Friday, January 26, 2007

Men At Work

Who Can It Be Now

Men at Work were an Australian pop rock band of the early 1980s. After Little River Band, and before INXS, Men At Work were Australia's most successful international rock export, and are still the only Australian artists with No.1 singles and albums in both America and England.

The Men At Work front man was singer Colin Hay who had moved to Australia with his family in 1967. Colin Hay started playing in bands in his first year in Australia, and continued through his high school years until university. In 1978 Colin met guitarist Ron Strykert when both were working in Sydney on the stage musical 'Heroes'. Colin and Ron decided to form an acoustic duo and, playing around Melbourne, started building up the catalogue of songs which would become the basis of Men At Work's repertoire.

The group itself grew out of informal jam sessions at the Grace Darling Hotel. Colin had met drummer Jerry Speiser while studying Economics at university. In mid-1979, with keyboard player Greg Sneddon on board, they provided the backing for the amateur rock musical 'Riff Raff' as their first venture in the recording studio. Sneddon didn't stay. He was replaced by multi-instrumentalist Greg Ham, someone they already knew from around the traps. Then, after a couple of months of playing residency at the Cricketers Arms Hotel in Melbourne, Men at Work decided to include a fifth member, and brought in bass player John Rees, allowing Strykert to move to guitar.

CBS signed Men At Work to a recording contract in early 1981. The first release under that agreement was the above single Who Can It Be Now?, with its deliciously paranoid lyrics and characteristic reggae-tinged rock style. 'Who Can It Be Now?' reached Australia's No.1 spot in August 1981, and four months later, both the re-recorded 'Down Under' and Men At Work's debut album reached the No.1 spot, the biggest selling Australian album since Skyhooks' record-breaking 'Living In The 70s'. 'Business As Usual' also became the first Australian album to debut at No.1 in New Zealand. And there was considerable success throughout Europe and in Canada.
Produced by American Peter McIan, 'Business As Usual' was twice rejected for release in the US by CBS's American affiliates. The band's manager refused to accept 'no' and eventually his persistence, sitting in record company offices until he was heard, paid off. Six months after its release in Australia 'Business As Usual' was released in both the US and the UK, and the band departed for an American tour supporting Fleetwood Mac. By October 'Who Can It Be Now?' was No.1 in America too. In November 'Business As Usual' started its 12 weeks stay on top of the American album chart, the biggest debut album since the Monkees. In January 1983 'Down Under' was No.1 on both America and England, where the album was also No.1 now - unprecedented success for an Australian recording act.

Part of Men At Work's dramatic rise to popularity was that their arrival coincided with the introduction of MTV. Men At Work's irreverent videos shone out like a beacon against their American competition. England and Australia were already well into the video age. In Men At Work became the first Australians to win a Grammy Award, for Best New Artist.

For Men At Work the happy problem was that it was now well over a year since their album had been released in Australia. Business logic said that since the US and UK were so late coming on board there was still a lot of life in the record on the world stage, but Men At Work decided to go ahead with recording a second album. 'Cargo', released in 1983, restored Men At Work to No.1 in Australia. But its worldwide release meant that just three months after 'Business As Usual' had been No.1 in both the US and UK, the second album arrived. 'Cargo' made top ten in both countries, but the impact of its release was complete over-exposure for the band, and a year filled with live performances.

At the end of 1983 Men At Work came back to Australia and took a year's break, scattering around the world. Colin Hay found time to get married, honeymooned in France, and produced an album for Melbourne friends Le Club Foot. Greg Ham joined his girlfriend moonlighting in the good-time band Relax With Max. While all this was going on, internal pressures were at work, arguments over management and songwriting, and John Rees and Jerry Speiser found themselves "not required". At the start of 1985 Hay, Ham and Strykert, with session musicians, recorded a third Men At Work album, 'Two Hearts', producing themselves.

Men At Work now came headlong against their own stature. It had all been too much too quickly, and the new album, despite its actual contents, failed to live up to the previous successes. The band's first American tour for 18 months was cancelled due to poor ticket sales. Ron Strykert left of his own accord, and Hay and Ham struggled on. Eventually Ham left too, and now Hay struggled on, determined to keep the band name alive. By the end of 1985 he also conceded defeat and concentrated on a solo recording and performing career.

Original band members
Colin Hay, lead vocals and guitar (1979/1985) - (1996-1998);
Ron Strykert, guitar, vocals (1979/1985);
John Rees, bass, vocals (1979/1984);
Greg Ham, saxophone, flute, keyboards, harmonica, vocals (1979/1985) - (1996-1998);
Jerry Speiser, drums, vocals (1979/1984).

Business as Usual (1982) #1 U.S., #1 AUS;
Cargo (1983) #3 U.S., #1 AUS;
Two Hearts (1985) #50 U.S., #16 AUS;
Contraband: The Best Of Men At Work (1996);
Brazil (1998).
[edit] Singles
Keypunch Operator/Down Under (self-produced single) (1979);

U.S. Hot 100

"Who Can It Be Now?"

"Down Under"

"Be Good Johnny"


"It's A Mistake"

"Dr. Heckyll And Mr. Jive"

"Everything I Need"

External links
Men At Work

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