The talents of Colin Hay were one of the main reasons for the phenomenal early-'80s
success of the Australian pop-rock band Men at Work. The band had a handful of catchy
Hay-written hits from such LPs as Business as Usual (1982).
Hay was born 46 years ago today in Kilwinning, Scotland. Hay moved with his family to
Australia in his teens. While performing in the musical "Heroes" in Sydney, Australia,
Hay befriended fellow performer Ron Strykert. The two formed an acoustic duo, with
Strykert playing guitar and Hay singing.
Soon bassist John Rees and two of Hay's schoolmates from Melbourne's La Troube
University saxophonist/keyboardist Greg Ham and drummer Jerry Speiser
were added to fill out the sound.
The group chose the name Men at Work and began playing regularly at Melbourne's
Cricketer's Arms pub, where they were discovered by a CBS Records executive. Men at
Work's first LP, Business as Usual, quickly conquered the albums chart in the
band's native land, staying at #1 for 10 weeks. The public was charmed by Hay's
soothing, engaging vocals and clever wordplay.
The album followed suit in the United States, where it spent nearly two years on the
Billboard 200 albums chart, spawning the hits "Who Can It Be Now?" and "Down
Under" (RealAudio excerpt). Men at Work's
follow-up, Cargo, was released while their debut was still in the top 10, and it
promptly joined its predecessor there. The public couldn't seem to get enough of the
band's bouncy, whimsical pop and its freewheeling image, which was showcased in
music videos featured on the fledgling MTV.
Men at Work had similar success in the UK with their albums and singles.
Cargo produced the U.S. top-five single "Overkill," the top-10 "It's a Mistake" and
the top-30 "Dr. Heckyll and Mr. Jive." But just when it seemed Men at Work could do no
wrong, they did themselves in. Arguments about managers and songwriting led to
Speiser and Rees quitting in 1984.
The hitless Two Hearts (1985) went gold, but shortly after its release, Strykert and
Ham left the band.
Men at Work, the band that won the Best New Artist Grammy in 1982, was defunct by
1986. The following year, Hay issued Looking for Jack and then Wayfaring
Sons (1990). Both LPs flopped.
Hay continued to issue albums in Australia and also began acting. He appeared on TV
programs such as "The Larry Sanders Show" and "JAG" and in films such as "Georgia"
(1988), "Cosi" (1996) and "Heaven's Burning" (1997). This year he appeared in the
motion picture "The Craic."
In 1996 Sony issued Contraband: The Best of Men at Work. Last year Hay and
Ham re-formed Men at Work and released the live hits LP Brazil. It included the
new studio track "The Longest Night."
Earlier this year, Men at Work toured Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
Other birthdays: Little Eva, 54; Ian Paice (Deep Purple, Whitesnake), 51; Evelyn
"Champagne" King, 39; Stedman Pearson (Five Star), 35; and Johnny Ace, 1929-1954.