and out of control/ And tonight I’ve got to let it go/ Yes I do…”, it charted #39 nationally in March 1986.

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The second album was a #1 hit in Australia and charted for an impressive 74 weeks, but it did not make a ripple in the giant US market despite the star power present in the recording studio and the deployment of no less than four different producers to craft radio-friendly US hits for Barnes. Critics there described him as a Bryan Adams/Sammy Hagar clone, who was churning out “standard-issue corporate designer rock just emotive enough to stir things up without obscuring the backup vocals of Kim Carnes.” (William Ruhlmann- AllMusic Review 1985). By 2012 the album had clocked up sales of 500,000 in Australia, and was generally regarded as one of the best local albums of the decade.

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