Hear the band before their massive US breakthrough
When Colin Hay, Ron Strykert, Jerry Speiser, Greg Ham and John Rees formed Men At Work in the late 1970s, they couldn’t have understood the lasting impact they’d have on the Australian music landscape.
Their first two singles – ‘Keypunch Operator’ and ‘Down Under’ – were self-financed and released independently. And although they both failed to reach the Top 100 Charts, their pub rock band reputation saw them end the year as one of the most in-demand, unsigned bands of 1980.
Next, came a record deal, new single ‘Who Can It Be Now? – peaking at #2 on the charts – before a re-arranged, poppier version of ‘Down Under’ saw the band score their first number one, a position the band held for six straight weeks. Men At Work’s debut album, Business as Usual, was released around the same time, holding its number one chart spot for nine straight weeks.
By February 1982, both ‘Down Under’ and Business As Usual had reached #1 on the New Zealand charts – the latter becoming the first Australian album to reach that peak in New Zealand.
Despite their resounding success on this side of the world, it wouldn’t be until October 1982 that Men At Work – spurred by a support slot alongside Fleetwood Mac – really broke through into the Canadian and North American markets.
On the latest instalment of ARCA’s Desk Tape Series, we meet Men at Work right in the middle of this transition period.
The recently surfaced live album captures the band just before their massive US breakthrough, during their show at New Zealand’s Christchurch Town Hall in 1982.
It was around this time, following the recording of the band’s debut album, that Men At Work frontman Colin Hay really saw things changing.”We hadn’t been off the road in two years, but now we had a record behind us, and we were empowered, to say the least.
“I started to notice something about the audiences during ’81, going into ’82. They were becoming incredibly energized at the shows, fiercely responsive. It was like a mutual, deep recognition of the electric beauty and pure energy that music can create. It was one of the happiest, most creative and exciting periods of my life. It stays with you. Always. This tape was recorded during this period.” he says.
Drummer Jerry Speiser also remembers that time fondly. “There was a rapport between us and the humour was an important part of it all. We could be tight but also be loose within that. The arrangements were very strong, we all had good voices, Colin’s was unique, and I always regarded him as a genius songwriter. When I listen to the Christchurch tape, what strikes me most was that the band was happy, we were having fun,” he says.
The Christchurch show, performed in front of 2500 fans and broadcast live on New Zealand radio, was recorded by long time friend and front-of-house operator Mark Woods.
The Men At Work live session of the sixth Desk Tape Series episode to be released, following archival live performances from Australian Crawl (Live at Billboard, 1981), Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons (Live at San Remo, NYE 1976), Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band Live (Ormond Hall, 2011), TISM (Love at Corner Hotel, 1988), and Redgum (Live in Amsterdam, 1985).
About ARCA’s Desk Tape Series
The ARCA Desk Tape Series is an initiative of the Australian Road Crew Association (ARCA), a not for profit organisation dedicated to the welfare of live production crew across Australia.
Each release acknowledges just how important roadies have been to making our live performance industry a stand out success. They offer recognition to the engineers who documented this wealth of genuine Australian music history. All profits from The Desk Tape Series releases are split 20% to ARCA and 80% to the Support Act Roadies fund.
“The idea of our Desk Tape Series began some years ago for us to help in a small way to help give road crew recognition to themselves and to the public for their contribution to the Aussie music industry,” say founders and co-directors of ARCA, Ian Peel and Adrian Anderson.
“But with the country’s live performance industry estimated to have lost $350 million worth of work by the first week of April, we have to remember that crews are the most at-risk sector and need special extra funding. No crew, no show.”
Roadies have amassed a treasure trove of live recordings spanning more than 40 years and made ARCA their custodian. These tapes document the cultural significance of the Australian live music scene and serve as important historical records, requiring a release to ensure they may never be lost.