Men at Work

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This article is about the band. For other uses, see Men at Work (disambiguation).
Men at Work
Men At Work 1983.jpg
Men at Work in 1983.
Top: John Rees; middle: Jerry Speiser, Ron Strykert, Colin Hay; bottom: Greg Ham.
Background information
Origin Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Genres Rock, reggae, new wave
Years active 1978 (1978)–1986 (1986), 1996 (1996)–2002 (2002)
(Occasional reunions until 2012)
Labels M. A. W, Columbia/Legacy, Epic, Sony, BMG
Associated acts The Black Sorrows
Past members See: Former members

Men at Work were an Australian rock band, which formed in 1978. Their founding mainstay was Colin Hay on lead vocals; he formed the group with Jerry Speiser on drums and Ron Strykert on lead guitar. They were joined by Greg Ham on flute and keyboards and then John Rees on bass guitar. This line-up achieved national and international success in the early 1980s. In January 1983, they were the first Australian artists to have a simultaneous No. 1 album and No. 1 single in the United States Billboard charts – Business as Usual (released on 9 November 1981) and "Down Under" (1981), respectively. With the same works, they achieved the same distinction of a simultaneous No. 1 album and No. 1 single on the Australian, New Zealand and United Kingdom charts. Their second album, Cargo (2 May 1983) was also No. 1 in Australia, No. 2 in New Zealand, No. 3 in the US, and No. 8 in the UK. Their third album, Two Hearts (3 April 1985), reached the top 20 in Australia and top 50 in the US.

At the Grammy Awards of 1983 they won the Best New Artist category; while at the ARIA Music Awards of 1994 they were inducted into the related Hall of Fame. Men at Work have sold over 60 million albums worldwide. According to Australian musicologist, Ian McFarlane, "[i]rrespective of the band's fairytale rise to prominence, [their] phenomenal success inextricably created worldwide interest in Australia and Australian music ... [they] simply opened the floodgates with little more than a clutch of great songs ... [and were] Australia's most famous group" until the late 1980s. The group disbanded in 1986 and reformed in 1996 to disband again by 2002.

In May 2001 "Down Under" was listed at No. 4 on the APRA Top 30 Australian songs and Business as Usual appeared in the book, 100 Best Australian Albums (October 2010). In February 2010 Larrikin Music Publishing won a case against Hay and Strykert, their record label (Sony BMG Music Entertainment) and music publishing company (EMI Songs Australia) arising from the uncredited appropriation of "Kookaburra" for the flute line in "Down Under". On 19 April 2012 Greg Ham was found dead at his home of an apparent heart attack.[1]

History[edit]

Origins of the group[edit]

Men at Work formed in Sydney in 1978 by Colin Hay on lead vocals; Jerry Speiser on drums; and Ron Strykert on lead guitar; they were soon joined by Greg Ham on flute and keyboards; and then John Rees on bass guitar.[2] Hay had emigrated to Australia in 1967 from Scotland with his family.[3] In 1978, he formed a duo with Strykert, which expanded by mid-1979 with the addition of Speiser and progressive rocker Greg Sneddon on keyboards (ex-Alroy Band).[2][4] They formed an unnamed four-piece group. 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.[5]

Sneddon left and was replaced in late 1979 by Ham, and when Rees joined they adopted the name Men at Work from a construction zone sign near an early venue, The Cricketer's Arms Hotel, Richmond.[6] The band built a "grass roots" reputation as a pub rock band.[2] In 1980 the group issued their debut single, "Keypunch Operator" backed by "Down Under", with both tracks co-written by Hay and Strykert.[2][7] It was "self-financed" and appeared on their own independent, M. A. W. label.[3][8] Australian musicologist, Ian McFarlane, felt the A-side was "a fast-paced country-styled rocker with a clean sound and quirky rhythm".[2] Despite not appearing in the top 100 on the Australian Kent Music Report Singles Chart,[9] by the end of that year the group had "grown in stature to become the most in-demand and highly paid, unsigned band of the year".[2]

