Men at Work were an Australian reggae-influenced rock band which achieved international success in the 1980s. They are the only Australian artists to have a #1 album and single simultaneously in the United States (with Business as Usual and "Down Under" respectively). At the same time, they also had a simultaneous #1 single and album in the United Kingdom. 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.
Origins of the group
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 morph into Men at Work. The band's first experience in the recording studio was 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/flautist/keyboardist Greg Ham.
As Men at Work (1979-1981)
By late 1979, the group took up residence at the Cricketer's Arms pub. Desperate for a name, they took the "Men at Work" moniker from a street sign denoting construction. Shortly thereafter, the band, who had 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. In 1980, they financed a single ("Keypunch Operator") backed by an early version of "Down Under".
International success (1981-1983)
In 1981, Columbia Records signed Men at Work. Their first single, "Who Can It Be Now?", reached #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 #1. The album also debuted at #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 Fleetwood Mac.
In October 1982, "Who Can It Be Now?" hit #1 in the USA. Then, in November of that year, Business As Usual began a 12 week run at #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.
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 #1. The international market, where Business As Usual was still riding high, kept the album at #3 on the Billboard 200 album chart. The album produced three chart singles in the USA: "Overkill" , "It's a Mistake" , and "Dr. Heckyll and Mr. Jive" . The band toured the world extensively in 1983.
Two Hearts; breakup (1984-1986)
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 #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 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. 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 1998-2000. 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 has been mostly inactive in recent years, although Hay and Ham still perform on occasion as Men at Work with guest musicians. In February 2009, they performed "Down Under" at the Australia Unites Victorian Bushfire Appeal Telethon.
Hay maintains a successful solo career. Strykert lives in L.A., continues to play music and has released his first solo album titled Paradise in September 2009. He has expressed some resentment towards Hay, mainly over royalties. Ham has remained musically active and currently plays sax with the Melbourne-based group The Nudist Funk Orchestra. Rees is now a music teacher in Melbourne.
Main article: List of Men At Work band members
Colin Hay ? vocals, guitar (1978?1986, 1996?present)
Greg Ham ? keyboards, vocals, saxophone, harmonica, flute (1979?1985, 1996?present)
Jeremy Alsop - bass, backing vocals (1985-1986)
Rodrigo Aravena - bass, backing vocals (2000)
Colin Bayley - guitar, backing vocals (1985-1986)
James Black - guitar, keyboards, backing vocals (1985-1986)
Tony Floyd - drums (1997-1998)
Rick Grossman - bass, backing vocals (1998-2000)
Stephen Hadley - bass, backing vocals (1996-1998, 2001)
Simon Hosford - guitar, backing vocals (1996-1998, 1999-2001)
Mark Kennedy - drums (1985)
Peter Maslen ? drums (1998)
Heta Moses ? drums (2000)
John Rees ? bass, backing vocals (1979?1984)
James Ryan ? guitar, backing vocals (1998)
Jerry Speiser ? drums, percussion, backing vocals (1979-1984)
Ron Strykert ? guitar, bass, vocals (1978?1985)
Warren Trout - drums (2001)
Chad Wackerman - drums, backing vocals (1985-1986)
John Watson - drums (1996-1997)
Paul Williamson - saxophone, keyboards, backing vocals (1985-1986)