It’s an old pop joke that winning the Grammy for Best New Artist is pretty much the kiss of death for long-term success. See the Starland Vocal Band, Milli Vanilli, and today’s featured combo, Australia’s Men at Work. While not the massive flameout some other Best New Artist winners were, Men at Work had a sadly truncated shelf life that no one really saw coming.
Their first two albums were massive successes, filled with hits. You know ’em all: “Doctor Heckyll and Mister Jive,” “Be Good Johnny” … okay, I kid. “Who Can It Be Now” and “Down Under” were huge, along with “Overkill” and “It’s a Mistake.” Both albums, Business as Usual (1982) and Cargo (1983), came hot on the heels of each other; combined with the constant touring and promotional schedule for both, the band needed a much deserved break. Two years later, the group was reduced to a trio of singer Colin Hay, saxophonist Greg Ham, and guitarist Ron Strykert. By the time their third album, Two Hearts (1985), hit the streets, the group had been further reduced to a duo — Strykert left during production.
This pretty much made Men at Work “The Colin Hay Show,” and he seemed determined to take Men at Work in a more mature, less novelty-based direction. Gone were the quirky reggae hooks of songs like “It’s a Mistake” and in their place was straight-ahead adult pop-rock like the lead single, “Everything I Need” (download). The new direction wasn’t necessarily bad, just different, but it wouldn’t be unfair to say it wasn’t really Men at Work.
Where before a Men At Work single was pretty much a guaranteed Top 40 hit, the personnel changes, time off and new direction kept “Everything I Need” just shy of Top 40 status, a major blow for the band. Two Hearts stumbled out of the gate and never recovered – while their first two albums were multi-platinum, Two Hearts barely went gold. It wasn’t for lack of trying. A second single and video for “Maria” (download) tried to ignite the album, but with its flamenco flourishes and Spanish rhythms, it was an even more unlikely choice for a single release.
With two flop singles, Two Hearts soon faded away, and during the tour to promote it, so did Ham, finally leaving Hay to be a solo act proper. He released several solo discs, but none came anywhere near the success of his Men at Work oeuvre. The band has sort of reunited with varying lineups here and there for South American tours (where they’re still hugely popular), but apart from a few new tracks scattered across live sets, they’ve yet to release an official fourth studio album. But who knows what the future holds? After all, Colin Hay said it best when he accepted the Best New Artist Grammy: “We are the men … and we’ll see you again.”
“Everything I Need” peaked at #47 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1985.
“Maria” did not chart.
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