This week's edition of Retro Friday features the band Men at Work, and the song "Who Can It Be Now?"
Men at Work are a Scottish-Australian rock band who achieved international success in the 1980s. They are the only Australian artist to have a #1 album and #1 single at the same time in the United States (the album Business as Usual and the song "Down Under."). The group won the 1983 Grammy Award for Best New Artist, and have sold over 30 million albums worldwide over the years.
Colin Hay emigrated to Australia in 1967 from Scotland with his family. In 1978, he formed a duo with Ron Strykert, which then grew with the addition of drummer Jerry Speiser and keyboard player Greg Sneddon. Their first band was an unnamed four-piece group that would later become into Men at Work. The band's first experience in the recording studio was recording the music to Riff Raff, a low-budget stage musical on which Sneddon was working on. Sneddon soon left the band, and was replaced in late 1979 by saxophonist/flautist/keyboardist Greg Ham. Bassist John Rees would be the final addition to the band.
In 1981, Men at Work was signed by Columbia Records. The band's second single, "Who Can It Be Now", was released in June 1981 and reached #1 on the Australian singles chart in August that year. It climbed from #3 to #1 in the week of 17 August on the Australian singles chart. It was at #1 for two consecutive weeks. Then they went on to release a re-worked version of "Down Under" along with their first album (Business as Usual) and both went on to hit #1. The album Business as Usual also debuted at #1 in New Zealand.
Despite its strong Australian showing, and having an American producer (Peter McIan), Business as Usual was twice rejected by Columbia's parent company in the United States. Thanks to the persistence of the band's management, Columbia finally released the album in the US and the UK six months after its Australian release.
Men at Work toured Canada and the US to promote the album. The band became a top act across Canada in the following months, and Men At Work started receiving top 40 US airplay by August. By October of 1982, "Who Can It Be Now?" hit #1 in the US. Then, in November of that same year, Business as Usual began a 15-week run at #1 on the US album chart. While "Who Can It Be Now?" was still in the top ten, the second single, a reworked version of "Down Under" was released. It entered the charts at #79; ten weeks later, it was #1. By January 1983, Men at Work had the top album and single in both the US and the UK - a feat never achieved previously by an Australian act.
Men at Work won a Grammy Award, winning Best New Artist for 1983 ahead of Asia, Jennifer Holliday, The Human League and Stray Cats. This was the first for an Australian recording act.
Although I really do like the song "Down Under" ... I think my favorite Men at Work song is "Who Can It Be Now?"
The lyrics of "Who Can It Be Now?" feature the story of a reclusive, perhaps paranoid man who hears knocking at his house door and wishes to be left alone. The lyrics mention the presence of a "childhood friend", and later lyrics give the impression that the narrator fears that he is once again being taken away to a mental institution. Musically, the song features a heavy saxophone sound and a mid-tempo beat, to help balance out it's haunting lyrics.
And here it is, for your listening pleasure, "Who Can It Be Now?"
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