Meet Men At Work [PHOTOS, VIDEOS]
In hindsight, its kind of hard to believe that the American record labels didn’t want to sign “Men At Work.” Afterall, they are the only Australian band to have the #1 song and #1 album at the same time in the U.S! And, they won the Best New Artist Grammy in 1983! Band founder Colin Hay and his family moved from Scotland to Australia in 1967.
In 1978, Hay formed a band of with Ron Strykert. They soon added drummer Jerry Speiser, and rock keyboard player Greg Sneddon. This lineup would eventually become “Men At Work.”
The band’s first experience in the recording studio was recording the music for a low-budget stage musical that Sneddon had been working on.
Coincidentally, Greg Sneddon would soon leave the band, being replaced in late 1979 by saxophonist, flute player and keyboardist, Greg Ham. Bassist John Rees completed the new lineup.
Stardom was just around the corner…well…kind of.
Columbia Records in Australia signed Men At Work in 1981.
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!
On the heels of their first real success, a re-worked version of “Down Under” also went to #1 in Australia.
And, Men At Work’s debut album, “Business as Usual” went to #1 in Australia. It debuted at #1 in neighboring New Zealand!
As mentioned at the top of the article, 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!
Men at Work’s management team kept at work…and the album was eventually released in the U.S. and England, six months after its Australian debut. Then, Men at Work toured America and Canada (with Fleetwood Mac), to promote the album.
Men At Work’s musical magic worked in Canada first…with “Who Can It Be Now” landing in the Top 10 on radio stations in western provinces in May 1982. The tour with Fleetwood Mac helped to make them a top concert draw in Canada!
At the end of the summer of 1982, “Who Can It Be Now” was getting airplay in America…and it shot to #1 by October.
By now, Canada had “Down Under” at #1…and the song would hit #1 in America early in 1983.
The “Business As Usual” album would be #1 in the states for 15 straight weeks!
“Be Good Johnny,” the band’s third single got airplay in America, but did not chart on the Hot 100.
The 1983 Grammy Award as Best New Artist was the band’s next triumph. It was the first time an Australian band had won the award (by the way, they bested Asia, Human League and the Stray Cats). Men At Work also won a Juno Award in Canada, for International LP Of The Year.
Men At Work’s next album, “Cargo” was ready in the summer of 1982…but “Business” was so good, that the record company held back its release!
“Cargo” was an international success once it finally hit the record store shelves. It was #1 in many countries…but stalled at #3 in a few countries, as “Business As Usual” was STILL selling so well! “Cargo” spawned 3 hits:
It’s A Mistake (#6/1983)
Dr. Heckyll & Mr. Jive” (#28/1983)
The band also toured the world extensively in 1983!
1984 brought turmoil.
That year, the band took a long break, as members pursued other interests and recovered from two years of continuous touring.
Jerry Speiser and Colin Hay fought during rehearsals. Soon, Speiser and John Rees were told by management that they were no longer members of the band. Both departed.
Hay, Ham and Strykert recorded a third album, “Two Hearts,” which peaked at #50 on the album charts.
Four songs were released as singles, and only the lead song “Everything I Need” charted (#47/1885).
It is interesting to note that Strykert left “Men At Work” while the “Two Hearts” album was being recorded…and Colin Hay hired numerous musicians to help in the recording studio, and to take part in a follow-up tour.
Greg Ham would leave the band during that tour!
By early 1986, the band was no more…and Hay was working on his first solo alum, “Looking For Jack.”
But wait…just when you think its over…
In 1996, after ten years, Hay and Ham reunited under the Men at Work name to tour South America. The new lineup also featured guitarist Simon Hosford from Hay’s solo band, along with bassist Stephen Hadley, and drummer John Watson.
This tour brought the Brazilian release of a live album (CD) “Brazil ’96″ in 1997.
The album was released worldwide the following year (1998) as “Brazil.”
Check out this rare “radio promo sampler” that I have in my collection…
…and the “liner notes,” too!
As explained in the promo copy liner notes, the “Brazil” album contained a a bonus studio song “The Longest Night,” the first Men at Work studio recording since the “Two Hearts” album.
The band toured the world from 1998 to 2000. The lineup for these tours varied greatly!
Men At Work sang “Down Under” during the closing ceremonies of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.
Since then, the guys have been mostly inactive…occasionally performing with guest musicians.
As of 2013, Colin Hay maintains a solo career. He has also toured with “Ringo Starr & His All Starr Band.”
Ron Strykert returned to Australia from Los Angeles in 2009, releasing his first solo album, “Paradise,” that year.
John Rees is now a music teacher in Melbourne, and also plays the violin and bass for the band “Beggs 2 Differ.”
Jerry Speiser plays drums for the band “The Afterburner.”
Greg Ham remained musically active, and played sax with the Melbourne-based group “The Nudist Funk Orchestra” until his sudden death in April 2012. Click here to see what I wrote on nj1015.com about this talented saxophonist, upon his death.
Of course, Men At Work and their music live on as part of “Jersey’s Favorite Hits” on New Jersey 101.5!