Men at Work
Men at Work
Hailing from the Land Down Under, Men at Work began their reggae-inspired rock ‘n’ roll career in Melbourne, Australia, in the late 1970s. Within a year after their debut release, their success spread to the United States and around world when Business As Usual topped the charts in several countries. In 1986 the members went their separate ways, and some pursued solo careers. They reformed ten years later, touring South America and selected cities in the United States. Band members Greg Ham, John Rees, Jerry Speiser, and Ron Strykert are all originally from Australia. Singer Colin Hay, originally from Scotland, moved to Australia at the age of 14. Each member individually began his music career in the pubs and clubs of Melbourne. Ham, Speiser, Strykert, and Hay had informally jammed together at the Grace Darling Hotel in Melbourne and decided to form Men at Work.
The quartet played at the Cricketers Arms Hotel in Melbourne for a couple of months. Then, they recruited bassist John Rees. “It was great to find musicians who were so into what they were doing,” Rees told Kurt Loder in Rolling Stone.” It was exciting music. There was something happening.” Men at Work played every Thursday night at the hotel for over a year to evergrowing audiences. By 1980 the word about Men at
Members include Greg Ham (born on September 27, 1953), saxophone, flute, keyboards; Colin Hay (born on June 29, 1953), vocals; John Rees (left group, 1984), bass; Jerry Speiser (left group, 1984), drums; Ron Strykert (born on August 18, 1957; left group, 1986), guitar.
Formed in Melbourne, Australia, 1979; signed record contract with CBS Records, Australia, 1981; released debut Business As Usual, 1981; released Cargo, 1983; Speiser and Rees left the band and were not replaced, 1984; released Two Hearts, 1985; reformed with Hay and Ham, 1996; released Brazil, 1998.
Awards: Grammy Award, Best New Artist, 1983.
Work’s performances had spread around town, and they could sell out almost any venue in Melbourne without ever having been played on the radio.
The following year, the band got the attention of CBS Records Australia, which signed them to a record contract. The label introduced them to Los Angeles-based producer Peter Mclan, who was in Australia recording an album with New Zealand pop singer Sharon O’Neill. Mclan produced Men at Work’s debut album Business As Usual, which included the songs “Who Can It Be Now?,” “Be Good Johnny,” and “Down Under.” Both the album and the first single “Who Can It Be Now?” quickly reached number one on the Australian charts.
“We were around at the right time for Australian music,” Ham told David Fricke in Rolling Stone in 1982. “If we’d been doing this six or seven years ago, we might never have surfaced out of Melbourne.” It turned out that Men at Work’s timing was right for many more countries than just Australia. In the United States, MTV had begun to expose bands that radio had ignored, which helped lead Men at Work to success even beyond their American record company’s expectations.
At first, CBS Records in the United States did not want to release Business As Usual despite the album’s Australian success. Men at Work’s Australian label representative wouldn’t take “no” for an answer from his American counterparts, and complained to Dick Asher, then president of CBS Records’ domestic division. At Asher’s request, AI Teller, then head of Columbia Records in New York (a division of CBS), agreed to release the band’s debut without listening to it first. The record executives at Columbia were stunned when Men at Work became a runaway success in the United States.
In 1982 the band traveled to the United States to open for Fleetwood Mac on that group’s tour. Soon after, “Who Can It Be Now?” made its way to the top of the American charts. Both the single and Business As Usual stayed at number one on Billboard’s charts for 15 weeks. “The MTV connection cannot be over-stressed,” Kurt Loder wrote in Rolling Stone.” Men at Work weren’t simply another group with a record out, they were an audio-visual package—essentially a new commodity in what was quickly becoming a whole new music-marketing ball game.” During two straight weeks in 1983, Business As Usual and “Down Under” were the number one album and single, respectively, in both the United States and Britain. At that time, the only other artists to have achieved that landmark were The Beatles, Rod Stewart, and Simon and Garfunkel.
That same year, Men at Work won a Grammy Award for Best New Artist. They immediately returned to the studio to record their follow-up effort, Cargo, which was also produced by Mclan. Cargo included the singles “Dr. Heckyll and Mr. Jive,” “Overkill,” and “It’s a Mistake.” After the release, the band toured twice in the United States and Canada and performed in the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe, Australia, and Japan. In the summer of 1983, the group played at the US Festival in front of 300, 000 people. The concert, which took place in California, was broadcast live all over the United States and via satellite to Russia. The speed of their success and the growing audiences at their concerts only fueled Men at Work’s ambition.” We have very strong ideas about our destiny,” Hay told David Fricke in Rolling Stone.” We really believe in what we have to offer. If you put an audience in front of us, we’ll win them.”
In 1984 Men at Work took a break. Rees and Speiser left the band, and the remaining members decided not to replace them. Hay used his time off to produce an album for a friend’s band, and Ham performed in an R&B band with his girlfriend. Hay, Ham, and Stryker regrouped in 1985 to release Two Hearts. The album reached gold sales status in the United States but did not produce a hit single. Ralph Novak wrote in his People review,” With the departure of bassist John Rees and drummer Jerry Speiser, Men at Work has succumbed to a kind of manpower shortage that doesn’t help the Australian group’s first album in two years.”
The group followed up Two Hearts with a tour that included the United States, Australia, Japan, Europe, and the Caribbean. Their total record sales at the time had reached more than 12 million albums. With their greatest success behind them, the band members decided to call it quits. Hay and Ham pursued their respective solo careers. Hay released five solo albums between 1986 and 2000. Every once in a while, Ham would appear at some of Hay’s shows, and the two members would showcase a couple of Men at Work songs.
Men at Work released several compilation albums during the late 1990s and in 2000, including 1995’s Puttin’ in Overtime, 1996’s Contraband—The Best of Men at Work, and Super Hits in 2000. In 1996, Hay and Ham reunited for a tour of South America and a few shows in the United States, a teaming they repeated in 1997. The following year, they released a live album called Brazil, which they recorded live in São Paulo. The album also included a new studio recording called “The Longest Night.”
Though their rise to the top was fast, Men at Work continued to labor over their music, whether it was recording and touring together or on their own projects. Their success opened the door for many other Australian bands to make their mark during the 1980s. Their persistence led them from being a pub band in Melbourne to a worldwide sensation.
Business As Usual (includes “Who Can It Be Now?,” “Be Good Johnny,” and “Down Under”). Columbia, 1981.
Cargo (includes” Dr. Heckyll and Mr. Jive,” “Overkill,” and “It’s a Mistake”), Columbia, 1983.
Two Hearts, Columbia, 1985.
Puttin’ in Overtime, Columbia, 1995.
Contraband-Best of Men at Work, Columbia, 1996.
Brazil, Columbia, 1998.
Super Hits, Columbia, 2000.
Graff, Gary, and Daniel Durchholz, MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink Press, 1999.
Rees, Dafydd, and Luke Crampton, Rock Movers & Shakers, Billboard Books, 1991.
Esquire, July 1983.
Mademoiselle, October 1983.
Newsweek, August 1, 1983.
People, May 23, 1983; July 1, 1985.
Rolling Stone, July 22, 1982; November 25, 1982; June 23, 1983.
Stereo Review, September 1985.
“Men at Work,” Music Star Pages, http://www.musicstarpages.com/men_at_work/(June 16, 2001).
TPA Agency, http://www.tpa.net.au/artists/menatwork/bio.htm (June 16, 2001).
“20 Years of Business As Usual,” Men at Work—We Come From a Land Down Under, http://www.menatwork.com.au (June 16, 2001).
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