Why John Lennon’s ‘Working Class Hero’ Gave Some Liverpudlians a Chuckle

John Lennon‘s “Working Class Hero” is a dour portrayal of working-class life. It doesn’t necessarily reflect John’s reality. During an interview, Paul McCartney reflected on John’s “posh” upbringing.

John Lennon’s ‘Working Class Hero’ doesn’t reflect his posh middle class background
One of John’s most famous solo ballads is the bitter folk song “Working Class Hero.” It’s a protest song about how the working class are treated. In “Working Class Hero,” John attacks religion, television, and school.

According to the 1997 book Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now, John was from a “comfortable middle-class background.” For that reason, many Liverpudlians found “Working Class Hero” amusing. After all, John grew up in a suburb across from a golf course! However, John never claims to have been working class in “Working Class Hero.” The ballad is merely a portrayal of the working class’ plight.

Paul McCartney said John Lennon was the 1 Beatle who wasn’t working class
In Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now, Paul discussed John’s class background. “I suppose John was the nearest to the middle class,” he said. “The other three of us weren’t. We were quite definitely working-class … upper working-class.

“We were in a posh area but the council bit of the posh area,” Paul added. “John was actually in one of the most posh houses in the posh area. They had lived there for quite a while; in fact, John once told me that the family had once owned Woolton, the whole village!”

Paul also said John’s family included some prominent people. “John had a relative in the BBC, and somebody who was a dentist,” he remembered. “His uncle Cissy Smith taught handwriting and English at the Liverpool Institute. He was actually quite nice, quite charming, looking back on him, but we thought he was a total berk at the time.” For context, “berk” was slang for a fool.

How the track performed in the United States and the United Kingdom
While “Working Class Hero” was a single, it didn’t do much for John commercially. The ballad never charted on the Billboard Hot 100. The tune appeared on the more successful album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. That record reached No. 6 on the Billboard 200, staying on the chart for 34 weeks. John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band wasn’t huge, even though it came out shortly after The Beatles’ breakup.

According to The Official Charts Company, “Working Class Hero” didn’t chart in the United Kingdom either. On the other hand, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band hit No. 8 in the U.K. and remained on the chart for 11 weeks.

Notably, the band Marilyn Manson covered the song in their signature style. While the original song is a far cry from the industrial rock Marilyn Manson is known for, the track portrays religion as an oppressor, like many Marilyn Manson songs. Classic rock icons Marianne Faithfull and Green Day also put their own spins on the song, showing that the song connected with artists across generations. “Working Class Hero” might’ve inspired some misinterpretations but it’s still a classic protest song.

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