Hard Rock International When the plane carrying Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper…
- Posted on Oct 4th 2010 1:30PM by Joshua Ostroff
Peter Fordham, EMI
From 1970's 'John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band'
The Beatles were always a passive sort of political. Even 'Revolution,' despite its fist-raised sonics, criticizes the protest movement's increasing aggression, demurring "you can count me out." But maybe John Lennon was being held back by the Cute One, because his first solo album, 'John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band,' antes up 'Working Class Hero,' an intensely dark acoustic ballad that sounds like no less than an anti-capitalist call to arms.
"It's my experience, and I hope it's just a warning to people," Lennon told Rolling Stone at the time. "I'm saying it's a revolutionary song; not the song itself but that it's a song for the revolution."
This must have been where Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover started really worrying about the British pop star's politics.
Over mournful, minor-key finger-picking, the song takes a cradle-to-grave approach checklisting all the ways society makes the working class "feel small," from educational indoctrination to dehumanizing labour to keeping the masses "doped on religion and sex and TV." Lennon even seems to call out the style-conscious counterculture: "And you think you're so clever and classless and free/But you're still f---ing peasants as far as I can see."
But then Lennon offers hope, repeating, "If you want to be a hero, well, just follow me." It's almost as if Lennon were gathering his armies, like the massive street gang summit in 'The Warriors,' calling for an alliance between hippies and hardhats. Can you diiiiig it?
Politically motivated deportation hearings prevented Lennon from ever leading that potential people's revolution, but despite its then-timeliness, 'Working Class Hero' doesn't sound even slightly dated. When I first encountered it in the 1980s as child of hippies -- Lennon was dead by then, but his activist legacy had been taken up by the massive anti-nuclear movement -- the song sounded as striking powerful as ever, whether strummed around a bonfire or blasted over protest loudspeakers.
Vietnams come and go, political movements wax and wane, but Lennon's searing analysis of the American Dream and Britain's class struggle remains one of the most subversive songs ever recorded. Despite its gentle lilt, songs just don't get more punk.
So I imagine Lennon smiling down at Green Day for sending his words back out to the working-class audience when the San Francisco Bay Area band performed their amped-up cover version on the 'American Idol' stage in 2007. Or, rather, Lennon would've been smiling down if he, y'know, believed in heaven.