International success (1981–1983)[edit]

Early in 1981 Men at Work signed with the Australian branch of Columbia Records on the recommendation of Peter Karpin, the label's A&R person.[2][3] Fran of the Woroni caught their performance at the Refectory in Canberra in April, she noted that they provided "some reggae-ish type music and the minimum of audience attention. From what I saw of them they were perhaps a little bit boring but quite competent and probably deserving of more notice".[10] The group's second single, "Who Can It Be Now?", was released in June 1981 which reached No. 2 and remained in the chart for 24 weeks.[9] It had been produced by United States-based, Peter McIan, who was also working on their debut album, Business as Usual.[2][3][8]

Their next single was a re-worked version of "Down Under", Ham added an improvised flute solo,[11] and the group had revisited its tempo and arrangement with McIan. It appeared in October that year and reached No. 1 in November, where it remained for six weeks.[9] Business as Usual was also released in October and went to No. 1 on the Australian Kent Music Report Albums Chart, spending a total of nine weeks at the top spot.[9] The Canberra Times '​ Garry Raffaele opined that it "generally stays at a high level, tight and jerky ... There is a delicacy about this music — and that is not a thing you can say about too many rock groups. The flute and reeds of Greg Ham do much to further that".[12] McFarlane noted that "[a]side from the strength of the music, part of the album's appeal was its economy. The production sound was low-key, but clean and uncluttered. Indeed, the songs stood by themselves with little embellishment save for a bright, melodic, singalong quality".[2]

By February the following year both "Down Under" and Business as Usual had reached No. 1 on the respective Official New Zealand Music Charts[13] – the latter was the first Australian album to reach that peak in New Zealand.[2] Despite its strong Australian and New Zealand showing, and having an American producer (McIan), Business as Usual was twice rejected by Columbia's US parent company.[3] Thanks to the persistence of the band's management and Karpin, the album was finally released in the US and the United Kingdom in April 1982 – six months after its Australian release.[3] Their next single, "Be Good Johnny", was issued in Australia in April 1982 and reached No. 8 in Australia,[9] and No. 3 in New Zealand.[13]

Men at Work initially broke through to North American audiences in the western provinces of Canada with "Who Can It Be Now?" hitting top 10 on radio stations in Winnipeg by May 1982. It peaked at No. 8 on the Canadian RPM Top Singles Chart in July.[14] In August the group toured Canada and the US to promote the album and related singles, supporting Fleetwood Mac.[2][3] The band became more popular on Canadian radio in the following months and also started receiving top 40 US airplay by August.[15] In October "Who Can It Be Now?" reached No. 1 on the US Billboard Hot 100,[16] while Canada was one single ahead with "Down Under" topping the Canadian charts that same month.[14] In the following month Business as Usual began a 15-week run at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.[16]

While "Who Can It Be Now?" was still in the top ten in the US, "Down Under" was finally released in that market. It entered the US charts at No. 79 and ten weeks later, it was No. 1.[16] By January 1983 Men at Work had the top album and single in both the US and the UK – never previously achieved by an Australian act.[2] "Be Good Johnny" received moderate airplay in the US; it reached the top 20 in Canada.[14]

The band released their second album, Cargo, in April 1983, which also peaked at No. 1 – for two weeks – on the Australian charts.[9] In New Zealand it reached No.2.[13] It had been finished in mid-1982 with McIan producing again, but was held back due to the success of their debut album.[2][3][8] On the international market, where Business as Usual was still riding high, Cargo appeared at No. 3 on the Billboard 200,[16] and No. 8 in the UK. The lead single, "Overkill", was issued in Australia ahead of the album in October 1982 and reached No. 6,[9] it peaked at No. 3 in the US.[16] "Dr. Heckyll and Mr. Jive" followed in March 1983 made it to No. 5 in Australia,[9] and No. 28 in the US.[16] "It's a Mistake" reached No. 6 in the US.[16] The band toured the world extensively in 1983.[2]

