Men At Work

  • Australian rock/new wave band formed in 1979 from Melbourne Australia. The main members during the 80s were Colin Hay (vocals, guitar), Ron Strykert (guitar, backing vocals), John Rees (bass guitar, backing vocals), Greg Ham (keyboards, saxophone, flute, harmonica, backing vocals), and Jerry Speiser (drums, backing vocals). Hay and Ham were continuous members during the group’s existence – over the years, 22 people have been band members. Hay was the primary songwriter, with contributions by the other members.
  • Hay and Strykert met in 1978 and performed together as an acoustic duo. The following year, they decided to expand, adding Speiser first, and soon after, Ham and Rees. In October, they had a gig at a hotel, and needed to have a name to put on the blackboard outside the entrance to the hotel. Hay threw out Men At Work, and Strykert seconded it.
  • They developed a reputation around Melbourne as a pub-rock band, and became popular locally. In 1980, they self-released a single, Keypunch Operator, with Down Under on the B-side. Only 300 copies were produced. They continued to grow in popularity, and in early 1981, they were signed to a record deal.
  • In June 1981, Men At Work released their debut single in Australia, Who Can It Be Now?. It reached #2 in Australia. They followed it with a pop version of Down Under, which topped the music charts in Australia. At the same time, their debut studio album, Business As Usual was ready for release in Australia – it quickly went to #1 and remained there for 9 weeks.
  • The record company’s U.S. affiliate initially rejected it for the U.S. market, but by April 1982, it was finally released in North America. The band promoted the album with a tour (with Fleetwood Mac) that summer, and in October, Who Can It Be Now? was #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album topped the Billboard album chart, remaining #1 for 15 weeks. Down Under was released as a single in the U.S., and it too reached #1 on the Hot 100. In January 1983, Men At Work was the first Australian act to have a #1 album and #1 single at the same time in both the U.S. and the UK. The band received the Grammy award in 1983 for Best New Artist. The album reached platinum status in 1982, and 12 years later, it was certified 6x platinum.
  • The flute solo in Down Under led to a lawsuit in 2010 – it was claimed by the owner of the 1934 song Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree that the solo was plagiarized. The judge found in favor of the plaintiff, though the decree only awarded 5% of the royalties to the owner, and only on profits earned after 2002.
  • Their follow-up album, Cargo, was released in 1983. It was another hit – the single Overkill reached #3 on the Hot 100, and the song It’s A Mistake reached #6. The album peaked at #3, and ultimately it was certified 3x platinum.
  • In 1984, tensions in the band led to the dismissal of Rees and Speiser, and Stryker also left before their third album was completed. As such, Two Hearts was produced by Hay and Ham, with studio musicians providing assistance. The album sold poorly, with only 1 single peaking in the middle of the Hot 100 chart – 3 other singles did not chart. Ham left the band during the tour to support the album, leaving Hay with all new band members.
  • By 1986, Men At Work was defunct. Ten years later, Hay and Ham reformed the band, touring in South America, where they had a strong following. A live album, titled Brazil, was released Over the next 6 years, with a revolving door of band members supporting Hay and Ham, they toured in the U.S., Europe and Australia. By 2002, the band again was dissolved. After that, Hay and Ham occasionally reunited for special concerts. In 2012, Ham died of a heart attack.
  • After releasing 13 solo studio albums from 1987 to 2017, Hay has scheduled a 16 show tour of Men At Work this summer in Europe – he will use musicians he has worked with in recent years to perform with him. It will be the first tour in 20 years for the band.
  • I was (am) a fan of new wave music in the early 80s, and the first 2 Men At Work albums are in my record collection. Their songs were catchy, easy to sing along with, and mysteriously Australian. They had a heavy rotation on MTV, which certainly helped their success. Here is the video for Down Under. Listen for Greg Ham’s performance on the flute – Ham often expressed remorse at the plagiarism charge, and he suffered depression and anxiety due to the lawsuit – perhaps it led to his early demise at the age of 58?

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