Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
It’s Forty Year Friday again. For more information on this series, please read the opening paragraph of the first post, which featured Never Surrender by Triumph.
There was no Forty Year Friday post last week because I was in Iceland, the “land of the ice and snow, from the midnight sun where the hot springs flow,” but I’ve returned this week with a post about a great band from the “land down under, where women glow and men plunder.”
Posted on my Facebook page Mar. 14, 2013:
This week’s Thirty-Year Thursday featured album is “CARGO” by MEN AT WORK. It was one of my most-played albums of 1983, and I liked it even more than their hugely popular debut album from the previous year. I know some people think of them as a minor ’80s band, but unlike a lot of artists who loaded their albums with filler, nearly every song on this record had hit potential…and four of them were, in fact, Top 30 on either the Hot 100 or Mainstream Rock charts: “Dr. Heckyll & Mr. Jive,” “It’s A Mistake,” “High Wire” and “Overkill.” I also love the melancholy reggae feel of “Blue For You.” Colin Hay had one of the best voices of that era, and the other four guys were excellent musicians (including the late Greg Ham). I may be in the minority, but this album has held up extremely well after 30 years, and I still get the same enjoyment I did as a 16-year-old whenever I play it. Here’s the amazing “Overkill.”
As you can see from the two videos above, this was a band that didn’t take itself seriously, but they were seriously talented musicians and songwriters. They made a big impact in a recording career that lasted less than five years, with two multi-platinum albums and several Top 40 singles. Colin Hay has a lengthy solo discography and he toured with Ringo Starr in his All-Starr Band. Forty years after this album’s release, I still love it as much as I did when it was released, as it always brings a smile to my face.
I was last in with a comment last time but first this time.
Not much to say other than I had no idea Men At Work did so well in the US. They sound ’80s but not too obviously ’80s which makes them almost timeless – all to do with coming from “The land down under” I suppose.
Liked all the songs in the clips and well done them on having 4 hits from the album. Overkill very good and I recognise the voice in that one. Thanks for educating me on Men At Work. Another 7.5/10.
Hi Alyson. Men At Work were pretty huge here for a brief time. I think their immediate success and their silly/fun videos worked against them when it came to the “cool kids,” but since I was never one of those I’ve continued being a fan of these guys. I’m glad you enjoyed the songs I included here, and I’m sure the band would appreciate your 7.5 rating.
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Sounds as if they were a lot bigger with you in the US than with us. No, at age 16 you could just enjoy them for what they were, without having to worry about the “cool” factor. I did notice that in the It’s A Mistake clip they were wearing very short shorts! Something unique to Australians I think, even now, and not what we are used to seeing on men (at work) nowadays – adds to the silliness factor. (But, no offence to any Australians who may drop by).
My only anecdote about Men At Work is that we had a girl from Sydney working with us in my office for a summer when she and her partner were travelling. Rebecca – try saying it an Australian accent – can’t think of that name in any other way now. Anyway when she was leaving I arranged a wee leaving do for her and had sent a file to my work PC with the song Down Under. This was the mid 2000s and despite the fact she said she’d never liked the song, now that she was far from home she had a sudden affinity for it and the band. So much so she produced this stick like thing and inserted it into my computer to save the song on – first time I’d seen a memory stick! Things have moved on at such a pace we forget how it was before we had access to whatever we want to hear at the touch of a screen.
If I remember correctly, those short shorts were standard for Americans at the time. I’m sure I wore them, so either I followed the trends or I was an honorary Australian. Thanks for sharing the story of Rebecca and her newly-discovered appreciation of “Down Under.” I’m sure Australians are split on the merits of Men At Work, but those with open minds should love them (along with Crocodile Dundee).
I listened to the whole album. I didn’t remember anything about them besides “Down Under” – so I don’t think I would have listened of my own accord. Maybe that song was both a blessing and a curse for them
The songs have a lot of catchy bits for sure – catchy but quirky. There is something about Colin Hay’s singing that reminds me of Sting. Is that something everyone says? Maybe it’s obvious. The jumps in the melodies? Some kind of precision with the hitting the odd key changes? I’m not sure what it is. But it’s easy to imagine Sting singing “Blue for You” or “No Restrictions” – maybe that is sacrilege to a Police fan!
Anyway, I do agree the album stands up as listenable all these years later
Hey Rob. I think Men At Work had such a meteoric rise, and subsequent fall, that they had no time to think about how those songs were being perceived. If I remember correctly, “Who Can It Be Now” was their first US hit, so by the time “Down Under” was released people knew who they were, and apparently both songs reached #1 on the Pop charts. At least they weren’t one-hit wonders. Both “Overkill” and “It’s A Mistake” made the Top 10, so they had a pretty good run.
You’re not imagining the vocal similarities to Sting, even though each of their voices is unique. Another singer who was often compared to Sting a few years later was Richard Page from Mr. Mister. All three are amazing singers. And as a huge Police fan, there is no sacrilege in imagining Sting singing those Men At Work songs. Maybe he & Colin Hay can tour together and play some of each others’ songs.
I’m glad you gave this album a shot and enjoyed it.
Those two albums stand up to this very day. I think Cargo suffers a bit from the “just a leeetle bit too much like Business” critique, Cargo isn’t as uniformly strong, but I will probably never be without those two as I have OG pressings of each.
I’m happy to know that you’re also a Men At Work fan. I understand what you mean about Cargo feeling like a retread of the first album, but in my opinion it’s the more consistent of the two…by a slim margin. Maybe that’s because I never liked “Be Good Johnny” but liked every song on Cargo.