Men At Work


Here is the excellent front cover of Men At Work’s Cargo:



Awful nice of CBS Records to point out, twice, that this album is on COMPACT disc DIGITAL AUDIO. When I purchased this, I was fearful that it might be a wax cylinder or magnetic tape reel. What a relief to find that a COMPACT disc was inside. Thanks for looking out for me, CBS Records.

The inside cover had the band in the john. It’s so great I had to scan it. Behold:


Colin Hay has one of the most classic Australian faces; an old zany band-leader mug, with eyes so eager to take everything in, they bulge charmingly in opposite directions. I love exotropic people, going all the way back to Jack Elam. They convey a natural drollery that I greatly admire. It’s just not polite to enjoy it when someone’s eyes don’t point in the same direction, that’s all. I feel weird even celebrating it here. Let’s just say variety is the spice of life, and that spice includes wall-eyed and cross-eyed folks too.

Ron Strykert is the guy who did the hyperactive songs on the first two Men At Work albums. If you only know “Down Under” and “Be Good Johnny”, his stuff will really surprise you. On Cargo, Strykert submitted “I Like To”, a perfect time capsule of 1983 New Wave. As a child, I was infatuated with this.

I hope you stuck it out long enough to hear the guitar solos, they’re tremendous.

For years I thought “Helpless Automaton” (from Business As Usual) was also the work of Ron Strykert, but upon closer inspection it’s Greg Ham (on “sax, flute, vocals, keyboards and fiddly things”). You can forgive me for making the mistake; Strykert and Ham were kindred spirits in kinetic ’80s pop. This was a slice of paranoia kitsch on par with Rockwell’s “I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Me”, or Oingo Boingo’s “Little Guns”.

How terrific is that? Had you ever even heard it before? Not that Men At Work’s hits were bad, but they used to sneak in treats like this on the reg. Cargo closed out with the sublime “No Restrictions”, with Hay back in front, and frankly I’m baffled that no film production company has ever licensed the intro or the coda for their studio logo. Listen to the beginning and the end of this. Can you not envision that behind some fancy movie studio’s name, as the theater lights dim?

I would perhaps call that Men At Work’s finest song. I could listen to that guitar outro a billion times. And wouldn’t you know it, Greg Ham throws in a blistering flute solo. It bears pointing out that Greg Ham could play a hell of a rock flute. What would “Down Under” have been without him?

I would be remiss if I left out what I consider Men At Work’s greatest hit. This would be another example of a song I simply cannot dislike. It has the makings of soft rock, but the lyrics and the solos are too dark and imaginative for that label. You may know it as “Overkill”.

Holy SHIT what a tune. As a teen, I favored “It’s A Mistake”, because I used to get weepy at the fear of nuclear holocaust. Remember the video, where the military dude (Colin Hay, natch) stubs out his cigar on the red button of Mutually Assured Destruction? I thought that was pretty deep, at 11.

Oh, and lastly, I covered the Sting/stupid cat vocals thing in an earlier article (note the song “Peanuts”). I confess, I am now craving a Bloomin’ Onion. It is fair dinkum, after all.



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