When The Monkees lead singer Davey Jones passed away, I was reminded that their 1966 debut album held the record for most weeks at #1 by a debut in the U.S. until 1982. That was when an unknown group from the Melbourne Australia pub scene called Men At Work managed to occupy the peak slot in America for 15 weeks. The songs “Who Can It Be Now?” and “Down Under” followed the Business As Usual debut album from Men At Work to #1 sales for all three in the U.S., something never before done by a rookie band, not even the Beatles. And the phenomenon repeated worldwide. Now exactly how did that happen?The Men At Work numbers are staggering: two #1 singles; an unprecedented 15 weeks at #1 for their first album; the winners of the “Best New Artist” Grammy award in early 1983; and total international sales of over 15 million copies of Business As Usual, placing Men At Work on the same all-time debut album list with the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Crosby Stills Nash, Chicago, Boston, and Guns’n’Roses.
It also bears noting that a significant amount of this Men at Work phenomenon is directly attributable to Americans’ fascination then with the new cultural entrant MTV, and the upstart’s paucity of videos to play from North American acts. It forced MTV to repeatedly play UK, Irish, and Australian bands simply because those regions had been making music videos for almost twenty years.
But Men At Work have the dubious distinction of occupying the “one and done” list of top-selling debuts alongside Hootie and the Blowfish and Alannis Morissette, the rock equivalent to what deep-sea divers call “the bends” from coming up too fast. Men At Work’s lead singer/songwriter Colin Hay ‘fesses up here in my classic rock interview with Colin Hay.
After this interview & program were recorded, sadly Men At Work sax/flautist Greg Ham was found dead in his Melbourne home in April 2012. Our sincere condolences to his bandmates, friends, & family. –Redbeard
* The original Australian release of Business as Usual ; the US would not get the album until June 1982.