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 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 of the lines in 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" by Bob Dylan, a known influence of Lennon's. Both are based on Jean Ritchie's arrangement of the traditional English folk song, "Nottamun Town."
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.
|"Working Class Hero"|
|Single by Green Day|
|from the album Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur|
|Released||1 May 2007|
|Length||4:25 (album version)
4:01 (radio edit)
|Label||Warner Bros., Amnesty International|
|Green Day singles chronology|
- Marianne Faithfull covered the song on her 1979 album Broken English.
- Then-New Zealand politician Marilyn Waring covered the song as a single in 1980.
- Jerry Williams covered the song in 1984 on his album Working Class Hero.
- Richie Havens covered the song for his 1987 album Richie Havens Sings Beatles and Dylan.
- Blind Melon covered the song on their last-ever tour with Shannon Hoon as their singer, in 1995.
- Mike Peters covered the song when with The Alarm as a backing track to their 1989 single "A New South Wales".
- David Bowie's band Tin Machine recorded a version of the song on their 1989 self-titled debut album.
- Cyndi Lauper covered the song live on Lennon: A Tribute in 1992.
- Screaming Trees covered the song for the 1995 tribute album Working Class Hero: A Tribute to John Lennon.
- Roger Taylor covered the song on his 1998 album Electric Fire.
- Marilyn Manson covered the song on the B-side of the 2000 single "Disposable Teens".
- Noir Désir covered the song on the 2000 album Liberté de Circulation'.
- Pain of Salvation covered the song live in 2001 together with Dream Theater's Mike Portnoy.
- Hilton Valentine covered the song on his 2004 album It's Folk'n' Skiffle, Mate!.
- Elbow covered the song for Q magazine in 2005.
- Ozzy Osbourne recorded a version for his 2005 collection Under Cover.
- The Academy Is... covered the song in 2006 on its From the Carpet EP.
- Tina Dickow covered the song for Amnesty International's 2007 'Make Some Noise' campaign in Denmark.
- Green Day contributed a cover of the song to the Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfurin 2007. It peaked at #53 on the Billboard Hot 100, #6 on the Canadian Hot 100, #8 in Norway and #11 in Sweden. It also achieved notable success at rock radio, peaking at #10 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart and #18 on theMainstream Rock Tracks chart. The ending features an excerpt of the final line of Lennon's version. Also, in their song "21st Century Breakdown", Green Day pays homage to this song and Lennon himself with the line "I never made it as a working class hero.".
- Manic Street Preachers recorded a cover of the song on their 2007 album Send Away the Tigers.
- Racoon covered the song on their album Before You Leave (2008).