Men at Work were an Australian reggae-influenced rock band which achieved international success in the 1980s. They are the only Australian artists to reach the Number 1 position in album and singles charts in both the United States and the United Kingdom with Business as Usual and "Down Under" respectively. The group won the 1983 Grammy Award for Best New Artist and sold over 30 million albums worldwide. The band's sound is distinguished by its use of woodwind and brass instruments.
Colin Hay emigrated to Australia in 1967 from Scotland with his family. In 1978 he formed a duo with Ron Strykert, which expanded with the addition of drummer Jerry Speiser and Australian prog rock keyboard player Greg Sneddon. The band's first experience in the recording studio recording the music to "Riff Raff," a low-budget stage musical Sneddon had worked on. Sneddon soon left, to be replaced in late 1979 by saxophonist/flutist/keyboardist Greg Ham. Shortly after, the band, who'd been performing with Strykert on bass guitar, recruited bassist John Rees and the group was complete.
The group played a regular residency at Melbourne's Cricketers Arms Hotel and built a strong local following. Per the liner notes in Contraband: the Best of Men at Work, the group didn't have a name until driving the group van one night, desperate for something to put on the chalk board outside the pub, Greg Ham spied a "Men at Work" construction sign, and decided to use that for the group's name. In 1980, they financed a single ("Keypunch Operator") backed by an early version of "Down Under".
In 1981 Columbia Records signed Men at Work. Their first single, "Who Can It Be Now?", reached Number 1 on the Australian chart in August 1981. A subsequent single (a re-worked version of "Down Under") and their first album (Business as Usual) also went to Number 1. The album also debuted at Number 1 in New Zealand.
Despite its strong Australian showing, and having an American producer (Peter McIan), Business As Usual was twice rejected by Columbia's parent company in the United States. Thanks to the persistence of the band's management, the album was eventually released in the USA and the UK six months after its Australian release. Men at Work toured the USA to promote the album, supporting the likes of Fleetwood Mac.
In October 1982 "Who Can It Be Now?" hit Number 1 in the USA. Then, in November of that year, Business As Usual began a 12 week run at Number 1 on the US album chart. While "Who Can It Be Now?" was still in the top ten, the second single, "Down Under" was released. It entered the charts at #79; ten weeks later, it was #1. By January 1983, Men at Work had the top album and single in both the USA and the UK - a feat never achieved previously by an Australian act.
That same year, Canada awarded them a Juno Award for "International LP of the Year."
The band soon released their second album Cargo. It had been finished in the summer of 1982, but held for release due to the phenomenal success of the band's debut. The new album went to number one. The international market, where Business As Usual was still riding high, kept the album at number 3 on the Billboard 200 album chart. The album produced three chart singles in the USA: "Overkill" [#3], "It's a Mistake" [#6], and "Dr. Heckyll and Mr. Jive" [#28]. The band toured the world extensively in 1983.
In 1984, the band took a long break as members pursued other interests and recovered from the two years of constant touring they'd done in support of both albums. At the end of that period, Jerry Speiser and John Rees were advised by management that they were no longer members of the band. The remaining members (Hay, Ham and Strykert) recorded a third album Two Hearts which peaked at Number 50 on the chart. Although four songs were released as singles to promote the album (lead single "Everything I Need", "Man With Two Hearts", "Maria", and "Hard Luck Story"), only the first song charted in the U.S., and that only at #47. The record relied heavily on drum programming and synthesizers and reduced the presence of Ham's saxophone, giving it a different feel than the band's first two records.
Strykert left the group during the album's production . Hay and Ham hired new bandmates to tour behind the record, including jazz/fusion bassist Jeremy Alsop, progressive rock drummer Mark Kennedy, and guitarist James Black, who respectively play on seven, eight and one of the ten tracks on Two Hearts. Soon after, third guitarist Colin Bayley was added to the band's touring lineup, and Kennedy was replaced by prodigious young drummer Chad Wackerman. Australian Soul singer Kate Ceberano also worked and performed live with the group during this period as a guest.
Men at Work performed three songs for the 1985 Oz for Africa concert (part of the global Live Aid program) - "Maria", "Overkill", and an unreleased song called "The Longest Night". It was broadcast in Australia (on both Seven Network and Nine Network) and on MTV in the US. "Maria" and "Overkill" were also broadcast by American Broadcasting Company (abc) during their Live Aid telecast.
Ham left during the band's time touring behind the album . The final Men At Work performances in the '80s found Australian jazz saxophonist Paul Williamson replacing Ham. By 1986 the band was defunct, and Hay was working on a solo album, which would feature participation from Alsop and Wackerman.
In 1996, after a ten-year absence, Hay and Ham reunited under the Men At Work moniker to tour South America; the band had enjoyed strong fan support in this continent during their heyday, and demands for Men At Work concerts persisted prior to Hay and Ham's decision to reform. The new band also featured guitarist Simon Hosford from Hay's solo band, along with bassist Stephen Hadley and drummer John Watson. This tour culminatinated in the Brazilian release of a live CD Brazil '96 in 1997. The album was subsequently released worldwide in 1998 as 'Brazil' with a bonus studio song "The Longest Night", the first Men At Work studio track since Two Hearts.
The band toured various corners of the world throughout from 1998-2000. The lineup for these tours varied greatly, occasionally including Rick Grossman of the Hoodoo Gurus on bass, among numerous other touring musicians.
Men at Work performed "Down Under" at the closing ceremony of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, alongside Paul Hogan of Crocodile Dundee fame. According to VH1, this single song-performance was a lip-synched re-recording of the anthem , although Hay's slight stutter in the "vegemite sandwich" line suggests that the at least the vocals (perhaps along with the flute line) were live.
The group has been inactive in recent years. Despite occasional rumors to the contrary (including a 2008 reunion listed with a question mark on the band's MySpace page,) no plans to perform under the name have been officially announced.
For updated information on the individual members of the band, see Where Are They Now - Men at Work
|US Pop||US Rock||US AC||Australia||UK|
|1981||"Who Can It Be Now?"||#1||#46||#2||#45||Business as Usual|
|1983||"Be Good Johnny"||#3||#8|
|"It's a Mistake"||#6||#10||#34||#33|
|"Dr. Heckyll and Mr. Jive"||#28||#12||#31|
|1985||"Everything I Need"||#47||#34||#37||Two Hearts|
|"Man with Two Hearts"|
4. Liner notes from Contraband. 5. http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:hifoxqe5ldfe~T51