Two Hearts to first break-up (1984–1986)[edit]

During 1984 the band took a break as members pursued other interests. Upon reconvening later that year, infighting during rehearsals between Hay and Speiser over songwriting and the band's management led to a split in the band.[2][3] Both Rees and Speiser were told they were "not required",[3] as Hay, Ham and Strykert used session musicians to record their third album, Two Hearts (23 April 1985). Studio musicians included Jeremy Alsop on bass guitar (ex-Ram Band, Pyramid, Broderick Smith Band); and Mark Kennedy on drums (Spectrum, Ayers Rock, Marcia Hines Band).[2][8] Two Hearts was produced by Hay and Ham,[8] and peaked at No. 16 in Australia,[9] and No. 50 on the US chart.[16] Strykert had left during its production.[3]

Four tracks were released as singles, "Everything I Need" (May 1985), "Man with Two Hearts", "Maria" (August), and "Hard Luck Story" (October);[2] only the lead single charted in Australia (No. 37) and the US (No. 47).[9][16] The album relied heavily on drum programming and synthesisers, and reduced the presence of Ham's saxophone. Hay and Ham hired new band mates, to tour in support of Two Hearts, with Alsop and Kennedy joined by James Black on guitar and keyboards (Mondo Rock, The Black Sorrows).[2][8] Soon after a third guitarist, Colin Bayley (Mi-Sex), was added and Kennedy was replaced on drums by Chad Wackerman (Frank Zappa).[2][8] Australian singers Kate Ceberano and Renée Geyer had also worked on the album and performed live as guest vocalists.

On 13 July, 1985 Men at Work performed three tracks for the Oz for Africa concert (part of the global Live Aid program)—"Maria", "Overkill", and an unreleased one, "The Longest Night". They were 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.[17] Ham left during the band's time touring behind the album.[2][3][8] The final Men at Work performances during 1985 had jazz saxophonist, Paul Williamson (The Black Sorrows), replacing Ham.[2][8] By early 1986 Hay disbanded Men at Work and then he started recording his first solo album, Looking for Jack (January 1987), which had Alsop and Wackerman as session musicians.[2]

Reunion to second break-up (1996–2002)[edit]

By mid-1996, after a ten-year absence, Hay and Ham reformed Men at Work to tour South America.[2][3] They had enjoyed strong fan support there during their earlier career and demands for a reunion had persisted.[3] The 1996 line up had Stephen Hadley on bass guitar and backing vocals (ex-The Black Sorrows, Paul Kelly Band); Simon Hosford on guitar and backing vocals (Colin Hay backing band); and John Watson on drums (The Black Sorrows).[8] The tour culminated in a performance in São Paulo, which was recorded for the Brazilian release of a live album, Brazil '96, in 1997, which was co-produced by Hay and Ham for Sony Records.[2][3][8] It was re-released worldwide in 1998 as Brazil with a bonus track, "The Longest Night", the first new studio track since Two Hearts.[2][3][8]

The band toured Australia, South America, Europe and the US from 1998 to 2000.[2][3] Other than Hay and Ham the line up for these tours varied, including Rick Grossman of the Hoodoo Gurus on bass guitar for a Brazilian tour, among other touring musicians.[8] Men at Work performed "Down Under" at the closing ceremony of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney,[3] alongside Paul Hogan of "Crocodile" Dundee (1986).[18]

One of their European tours for mid-2000 was cancelled and the group had disbanded by 2002, although Hay and Ham periodically reunited 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) until Ham's death; his body was found at his home on April 19, 2012. He had reportedly suffered a fatal heart attack.[1]

Copyright lawsuit and controversy[edit]

