John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero” Lyrics Meaning
John Lennon oft dropped songs with a revolutionary slant, even during the latter days of the Beatles. In fact his influence in that regard was so potentially powerful that the US government actually tagged him for some period of time. And it was anti-establishment songs such as “Working Class Hero” which drew their attention.
The titular phrase is actually a sarcastic one. Or rather we can say that Lennon did in fact idolize the working class. Indeed he considered himself as being one of them, despite growing up relatively-wealthy and of course being a music superstar. But in the lyrics he is indirectly speaking of how he thinks the elite perceives common working folk. In other words, when Lennon states that “a working class hero is something to be”, it reads as if this is an ideology which the rulers of society put forth, not John himself. For as he illustrates in the lyrics, the working class do indeed suffer throughout the entirety of their lives.
Or as the singer paints the scenario, us average folks are socialized early on to spend our time on the mortal plane being the proletariat ‘dopes’ of the elite. Or stated differently, the way the singer views it is that such individuals work their whole lives with virtually no prospect of upward social mobility or overcoming their lot. That is to say the American dream, so to speak, is an allusion. In his eyes, the powers that be are able to perpetuate this fraud by keeping the populace docile via “religion and sex and TV”. And then even if you do make it to “the top”, the way John puts it is that you would basically have to sell your soul – or “kill” -in the process.
Lennon uses this song to speak for the Voiceless
And yes, Lennon was quite serious when he put this song together. That is to say that he used his celebrity to speak up on behalf of the “peasants”. In his eyes, these “peasants” have been cursed to an existence of drone-like living by their leaders.
Facts about “Working Class Hero”
This track is from a project entitled John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, which was Lennon’s first solo full-length. He wrote the song himself, as well as produced it with Phil Spector and Yoko Ono, whom he married in 1969.
Additionally Lennon is not only the sole singer on the track but is also its only instrumentalist. The former Beatle actually played an acoustic guitar on this classic. And he took great pride in the song, recording it in excess of 100 times until he got “Working Class Hero” the way he wanted it. However, it has also been put forth that he was so frustrated during the making of this song that no take sounded right to him. In fact the finished product itself is actually a combination of two completely-different takes.
This classic was ahead of its time in terms of some of the choice language used. In fact some radio stations actually banned themselves from playing it, specifically due to Lennon’s utilizing of the word “f**king” (which for the record never appeared in any of the Beatles’ songs). Indeed Congressman Harley Staggers (1907-1991) actually tried to get the song banned by the FCC but ultimately failed to do so. But Yoko Ono later explained that the reason Lennon used that particular word was because he deemed that’s how working-class people spoke.
When did Lennon release this song?
“Working Class Hero, a product of Apple Records, was released 11 October 1971. And just to note, in 2005 a Lennon cover album came out entitled “Working Class Hero: A Tribute to John Lennon”. This just goes to illustrate just how very important this song is to his massive catalog.
Covers of “Working Class Hero”
Famous artists who have covered this song include the following:
- Marianne Faithfull (1979)
- David Bowie (1989)
- Marilyn Manson (2000)
- Green Day (2007)