Mainstream Rock: Men at Work, “Down Under” (1982)
John: Forget “Lady Bump” â€” Kath & Kim need to remake this.
Kurt: Ah, the song that introduced the world to the phrase “vegemite sandwich.” Gotta say, though, I love these guys. “Overkill” is one of my all-time favorite songs.
Michael: One of the best pop-up video subjects, due to the Australian to English translation that needed to happen. I love all of Men at Work’s singles, but have yet to delve into the world of acoustic Colin Hay. I know I should. Vegemite, by the way, tastes like pure evil.
Zack: Even after more than twenty years, I simply can’t help but find this song irresistibly catchy. Even though my comprehension of the lyrics has been decidedly sub-par (do they say “chunder” at some point? Because I think that’s southern-hemisphere speak for “ralph”), I still enjoy it.
Dunphy: The rise and fall of Men At Work always astonished me. Their tunes always seemed too much like fully-formed ideas to fit in with the lunkhead 80s pop crowd. I mean, listen to “Down Under” or “Who Can It Be Now” or even “It’s A Mistake” from the Cargo album. These songs were not knocked out by committee.
But it was just like the public realized that the band had some strength in the seams: and so they turned their backs. Colin Hay is very much a student of pop songcraft, you can hear it in his solo stuff, and his voice is sharp as a tack, but he’s bound to the subgenre of the doomed: musicians with star power that will never, ever again be a star.
Robert: I should go back and listen to some old Men at Work songs. Last year I discovered how great “Who Can It Be Now?” still is, and I like the Colin Hay solo songs that I’ve heard; his acoustic version of “Overkill” is terrific. Has he picked up any new fans through Zach Braff’s endorsement of him on Scrubs and in Garden State?
David: Love the shot of Colin eating cereal. This just makes me think of the “Simpsons” episode explaining our sudden fascination, and subsequent boredom, with all things Australia. Lisa sees a boarded up movie theater that has “Yahoo Serious Festival” on the marquee, and she says, “I know those words, but that sign makes no sense.”
Will: I’m swearing on a stack of Bibles right now: I will never get tired of this song, no matter how many times I’ve heard it. Men at Work were one of the first bands I ever fell in love with, and I absolutely devoured every moment of Business As Usual, Cargo, and even Two Hearts; since then, I’ve followed Colin Hay’s solo career and picked up everything he’s ever done:which, if you haven’t been following it, consists of way more albums than you’d ever expect. The guy’s definitely one of the most underrated songwriters of his generation, and it’d be nice to think that, one of these days, the mainstream will embrace that.
But I’ve gotten off track.
This song did more for Australia than even “Crocodile Dundee,” and it introduced an entire generation of Americans to the vile stuff that is vegemite. God bless Men At Work, that’s what I say. And if you say you’re sick of this song, at least check out Hay’s acoustic version before you write it off forever; he’s all but reinvented it, and it sounds fantastic:and this intro that precedes it is hilarious.
Jefito: I’m with Will â€” Colin Hay’s solo stuff is worth seeking out. All of it, really â€” even the acoustic-remakes album, and the new one, which Will likes more than I do, but is pretty good no matter which of us you ask. “Down Under” isn’t my favorite Men at Work song, but 25 years later, I’m still not sick of it either.
Scott: What great pleasure this album is to listen to. Here is a case of a band that became too big too soon and they were never able to live up to the hype.
Dunphy: I know that Business As Usual doesn’t have the balls-out rock cache of other, more readily remembered albums from that time, but it’s a solid set of tunes. I’m surprised that it hasn’t had some kind of second life in the pop-rock realm.
Robert: Didn’t Men at Work win the Best New Artist Grammy in 1983? KISS OF DEATH.
Scott: I believe you’re right. They did win Best New Artist.
I’m also surprised that Business: hasn’t gotten a new life. The songs are really well-written, and the band had a great sense of humor (as shown in their videos). On top of that, there was a sense of poignancy that hung over their material that makes it seem timeless.
