For someone like me it’s hard to believe that this LP is now some thirty years old. Not only do I remember purchasing it at the time, but probably drove my parents to distraction by playing it nearly every weekend in my bedroom and on my father’s stereo whenever the opportunity presented itself (he had better speakers). Such is the obsessive teenager. Now I haven’t listened to this record for perhaps over twenty years or more, so I thought I might as well dig out my original vinyl copy and give it a whirl, just to see whether I would still enjoy it. And I’m happy to say, I do – though maybe that’s nostalgia talking.
For the Working Class Man was Jimmy Barnes’ second solo effort, and an enormous success in Australia, outselling even Cold Chisel. An album so popular that the very title track itself was practically on the verge of becoming the nation’s next unofficial national anthem, for better or worse. Though let’s not be mistaken here. Working Class Man was a record designed with the intention of breaking Barnes into the U.S. market, and as such was recorded in New York and Los Angeles with an assortment of well known producers, songwriters and musicians, none of whom were Australian.
After a few pops and crackles, The Everyman’s rock-ballad “I’d Die to Be with You Tonight” makes for a solid start, and is a decent blend of pop-rock with proletariat leanings, thanks mainly to Jimmy’s hard living vocals. “Ride the Night Away” was written by Steven Van Zandt and Steve Jordan, and consists of some fairly high-profile musicians, namely Charlie Sexton, Bill Payne and Mick Fleetwood, none of whom I’m sure need any introduction. As for the song itself, it’s certainly well crafted and perfectly constructed, yet hearing it all these years later it simply pales in comparison to what Don Walker had been writing with Cold Chisel. “American Heartbeat”, the last track on side one, is one of those songs that doesn’t really quite gel with this listener at least, and never did even thirty years ago.
Side two begins with the song that cemented Barnes’ solo career in the minds and hearts of several hundred thousand Australians, the one and only “Working Class Man”, a tune I guarantee no singer will ever, and I mean ever attempt to cover – not because it’s shit – but because Jimmy Barnes owns it; to the extent that if anyone else even tried to make a version of their own, they would simply come across as some vocally flaccid working class dickhead. I don’t listen to the radio anymore though it wouldn’t surprise me if this song remains on constant rotation, perhaps much to the chagrin of the poor bastard who has to listen to it every day of the week.
“Without Your Love” was co-written by Barnes and Tony Carey, once keyboard player with Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow in the ‘70s. However it’s all schmaltz if you ask me. How many heartfelt and sentimental boxes can we tick off in four and a half minutes? The answer is plenty, obviously.
The second LP consists of what are in my view extremely polished and rather sanitised remixes of several tracks from Jimmy’s debut Bodyswerve, none of which I shall bother to dissect in any great detail, other than to say that the results are rather mixed at best. While some songs have no doubt benefited from the clearer production, courtesy of Bob Clearmountain, who did all the work at The Power Station in New York, I have to say I prefer the way they were originally recorded and presented, most notably “No Second Prize”, which in my mind is the superior version in all its raw and less than Los Angeles sounding glory.
Certainly this was Jimmy Barnes’ most professional solo album to date. That it may not have made much of an impression in the U.S. is not surprising considering that Bruce Springsteen and John Cougar Mellencamp had that whole local town working class thing down pat, which meant that any chance of Barnes appealing to an American audience was perhaps wishful thinking at best. Yet no matter – the LP was a huge hit in his native country, and helped pave the way for bigger things to come. And at least it was a start down that road toward the sort of commercial-rock which he hoped might appeal to the American masses. The only problem is that ultimately he was but a small fish in a big pond.
As a post note, there is a 25th Anniversary edition which I have not heard, although it does include a one hour live DVD performance originally broadcast in 1985 on the music program Rock Arena, and is well worth watching for any fans of the man with the sand-blasting vocals.