Men at Work was one of Australia’s hottest acts in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They were known for massive hits like Down Under, Who Can It Be Now? and Overkill in the leadup to winning the Grammy for Best New Artist in 1983.
And while their music is iconic, not as much is known about the band itself. Frontman Colin Hay is a bit of a mystery.
So, we’re playing our version of who can it be, now?
Let’s dig in!
Colin Hay’s Story
Although Hay fronted an Australian band, he was born in Scotland on June 29, 1953. He lived in Scotland until his parents emigrated to Melbourne, Australia, in 1967. Hay was always musical. He played the guitar and sang around his new hometown until 1978.
The musical landscape was changing in the late 70s. Psychedelic rock, folk, and bubblegum pop topped the charts in the previous decade. In the late 70s, a new movement began. New Wave, a mashup of pop, rock, reggae, and synth-pop, was surging. Hay wanted a piece of it.
Becoming Men at Work
At 25, Hay met Ron Strykert and formed a duo. The two added Jerry Speiser on drums. Greg Ham joined on flute, saxophone, and keys. Shortly after, the quartet brought in John Reese on bass.
The quintet began writing songs in late 1979 and released their first single in 1980. Thankfully the A-side of their first single, Keypunch Operator, wasn’t their breakout. The B-side of the single cemented their place in the new wave movement, Down Under.
Men at Work had 4 top 10 hits during their 6-year career, more than most other new wave bands. They also won the Grammy for Best New Artist in 1983. ARIA (Australian Recording Industry Awards) inducted Men at Work into the hall of fame later, in 1994.
Colin Hay’s Best Known Songs
As a songwriter, Hay is best known for the top hits of Men at Work, even though most of Hay’s career has been as a solo act.
Men at Work saw great success after releasing Down Under, but that wasn’t it. Overkill, a song about stepping out of one’s comfort zone, was a hit for them in 1983.
Who Can It Be Now? topped the charts in 1982, a year after its release. Hay says drug dealer neighbors and a bad living situation inspired the hit.
Be Good, Johnny, released in April 1982, is written in the voice of a misunderstood child. It’s A Mistake captured the spirit of the Cold War in song with a mid-level soldier wondering if he’s going to war or not.
On his own, Hay’s biggest hit was I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You. Released in 1998 on the album Transcendental Highway, the song made an appearance in Zach Braff’s first film Garden State. Critics and fans often consider it one of Hay’s best, though it’s not a song about lost love.
Hay had a long relationship with alcohol in his early life. I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You is a song about that relationship. One that Hay admits he’s much better off without.
Is Men at Work Still Together?
Men at Work broke up in 1986, shortly after the Oz for Africa concert on tour for the band’s third album. Hay left while they were on the road, and by the end of 1986, he was already recording his first solo album.
The band got back together briefly in 1996 for a concert tour in Brazil, which resulted in the album Brazil in 1997. Men at Work toured for the next five years, but they broke up again by the end of 2002.
In 2010 the band was sued for copyright for using the traditional Australian tune Kookaburra. Larrikin Music Publishing sued because Greg Ham had played a quote from the song on the flute in Down Under.
A judge ruled that while Ham had played a line from the melody in the song, it wasn’t central to the tune. As a result, 5% of royalties for the song from 2002 forward now go to Larrikin Music Publishing. Ham took the lawsuit especially hard since Down Under was written several years before he added the flute line. Ham died in 2012.
What is Colin Hay Doing Now?
Hay continues to tour under his name and with Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band.
In 2019, Hay started touring with studio musicians as Men at Work. He’s the only remaining original member. According to a post on his website in September 2021, the revamped Men at Work band will tour again.
In 2021, the Tasmanian producer, Luude, remixed Down Under and topped the dance charts. Hay even recorded new vocals for the track and introduced Men at Work to a new generation.
Beyond music, Hay appeared in several episodes of Scrubbs, the horror film The Uninvited, and most recently on the show The Resident.
Colin Hay is Still a Man at Work
Colin Hay’s songwriting with Ron Strykert was the fuel that propelled Men at Work to stardom. His voice and persona are what made them legends. And Men at Work is on tour again, so make sure to check your local area for a chance to see them.
Have you seen Colin Hay perform recently? Let us know how it was!