Colin Hay (lead vocals, guitar), was born in Kilwinning, North Ayrshire in 1953 and emigrated with the family to Australia when he was 14 in 1967. In 1979 he formed an acoustic duo with Ron Strykert (guitar, vocals). Soon others joined: Jerry Speiser (drums), and keyboard player Greg Sneddon, but Sneddon left and was replaced by Greg Ham (saxophone, flute, keyboards). The lineup was complete with John Rees (bass). They built their reputation as an Australian pub band but incorporated reggae rhythms which were very new wave. Men at Work became regulars at Melbourne’s Cricketer's Arms Hotel bar and financed their first single in 1980. “Keypunch Operator” had a B side which was an early version of "Down Under" but neither attracted much attention.
A year later the band was signed by Australian Columbia and a single "Who Can It Be Now?" produced by Peter McIan, became a huge hit.
Men at Work played reggae rhythms, catchy guitar hooks, with wailing saxophones, hit a chord and in 1982. Business as Usual, their first album featured contributions by Colin Hay, Ron Strykert, and Greg Ham, and was every bit as good as Police. Men down Under increased their international appeal with irreverent and funny videos shown on MTV and their massive appeal in the US ensured the album became an international success.
"Down Under" became the group's second American number one early in 1983 and simultaneously topped the UK charts. "Down Under" was used as the unofficial anthem for Australia's successful challenge for the 1983 America’s Cup.
Their second album Cargo was written in the main by Colin Hay. It sold well in the US and reached number three in the U.S., generating four successful singles, "Overkill", "Dr. Heckyll & Mr. Jive", "High Wire", "It's A Mistake".
The following year the band took a long break and individual members pursued other interests. Just before they regrouped to record their third album the management told Jerry Speiser and John Rees they were no longer members of the band. Colin, Greg and Ron along with studio musicians completed the third album, Two Hearts. Colin and Greg produced the album and despite critical acclaim it was not a commercial success but did contain one single "Everything I Need" reached the Top 30.
After the disappointment of Two Hearts, Greg and Ron left the band, but Colin stayed and toured with other musicians. After the tour, Men at Work were over in 1985, the band broke up. Colin Hay pursued a solo and acting career. In 1988, he and Greg Ham re-formed Men at Work in 1998 for a tour in South America. Men at Work enjoyed a strong fan support in South America during their heyday and the concerts in Brazil resulted in Men at Work's fourth album, the live Brazil '96 was released in 1997, but only for South America. Men at Work went back in studio and recorded "The Longest Night", composed by Greg Ham.
At the Ending Ceremonies of the 2000 Olympics Sydney, Men at Work played ‘Down Under’ live. In 2003 Colin Hay toured with Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band. Greg Ham died in 2012 but surviving original band members continue to work in the music business. Colin Hay has made a successful solo career.
Worth a listen:
Who can be now? (1981)
Down under (1981)
Be good Johnny
Dr Heckyll and Mr Jive (1985)
High Wire (1985)
It’s a mistake (1985)