MICHAEL GUDINSKI RELIVES THE STORY OF FOR THE WORKING CLASS MAN
Dear Fellow Fan of Great Australian Music, I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with some great Australian music over the years, and this record means so much to me for a number of reasons. There are so many things I love and admire about Jimmy Barnes. He’s a loyal friend, a passionate family man, and he’s the finest Australian singer I’ve ever heard. He also loves a good time – and a practical joke. I was very excited when I signed Jimmy Barnes in 1984. When he started working on his first solo album with producer Mark Opitz at Rhinoceros Studios in Sydney, he called me: “Michael, Michael, wait till you hear these new songs! It’s a new direction for me, a lot different, but it’s the new music … it’s gonna blow everyone away. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.” I flew to Sydney and Jimmy played me five new songs – five hokey, corny, terrible country songs. He was buzzing. “What do you think, what do you think?” He could see the colour draining from my face. “I’ll have to think about it,” I replied. “I’m not quite sure.” Jimmy handed me the cassette – it was labelled Jim’s Barn Band. I’d been had. That’s how we started the Bodyswerve album, which eventually evolved into For The Working Class Man. I’ve always believed in Jimmy. We back each other through thick and thin. When it comes to rock stars, he’s the real deal.
Jimmy also loves reminding me that I had the chance to sign Cold Chisel, but I’m adamant that Jimmy wasn’t singing on the demos that I heard. Whatever happened, there was no way I was going to miss out on signing Jimmy when he went solo. Nothing would stand in my way. There was no second prize!
We launched Jimmy’s solo career with Bodyswerve. It seems like a no-brainer now – the lead singer of an iconic band starting a successful solo career – but music history is filled with solo albums that have stiffed. And let me tell you, Jimmy was very nervous. He just wanted to make a record, so he could get back out there and do what he loves most – playing for people. Jimmy had one great song up his sleeve when he started making the album. He’d written ‘No Second Prize’ in the dying days of Cold Chisel. It was a fantastic first single. Jimmy describes it best: “It’s always meant a lot to me, because it’s the way I feel – you’ve just got to get out there and do your best. It’s not about winning or losing, it’s about having a go. If you’re tenacious enough and you hit ’em hard enough, something’s gonna stick. It’s a song of hope.” In that one statement, you have the story of Jimmy’s entire career – and his life. The guy simply never gives up. We released Bodyswerve in September 1984, just five months after Chisel’s final album. It went to number one, and then I focused on what I felt Jimmy truly deserved – success in America. We got him a deal with Geffen Records, and their great A&R man Gary Gersh (who later signed Nirvana) suggested a meeting that would change Jimmy’s life. Gary wanted Jimmy to record a song called ‘American Heartbeat’; Jimmy was not so keen. But Gary encouraged him to give it a go, “because I think you’ll work well with this guy”. That guy was Jonathan Cain from Journey. Jimmy met him, they talked about Jimmy’s career, Jonathan had already written a country song with lyrics which summed up Jimmy’s relationship with his audience called ‘Working Class Man’. Barnesy had his signature song and Australia had a new anthem. Geffen wanted Jimmy’s first American album to be a mix of new songs and selections from the Bodyswerve album. For the new songs – ‘I’d Die To Be With You Tonight’, ‘Ride The Night Away’, ‘American Heartbeat’, ‘Working Class Man’ and ‘Without Your Love’ – Jimmy got to work with some of his heroes. I’m not sure if any Australian album has featured so many international stars. The players included Mick Fleetwood, Jonathan Cain, Little Feat’s Bill Payne and Kenny Gradney, Waddy Wachtel, Charlie Sexton (Bob Dylan’s band), Billy Burnette (Fleetwood Mac), Tommy Thayer (Kiss), Dave Amato (REO Speedwagon), Randy Jackson (American Idol), Tony Braunagel (Back Street Crawler and Bonnie Raitt), Tony Brock (The Babys) and Kim Carnes on backing vocals. That’s a pretty impressive line-up! Jimmy also learned a lot by working with American songwriters – what he wanted to do and, more importantly, what he didn’t want to do. The great Bob Clearmountain remixed seven Bodyswerve songs for the new album: ‘No Second Prize’, ‘Vision’, ‘Promise Me You’ll Call’, ‘Boys Cry Out For War’, ‘Daylight’, ‘Thick Skinned’, and ‘Paradise’. In Australia, we released the album on double vinyl in December 1985. Even though it would have fitted on a single disc, we wanted the extra space in the grooves to allow for the best sound. At Mushroom, we talked about releasing the double album at the then standard price of $13.99, but Jimmy wanted his fans who’d bought the Bodyswerve record to get the new tracks at a reasonable price. He insisted that the record retailed for $9.99. I loved the idea. The album was Jimmy’s gift to his fans. A record for everyone who believed in him … For The Working Class Man. As the authors of The 100 Best Australian Albums said, “For The Working Class Man was not Barnes’ most successful album, but it defined both him and much of Australia.” I made sure before I sold Mushroom Records that Jimmy would be in a position to get the rights back for all the albums we’d made together. I’m so proud of everything Jimmy has achieved, both solo and with Cold Chisel. He’s had more number one albums than any other Australian artist. He’s actually sold more albums solo than with Chisel, which is a remarkable stat. He’s a two-time ARIA Hall of Famer. Hell, he’s even a best-selling author. But Jimmy has never forgotten his working-class roots. The things he still values most are honesty, loyalty, friendship and family. I’m proud to be his mate and our families will always be close. Michael Gudinski AM
P.S. I’ve been thinking about that country album, Jimmy. It’s actually not a bad idea …
VIDEO: ‘Working Class Man’ by Jimmy Barnes
For The Working Class Man Limited Edition Commemorative Album
Jimmy Barnes Out now through Bloodlines Available for streaming & purchase here
JIMMY BARNES WORKING CLASS MAN: AN EVENING OF STORIES & SONGS
AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND TOUR
MARCH, APRIL & MAY 2018 Presented by Frontier Touring, Triple M & MAX