Darren: I think what killed Men At Work after the initial “Vegemite Sandwich”/Crocodile Dundee/brief stateside infatuation with anything Australian was the fact that Colin Hay wasn’t a heartthrob. Plus, the rest of the band looked like guys who might’ve showed up at an audition to replace Gary Burghoff for the role of Radar on M*A*S*H.
I never dug this song, never bought into the “Men At Work were cool” thing, and never cease to be amazed at Colin Hay’s belief that anyone wants to hear any of his new music. Sure, “Overkill” was a good song, but this Chartburn ain’t about that song. It’s about a song that was seemingly crafted for the sole purpose of annoying Americans, but â€” surprise, surprise, surprise â€” we bought a gazillion copies of it instead.
Will: You know, for what it’s worth, Hay doesn’t necessarily believe they do want to hear any of his new music:not anyone beyond his core group of fans, anyway. I mean, Men at Work broke up in the mid-’80s, and when I interviewed Hay earlier this year for Bullz-Eye, this is what he said:
Bullz-Eye: As far as your solo work, do you have a specific favorite album that you feel like didn’t get its just due commercially? I mean, I know some of them barely even got released in the States at all:
Colin Hay: Well, none of them have really done anything, y’know? My solo career is basically only starting in the scheme of things, as far as the mainstream is concerned. I mean, look: my band came out, we sold over 10 million albums or whatever it was of the first two albums, and we were a big band on a big label. You can’t even really try to compete with that, because it’s just a phenomenal experience. And then the solo albums since then, none of them have really done anything to speak of. So what do you do? You just keep going. Look, I have no complaints about anything, really, because I have a great life. So I’m never one to go, “Oh, that didn’t sell, and that didn’t sell.” It’s:what’s the word? (pauses) I’m not quite sure what the word is, but I’ve just kind of been doing the best that I can for the last 15 years, and doing what I thought was the best thing to do. I have a stumbling process. It’s not really that I think that much out; I just record the songs, put them on CDs, and bring them into existence. You can say that maybe I had a run of bad luck, because I was involved with a couple of labels that went out of business, but they were nice people and they heavily believed in the albums; they just ran out of money. But I am really happy working with the label that I’m with right now, because they’re great people, and we have some energy behind it, so that’s a really great thing. I feel like I’ve got some nice partners to work with, which makes a big difference when you’re trying to market a record. There’s a lot of balls you have to keep in the air, and I’m not very good at doing everything myself. I try, but I’m not very successful at it.
Darren: Okay, let me get this right. A millionaire who can’t get arrested with his new stuff being self-depracating in an interview? Say it isn’t so (great, now I’ve just put an Outfield song in my own head).
Heck, I’d probably say the same thing, but, seriously, if the guy’s the kind of artist most artists are, there’s a part of him that is very determined â€” and very PISSED â€” that his art isn’t getting the same attention it once did. Imagine a Tiger Woods about twenty years past his prime:stuck near the bottom of the pack every tournament. He may smile & wave, and be humble on the outside, but underneath he’s gotta be one determined guy trying his damndest to get back to the top slot? The big diff, of course, is that Tiger only has himself to blame for a bad showing. Colin can blame the industry, changing trends, people only caring about 1982, etc.
Not saying he isn’t a genuine, nice dude. Genuine, nice dudes can be pissed about things, too. They’ll just frame it in such a way that makes you think they’re okay with it.
Vrabel: (Cut to Vrabel, at the ripe age of 7, dancing around the basement in his Indiana home to this song, singing along at the top of his lungs and oblivious to nearly everything about Men At Work).
Modern Rock: Siouxsie and the Banshees, “Kiss Them for Me” (1991)
Vrabel: Is this our first goth installment? Cool, I’ve been meaning to break out my black eyeliner and cape. This song strikes for me a perfect balance between melancholy and melody.
David: I still love the opening drum line to this. Yes, it was frighteningly mainstream by Siouxsie standards, but come on, Stephen Hague was producing. What did you expect? The guy made his name producing the Pet Shop Boys, fer crissakes.
Scott: My first summer in LA, back when KROQ was a great radio station, this was a staple and man, did this song dig its hooks into me. I only wish that all of Siouxie’s songs were this great.
