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Jimmy Barnes – ‘For The Working Class Man’: Why It Mattered

Jimmy Barnes

Is there a voice more emblematic of the true blue Australian than Jimmy Barnes? His career – both as a solo performer and as the lead vocalist with Cold Chisel – has made him a classic symbol of Australian music, in particular the significant pub-rock scene. On top of the fourteen albums that Cold Chisel released, Jimmy Barnes has made thirteen charting solo albums, perhaps none as influential as For The Working Class Man.

After parting ways with Cold Chisel and making his first attempt at a solo career with Bodyswerve in 1984, Barnes was determined to enter the American market. The result of his efforts throughout 1985 was For The Working Class Man, an album that proved the artist had a talent worth sharing far beyond the local pub. 

Jimmy Barnes

Taking a closer look at For The Walking Class Man reveals some of Jimmy Barnes’ most distinguished musical creations, painting the artist as so much more than the picture boy for Australian dad rock.

By 1985, every Aussie man and their dog knew Jimmy Barnes. Reaching such high levels of success with Cold Chisel and with the release of his debut solo album, it was as though Barnes had no choice but to set sights on bigger and better things. And of course, in the 1980s, no place oozed a sense of success more than the United States. 

However, making it big in America is not as easy as merely releasing an album and seeing how it goes – there was quite a lot of science involved. Barnes signed to American label Geffen Records for the album’s release and worked closely with a diverse array of US talent when putting the album together. This included collaborations with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Chas Sanford, Journey’s Johnathan Cain, Charlie Sexton, and singer Kim Carnes.

Barnes also enlisted British drummer Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, who had obviously seen significant success in the States. It was through these careful considerations that Barnes was able to build an album that not only delivered a quintessentially Australian story, but also spoke to a far wider audience than his previous releases ever did. 

For The Working Class Man was released as a double-vinyl set and shifted more than 250,000 copies in twelve months in Australia, debuting at #1 locally, where it remained for seven weeks. While the album contained subtle flirtations with a more unconvinced American audience, there was undoubtedly one track which stood out as a full-blown love letter to his Australian fans; Working Class Man. 

Featuring the rasping, gravel-voiced blues of Barnsey at his vocal peak, its lyrics eloquently highlighted the importance of the blue-collar, working-class demographic; prevalent and symbolic within Australian society. That’s not to mention the video clip which even further channelled the Australian experience. In hearing this song, Aussies would raise their glasses and say “This song is about me.”

At the same time, American audiences came to realise the full-throttle strength of rock and roll from the land down under. 

Rather unconventionally, For The Working Class Man contained seven tracks from Barnes’ debut solo album Bodyswerve, as well as five more that had been specifically tailored to a broader market. Beyond its most iconic track were a number of belters including I’d Die to Be with You Tonight, American Heartbeat, and Ride The Night Away, many of which continue being performed by Jimmy Barnes relentlessly

Bluesfest 2021 will be the next instalment in the pub-rock magnate’s legacy, a testament to the record’s ability to fill our biggest stages decades later. Headlining a patriotic Easter Sunday alongside The Teskey Brothers, Kasey Chambers, Weddings Parties Anything, John Butler, and Emily Wurramara, the performance will arguably stand as a homage to the artist himself: a beacon that after 35 years, For The Working Class Man still speaks to something so quintessentially Australian.

Barnes was able to spin the intricacies and beauty of the Australian spirit into the space of 16-tracks. It is a treasure that captures our nationhood like no record has managed before; explosively humble lyricism, melodies that burn with pride, and an overwhelming sense of resilience. The artist’s first Bluesfest solo appearance in 15 years will be one to remember, but most of all, it speaks to the cultural opus that is his sophomore album.

For The Working Class Man was so much more far-reaching than even some the biggest Barnesy fans might initially expect. Following its international success, Barnes proved that local musicians could make brute force their way into much larger demographics without taking away from what made them unique in the first place.

While we wore the album as a symbol of life in Australia, people all over the world found something to relate to in his sound, making it one of country’s best. 

Catch Jimmy Barnes at Bluesfest 2021 on Sunday 3 April, 2021. Single and multi-day tickets are on sale now, including add-ons, parking, camping, and VIP tickets.

Find Bluesfest tickets here.

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July 24, 2020