Men At Work
|Men at Work|
|Origin||St. Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia|
|Genres||Rock, New Wave, pop rock|
|Past members||See: Former members|
Men at Work is an Australian rock band who achieved international success in the 1980s. They are the only Australian artist to have a simultaneous No. 1 album and No. 1 single in the United States (Business as Usual and "Down Under" respectively). They achieved the same distinction of a simultaneous No. 1 album and No. 1 single in the United Kingdom. The group won the 1983 Grammy Award for Best New Artist, and have sold over 30 million albums worldwide.
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 progressive rock keyboard player Greg Sneddon. They formed an unnamed four-piece group that would later become Men at Work. The band's first experience in the recording studio was recording the music to Riff Raff, a low-budget stage musical on which Sneddon had worked. Sneddon soon left, to be replaced in late 1979 by saxophonist/flautist/keyboardist Greg Ham. Bassist John Rees completed the band.
In 1981, Columbia Records signed Men at Work. The band's second single, "Who Can It Be Now?", was released in June 1981 and reached No. 1 on the Australian singles chart in August that year. It rose from No. 3 to No. 1 in the week of 17 August on the Australian singles chart. It was No. 1 for two consecutive weeks. A subsequent single (a re-worked version of "Down Under") and their first album (Business as Usual) went to No. 1. The album also debuted at No. 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 US and the UK six months after its Australian release. Men at Work toured Canada and the US to promote the album, supporting Fleetwood Mac.
The band initially broke through to North American audiences in the western provinces of Canada, with lead single "Who Can It Be Now?" hitting top 10 on radio stations in Winnipeg as early as May 1982. The band became a top act across Canada in the following months, and Men At Work started receiving top 40 US airplay by August. In October 1982, "Who Can It Be Now?" hit No. 1 in the US, while Canada was one single ahead with "Down Under", a Men At Work number that topped the Canadian charts that same month. Then, in November of that year, Business as Usual began a 15-week run at No. 1 on the US album chart.
While "Who Can It Be Now?" was still in the top ten in the US, the second single, "Down Under" was finally released stateside. It entered the charts at No. 79; ten weeks later, it was No. 1. By January 1983, Men at Work had the top album and single in both the US and the UK - a feat never achieved previously by an Australian act. "Be Good Johnny" also received moderate airplay, particularly in the US.
Men at Work won a Grammy Award, winning Best New Artist for 1983 ahead of Asia, Jennifer Holliday, The Human League and Stray Cats. This was the first for an Australian recording 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 No. 1. The international market, where Business as Usual was still riding high, kept the album at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 album chart. The album produced three chart singles in the US: "Overkill" [No. 3], "It's a Mistake" [No. 6], and "Dr. Heckyll and Mr. Jive" [No. 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. Fighting in rehearsals between Jerry Speiser and Colin Hay caused the band to suffer terribly. John Rees decided after Speiser left to go too, since they were so close. 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 No. 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 US, and that only at No. 47. The record relied heavily on drum programming and synthesisers and reduced the presence of Ham's saxophone.
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 (ex Ayers Rock), 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 on drums by Chad Wackerman (ex Frank Zappa). Australian singers Kate Ceberano and Renee Geyer also worked and performed live with the group during this period as guests.
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 1980s found Australian jazz saxophonist Paul Williamson replacing Ham and Russell Hitchcock as additional vocalist. By early 1986, the band was defunct and Hay was working on his first solo album, Looking for Jack, 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. They 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 lineup also featured guitarist Simon Hosford from Hay's solo band, along with bassist Stephen Hadley and drummer John Watson. This tour culminated 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 to 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. The group was subsequently mostly inactive after that, although Hay and Ham had performed on occasion as Men at Work with guest musicians, including an appearance in February 2009, when they performed "Down Under" at the Australia Unites Victorian Bushfire Appeal Telethon.
On 19 April 2012, Ham was found dead in his home in Carlton North.
In February 2010, Larrikin Music Publishing won a case against the group arising from the uncredited appropriation of "Kookaburra", originally written in 1934 by Marion Sinclair and for which they owned the publishing rights, as the flute line in the song "Down Under". The Australian music-themed TV quiz Spicks and Specks had suggested that "Down Under" contained "Kookaburra". Larrikin, headed by Norman Lurie (now retired), then filed suit after Larrikin was sold to another company and had demanded between 40% and 60% of the previous six years of earnings from the song. In February 2010, the Australian judge ruled that "Down Under" did contain a flute riff based on "Kookaburra" but stipulated that neither was it necessarily the hook nor a substantial part of the hit song (Colin Hay wrote the song years before the flute riff was added by a later member of the band). In July 2010 a judge ruled that Larrikin should be paid 5% of past (since 2002) and future profits. After the death of band member Greg Ham on 19 April 2012, many stories reported his disappointment at the ruling and "suggesting that this particular case and the ruling completely destroyed his life".
Hay maintains a successful solo career and has played with Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band. Strykert relocated to Hobart, Australia in 2009 from Los Angeles, continues to play music and released his first solo album, Paradise, in September 2009. He has expressed some resentment towards Hay, mainly over royalties. Ham remained musically active and played sax with the Melbourne-based group The Nudist Funk Orchestra until his death in April 2012. Rees is now a music teacher in Melbourne and also plays the violin and bass for the band Beggs 2 Differ. Speiser plays drums for the band The Afterburner.
4. Liner notes from Contraband. 5. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/p4894/charts-awards/billboard-singles
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