Kurt: Ugh:bad memories of working in a record store and hearing this crap all the time.
Dunphy: I was never ever a fan of Siouxie Sioux. While this song is pretty, in that early ’90s pop kinda way, it just lays there. It doesn’t make me wanna shake my rump. You all should be mighty grateful for that aspect alone, but considering that this song is supposed to be a danceable track, the groove should be a tad more persuasive.
But she looks pretty good in the video though, don’t she? Usually Siouxie Sioux looks like A Scary Vampire Queen.
Zack: I’ve always been more of a “Passenger” fan when it comes to Siouxsie and the Banshees, but I’ve never really had anything against this homage to the accident-prone and the tardy.
Will: By this time, Siouxsie and her Banshees were winding down even as they were growing all the more commercial. I love this song, and I quite like the album it’s from as well, but it’s so comparatively smooth and mainstream that you’d never, ever believe she was a founding member of the punk movement.
John: I always wondered who sampled this beat first – the Banshees or Chapterhouse for the break in “Pearl.” Whichever, that friggin’ beat was everywhere in the early ’90s. Siouxsie, you’re much better than this. (Although this is better than their final U.S. single, “Oh Baby.”)
Robert: I hadn’t heard this song until today. According to Mojo magazine, Siouxsie has a Banshees-free solo album about to be released (although maybe just overseas for the time being). For some reason the way Siouxsie sang the title of the song “Peek-a-Boo” has stuck with me since I first saw the video. Was that the one Beavis and Butt-head made fun of?
Jefito: I’ll go ahead and be the first one to say it: I can’t listen to Siouxsie without thinking about Beavis. I will now repent for that remark by offering Patty Griffin’s cover of this song (download), sent along by a generous reader.
Michael: I’m with Jeff â€” I know this only due to its appearance in the house of Beavis. There are a lot of songs like that.
Zack: I’m the same way, except with Isaac Hayes, because he did the theme song to Beavis and Butt-head Do America.
Robert: I’d love for someone to meet Hayes and say, “I loved that song you did
in that movie!”
“Oh, you mean Shaft?” he’d reply.
“No! The animated one.”
“Oh, South Park. Yeah, well, I’m not involved with that show anymore. But I liked the movie.”
“No, not South Park. That, uh : what was it : oh yeah â€” Beavis and Butt-head Do America! Man, that song was great!”
“Oh, right : I forgot about that one. Thanks.”
“Did you ever see a documentary I was in called Wattstax?” Hayes would ask.
Seven years ago, I was buying bread at a Kroger grocery store in Atlanta. I’d just gotten off work, and it was a little after midnight. I looked over to my right, and two lanes over was Isaac Hayes. Before I could say anything to the cashier, she whispered, “Yep, that’s him.” I kept trying to get a better look, and in the process, almost walked out of the store without the bread.
AC: Savage Garden, “Truly Madly Deeply” (1998)
Zack: Oh. You know, I always thought this song was by someone else. I mean, like, a girl.
Vrabel: I am really looking forward to reading the sharp evisceration this song will receive from everyone, I imagine, but Kurt.
Kurt: Liked some of their stuff, but a song like this is beyond wimpy. Hell, this makes George Michael sound like Slayer.
John: Truly, sadly, weepy. Remember, you have up to a year after your wedding to write your thank-you notes.
Robert: More Aussies to burn! But this time it’s the Air Supply of the ’90s. Maybe the fact that one of these guys came out of the closet a few years ago contributed to my belief over the past decade or so that the Air Supply guys are gay (I partially blame Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan). But they aren’t. Oh well, I don’t like any of their songs either way. Same goes for Savage Garden, actually.
Will: I’m always hearing that I should really like these guys, given that I really enjoy catchy, keyboard-based pop. But this song doesn’t do much for me. Sounds like straight-up adult contemporary stuff that doesn’t move beyond the average boy-band sound.