In February 2010 Larrikin Music Publishing won a case against Hay and Strykert, their record label (Sony BMG Music Entertainment) and music publishing company (EMI Songs Australia) arising from the uncredited appropriation of "Kookaburra", originally written in 1934 by Marion Sinclair and for which Larrikin owned the publishing rights, as the flute line in the Men at Work song, "Down Under".[19] Back in early 2009 the Australian music-themed TV quiz, Spicks and Specks, had posed a question which suggested that "Down Under" contained elements of "Kookaburra".[20]

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.[21] In February 2010 the 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 (Hay and Strykert had written the track years before the flute riff was added by Ham).[22] In July 2010 a judge ruled that Larrikin should be paid 5% of past (since 2002) and future profits.[23]

Other projects[edit]

Hay maintained a solo career and played with Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band. Strykert relocated to Hobart in 2009 from Los Angeles, and continued to play music and released his first solo album, Paradise, in September that year.[24] He expressed 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. Rees was a music teacher in Melbourne and also played the violin and bass guitar for the band Beggs 2 Differ. Speiser played drums for the band, The Afterburner.

Awards and nominations[edit]

The group won the 1983 Grammy Award for Best New Artist; the other nominees were Asia, Jennifer Holliday, The Human League and Stray Cats.[25] In August 1983 they ware given a Crystal Globe Award for $100 million worth of record business by their US label.[2] That same year in Canada they were awarded a Juno Award for "International LP of the Year". Men at Work have sold over 60 million albums worldwide.[26]

At the ARIA Music Awards of 1994 they were inducted into the related Hall of Fame.[27] On 28 May 2001 "Down Under" was listed at No. 4 on the APRA Top 30 Australian songs.[28][29] In October 2010, Business as Usual was listed in the book, 100 Best Australian Albums.[30]

Members[edit]

Discography[edit]

Guest appearances[edit]

  • Colin Hay has made three guest appearances on Scrubs as Troubadour in "My Overkill", season 2 episode 1, singing "Overkill"; "My Hard Labor", season 7 episode 2, singing "Down Under"; and in season 8's "My Finale".
  • Colin Hay made a guest appearance on The Larry Sanders Show.
  • Greg Ham sang the group's hit "Helpless Automaton" on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2002.
  • Colin Hay performed "Down Under" on Fox News Channel for Fox & Friends '​ "'80s Weekend".
  • Colin Hay performed "Overkill" on The Bob & Tom TV Show on 28 April 2009.
  • Colin Hay performed "Down Under" and "Who Can It Be Now?" on Don't Forget the Lyrics! on the Fox network, 5 June 2009.
  • Jerry Speiser guest appeared on the Frost[31] track "You and Me", which received frequent airplay on Melbourne's Nova 100 in 2003 and on SBS Television.
  • Colin Hay performed "Down Under" in an advert for Australian telephone company Telstra supporting the London 2012 Olympic Games
  • Ron Strykert appears on the 12-inch Men at Work EP "Still Life" from 2014 released by Sony/ATV. On the interview track Strykert talks about the late Greg Ham & his contribution to the band. He also discusses the Copyright lawsuit brought forward in June 2009 by the publishing rights holder; Larrikin Records over the Kookaburra (song).

See also[edit]

References[edit]

