A political song, the song is a commentary/criticism on the difference between social classes. It tells the story of someone growing up in the working class. According to Lennon in an interview with Jann S. Wenner of Rolling Stone in December 1970, it is about working class individuals being processed into the middle classes, into the machine.
The refrain of the song is "A working class hero is something to be".
The song is not Lennon's first political song. His string of political songs began in 1968 with the Beatles' "Revolution" and further continued in 1972 with the release of Some Time in New York City.
The song features only Lennon, singing and playing an acoustic guitar as his backing. The chord progression is very simple, and builds on A-minor and G-major, with a short detour to D-major in one line of the chorus. Lennon's strumming technique includes a riff with a hammer-on pick of the E note on the D string and then an open A string. The tone and style of the song is similar to that of "Masters of War" and "North Country Blues" by Bob Dylan, a known influence of Lennon. Both are based on Jean Ritchie's arrangement of the traditional English folk song, "Nottamun Town". Lennon recorded "Working Class Hero" over a hundred times until he was satisfied with the recording. The recording is the composite of two different takes: the sound of the guitar and vocal changes at 1:24 prior to the verse "When they've tortured and scared you."
In 1973, US Representative Harley Orrin Staggers heard the song — which includes the lines "'Til you're so fucking crazy you can't follow their rules" and "But you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see" — on WGTB and lodged a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The manager of the station, Ken Sleeman, faced a year in prison and a $10,000 fine, but defended his decision to play the song saying, "The People of Washington DC are sophisticated enough to accept the occasional four-letter word in context, and not become sexually aroused, offended, or upset." The charges were dropped. Other US radio stations, like Boston's WBCN, banned the song for its use of the word "fucking". In Australia, the album was released with the expletive removed from the song and the lyrics censored on the inner sleeve.
- ^ "I'm Your Fan". CMJ New Music Report. New York City: CMJ Network, Inc. 24 May 1999. Retrieved 27 July 2016.
- ^ a b c "Working Class Hero". The Beatles Bible. 2 August 2010. Retrieved 20 July 2017.
- ^ "John Lennon interview, by Jan S. Wenner, Rolling Stone, audio available". www.rollingstone.com. December 1970. Retrieved 8 May 2009.
- ^ Lennon, John (1983). Lennon: The Solo Years. Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation. p. 156. ISBN 0-88188-249-6.
- ^ Raz, Guy (29 January 1999). "Radio Free Georgetown". Washington City Paper. Retrieved 31 March 2009.
- ^ Blecha, Peter (2004). Taboo Tunes: A History of Banned Bands & Censored Songs. Backbeat Books. pp. 160–161. ISBN 0-87930-792-7.
- ^ Schechter, Danny (1997). The More You Watch, the Less You Know: News Wars/Submerged Hopes/Media Adventures. Seven Stories Press. p. 106. ISBN 1-888363-80-0.
- ^ Blaney, John (2005). John Lennon: Listen To This Book. Paper Jukebox. p. 59. ISBN 0-9544528-1-X.