Jefito: For awhile in the mid-to-late ’90s, it seemed like all you needed to get on the radio was a drum machine, some hair product, and an effeminate singer. (Ten years later, you just trade the machine for a real drummer, crank up the guitars, and call it emo. Zing!) For awhile, I thought these guys were the Backstreet Boys. I actually liked the song they did for that Juliette Lewis Special Olympics rom-com â€” what was it called, The Other Sister? â€” but I felt funny about it.
Scott: WTF? I agree that these guys sound just like Backstreet Boys and ‘NSync and all of the other boy bands that were cashing in during the late ’90s. If I never hear this song again, I will not miss it.
Dunphy: If a heterosexual man ever uttered the words, “Yeah, I really like Savage Garden,” I’ll bet you dollars to donuts he was saying it to a woman at the time. I’d almost guarantee it. Yeah, “Truly Madly Deeply” is pretty (which, as seen in the Siouxsie track, may be a kiss of death). The harmonies are strong. But it is as substantial as a backing track for a car commercial.
And it makes me feel oogy in a way I can neither explain nor appreciate.
Zack: If a heterosexual man did say that, his heterosexuality would have been a moot point, because what self-respecting woman is going to sleep with a guy that claims to like Savage Garden?
Robert: Actually, I know a heterosexual man who owns all of Savage Garden’s albums, and he didn’t spend that money to impress any women. More power to him, I say, especially since he’s not ashamed of it.
Jefito: This man’s name wouldn’t happen to be “Robert,” would it?
You’re among friends here, buddy. Let it all out. It’s okay.
Robert: LONG, DEEP SIGH : It feels good to finally be free of that secret shame. But seriously, the guy I’m talking about is named Piero. He’s an American, so don’t draw the conclusion of “Ohhh, he’s an Italian guy. Yeah, they’ll listen to anything.” (I’m not putting words in your mouth â€” you hate Italians! Admit it!)
But I do have a good story regarding “manly” music and what it’s appropriate for heterosexual men to like and all that nonsense: Last summer I was at the library checking out a few CDs, and at the top of my stack was Pet Shop Boys’ Discography: The Complete Singles Collection and Barbra Streisand’s The Broadway Album (I like her version of “Putting It Together,” which includes cameos by Sydney Pollack and David Geffen as naysaying producers/agents). The library employee who checked out my CDs was wearing a Metallica T-shirt. I almost felt like saying, “Look, I won’t judge you if you won’t judge me, okay?”
Kurt: His name might be Kurt too, who digs that Chicka-Cherry-Cola tune and sought it out thinking it was some new Roxette song.
David: That’s exactly what I thought when I first heard “I Want You.” Total Roxette tribute. I’ll take that song over this one any day of the week.
Jefito: Looks like I owe Vrabel ten bucks. Shit!
Vrabel: Hell yeah. Daddy’s eatin’ Sonic tonight!
So, just to double-check here, you found that song sounded like Roxette, and this was a positive development?
Michael: Ugh. Everyone who defended this band, or this song, is insane. Full stop.
Will: If I’m ever going to get a better way to segue into this, I can’t imagine what it’ll be, so:as long as we’re talking about albums you wouldn’t expect a heterosexual man to love and enjoy, I’m totally standing up and acknowledging my enjoyment of Liza Minnelli’s Results.
No, seriously! If any of you guys are Pet Shop Boys fans, it basically just sounds like one of their albums, except with Liza singing lead instead of Neil; in fact, she covers “Rent” and “Tonight is Forever,” which makes the similarity even more prominent. (There are also covers of Tanita Tikaram’s “Twist in My Sobriety,” Stephen Sondheim’s “Losing My Mind,” and Yvonne Elliman’s “Love Pains.”) And while it hasn’t made me a fan of her work, per se â€” I can’t imagine an occasion where I’d ever want or need another one of Ms. Minnelli’s records â€” there’s something that’s so damned fun about the PSB-produced blend of synth pop, dance grooves, and occasionally overwrought vocals on Results that brings me back to it time and again.
Kurt: And I get shit for the music I like? This sounds like something they might have blasted at Saddam’s palace to drive him out.
