THE HISTORY OF MUSIC
MEN AT WORK
Business as Usual
For some reason, saxophones were completely acceptable in the 1980s. Socially, musically, thematically, perhaps inexplicably they were completely, totally acceptable to have in your band and on your records. Just ask the Psychedelic Furs or Romeo Void—hell, ask The Boss! You can certainly ask Men at Work. M@W gave us plenty of woodwind to think about and offered us some very typical 80s cover art on their debut album, Business as Usual.
The record cover leaves little to be desired. Black and yellow and white. Not quite as colorful as a Culture Club cover. Perhaps CBS was trying to save a little money on production costs. They certainly didn't expect these Aussies to break as big as they did, even as they had them out on the road supporting Fleetwood Mac. Break they did, however.
Business is full of catchy pop songs that capitalize on two central themes of 80s music: reggae and alienation. Colin Hays' deadpan vocal delivery, and the Scotsman's rolling Rs helped define the band as quirky and endearing and certainly played up their image as zany Aussies.
"Who Can it Be Now" was a smash hit, as was "Be Good Johnny" with its title sung repetitively as Colin's voice strained. "Down Under" was of course the monster hit. Only Tull could rock a flute as hard. Even if they were accused (and found guilty) of stealing it from an Australian nursery rhyme, that flute line remains an iconic part of '80s popular music.
The Business album also contains a standard android-themed song, "Helpless Automaton". "Down By the Sea" is a great tune, but it never would have cut it as a single and, wisely, it wasn't released as one.
The Men went to work on a follow up, releasing Cargo a year later. However, earning "Best New Artist of 1982" accolades was the kiss of death according to Colin and they never would duplicate the chart-topping success of their debut. Men at Work continued on over the decades in various incarnations. Greg Ham took his own life in 2012. His friends, including Hays, believe the major cause of his unhappiness stemmed from the 2009 copyright infringement suit brought against the band for the song "Down Under".
Men at Work also enjoyed the honor of having a photograph of them cut out of a magazine and taped to the inside of my locker in 7th Grade, although it is almost certain that they were unaware of this—Chris Auman