General
Specific
  1. ^ a b Pena, Shirley (19 April 2014). "Remembering Greg Ham: 1953–2012". examiner.com. Retrieved 22 July 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa McFarlane, 'Men at Work' entry. Archived from the original on 13 May 2003. Retrieved 7 February 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Nimmervoll, Ed. "Men at Work". Howlspace – The Living History of Our Music (Ed Nimmervoll). White Room Electronic Publishing Pty Ltd. Archived from the original on 27 July 2012. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  4. ^ "Men at Work: Best Music from the 1980s". 80smusiclyrics.com. Retrieved 17 August 2010. 
  5. ^ "Featured Artist". Countdown. 30 March 2009. Retrieved 17 August 2010. 
  6. ^ Contraband: The Best of Men at Work (liner notes). Men at Work. Columbia. 1996. 484011 2. 
  7. ^ "'Down Under' at APRA search engine". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Retrieved 8 February 2014.  Note: User may have to click 'Search again' and provide details at 'Enter a title:' e.g Down Under; or at 'Performer:' Men at Work
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Holmgren, Magnus; Warnqvist, Stefan. "Men at Work". Australian Rock Database. Passagen (Magnus Holmgren). Archived from the original on 24 April 2012. Retrieved 8 February 2014. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992. St Ives, NSW: Australian Chart Book Ltd. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.  Note: Used for Australian Singles and Albums charting from 1974 until ARIA created their own charts in mid-1988. In 1992, Kent back calculated chart positions for 1970–1974.
  10. ^ "Rhythms". Woroni (Australian National University) 33 (5): 31. 22 April 1981. Retrieved 8 December 2014. 
  11. ^ Baker, Glenn A. (24 April 2012). "Down Under instrumentalist blew away listeners". The Age (Fairfax Media). Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  12. ^ Raffaele, Garry (25 January 1982). "Rock Music: Perceptive". The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995) (National Library of Australia). p. 10. Retrieved 9 February 2014. 
  13. ^ a b c Hung, Steffen. "Discography Men at Work". New Zealand Charts Portal. Hung Medien (Steffen Hung). Retrieved 8 February 2014. 
  14. ^ a b c Canadian Singles Chart:
  15. ^ Billboard Magazine – Hits of the World, issue: August 29, 1981, page 69. http://www.billboard.com/events#/archive
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Men at Work | Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 8 February 2014. 
  17. ^ "Oz for Africa". liveaid.free.fr. Retrieved 12 March 2008. 
  18. ^ "INXS : INXS, Midnight Oil, Colin Hay & Greg Ham of Men at Work Close Sydney Olympics – Rhapsody Music Downloads". VH1.com. Retrieved 17 August 2010. 
  19. ^ Ulaby, Neda (1 December 2009). "A Kookaburra Causes Trouble 'Down Under'". Npr.org. Retrieved 17 August 2010. 
  20. ^ "Men At Work lose plagiarism case". BBC News. 4 February 2010. Retrieved 12 May 2010. 
  21. ^ By the CNN Wire Staff (6 July 2010). "Men at Work must pay portion of royalties for plagiarizing song". CNN. Retrieved 17 August 2010. 
  22. ^ Mail Foreign Service (7 June 2010). "Men at Work ordered to pay five per cent of royalties for 1980s hit Down Under after copying riff at". The Daily Mail. London. Retrieved 17 August 2010. 
  23. ^ "Ron Strykert official website". ronstrykert.com. Retrieved 11 September 2009. 
  24. ^ GRAMMY Rewind: 25th Annual GRAMMY Awards
  25. ^ Number 277: Men at Work info by Steve Hawtin version 2.1.0053 Retrieved on 17 March 2013
  26. ^ "ARIA Awards – History: Winners by Year 1994: 8th Annual ARIA Awards". Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA). Retrieved 8 February 2014. 
  27. ^ Culnane, Paul (28 May 2001). "The Final List: APRA's Ten Best Australian Songs". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Retrieved 8 February 2014. 
  28. ^ "Australia 1994 ARIA Awards". ALLdownunder.com. Retrieved 8 February 2014. 
  29. ^ O'Donnell, John; Creswell, Toby; Mathieson, Craig (October 2010). 100 Best Australian Albums. Prahran, Vic: Hardie Grant Books. ISBN 978-1-74066-955-9. 
  30. ^ "FROST on MySpace Music – Free Music, Tour Dates, Photos, Videos". Myspace.com. Retrieved 17 August 2010. 

External links[edit]

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Sheena Easton
Grammy Award for Best New Artist
1983
Succeeded by
Culture Club