David: Will, I have your back, of course. There’s really no way to screw up “Twist in My Sobriety,” and Liza’s version is so off the wall that I can’t help but love it.
Hot 100: P.M. Dawn, “I’d Die Without You” (1992)
Will: I don’t know how you guys feel about PM Dawn:though I’m clearly about to find out, and in spades:but I always loved them. I never knew how to describe them, though. They’re certainly not rap in the general sense of the genre description; if anything, they’re a lush and soulful pop band with occasional elements of hip-hop:but not many, really. I want to say this actually appeared on a soundtrack:”Boomerang,” maybe? I dunno, and I can’t be bothered to research hit. But, anyway, I actually have a cassette single of it somewhere, that’s how much I liked it.
Dunphy: Coming off of the massively popular soundtrack for Eddie Murphy’s Boomerang, “I’d Die Without You” worked its moody magic on several crossover levels. P.M. Dawn was an interesting entity, more in touch with their popular side than fellow hippie-hoppers De La Soul, which probably damaged their careers. If you pinhole yourselves as love-children rappers and not rappers who like to dabble in styles, you’re bound to get left behind. The rise of gangsta and success rap sealed their fate.
Yet, this song on the whole stands up rather well over time. It’s a synthy, sad-sack of a slow jam, the kind that Boyz II Men would turn into insidious self-parody before too long, but I don’t mind listening to it.
John: Career suicide by wardrobe.
David: I’m a big supporter of The Bliss Album, though not so big a fan that I went out and bought a new copy after breaking up with a girl while my copy was still at her apartment. That said, this song never really did much for me. Love “When Midnight Sighs,” though, and even the cover of “Norwegian Wood.”
Robert: I own P.M. Dawn’s first three albums, and I used to own the fourth. I love these guys, and their albums really do hold up for the most part. They’re possibly the only soft-rock rap group on the planet, and as Will somewhat hinted at, Prince Be stopped rapping about halfway through their second album. Not a bad move since he can actually sing: P.M. Dawn hit some pretty spectacular melodic heights on songs like Jesus Wept‘s “Sonchyenne” and their 2002 single “Amnesia.” As for “I’d Die Without You,” it’s not one of my favorites. But adult contemporary stations sure did like it in ’92. I wish those stations had fallen for their similarly arranged cover of “1999” back in 1995. And if you’ve never heard “Plastic,” P.M. Dawn’s “answer” to KRS-One and his crew pushing them offstage during a performance in ’92, you should â€” it kicks ass in ways no one would’ve expected from them.
Kurt: As Journey is to AC/DC, PM Dawn is to Eazy E.
Vrabel: Has anyone else gone back and listened to some of these guys’ CDs in the past few years? They hold up pretty well, as fantastical hippie-rap goes (I always thought of them as sort of like hip-hop’s answer to Sarah McLachlan). This song is a snoozefest, but “Memory Bliss” is a killer.
Scott: Nice song, but where was I when this was a hit? Oh yeah, I was listening to Nirvana and Pearl Jam. I like P.M. Dawn and all, but their m-e-l-l-ow-ness puts me to sleep.
Jefito: I remember seeing a sidebar in The Onion once that read “Will Smith: The Black Man Everyone at Work Can Agree On.” Substitute ” P.M. Dawn” for “Will Smith” and “Rap Group” for “Black Man” (or “R&B Musicians,” if you prefer, Will) and you get an idea of the function these guys filled in the early ’90s. A lot of suburban moms were hearing about militant rap acts (and being scandalized by that awful Sir Mix-A-Lot!) and P.M. Dawn was the soothing, non-violent balm for their worries.
Zack: Every time I think of P.M. Dawn, I think of Tone Def’s solo project in Fear of a Black Hat â€” a clone called the New Human Formantics. I can’t say I’m impressed with this particular song, but I like a lot of the other ones in their catalogue.
David: Aw, hell yes â€” a Fear of a Black Hat reference. I loved that movie. Come and pet the pussy!
Michael: I didn’t love “Memory Bliss” as much as everyone else, but they were okay. I just had to put them back with the rest. That’s the way it goes:I guess.