Men At Work were heading for world domination after the remarkable success of their first two albums, Business As Usual had cost $30,000 to make and sold over 15 million copies globally, and the follow up album Cargo, which cost the paltry sum of #70,000 to make was on the way to global sales of 5 million copies, along the way they would pick up a Grammy Award, and take four songs into the US top ten between September ’82 – July ’83, the third of their US hits, was Overkill, lifted off Cargo which hit #1in Australia, #3 in the US and #8 in the UK.
Colin Hay explained that the song was about the seismic changes that had been wrought to the lives of all the members of the band, as they rode the rollercoaster of success for two years, and felt the fear, exhilaration, euphoria, and dislocation that comes with overnight success” …about having a fear of the future, leaving your comfort zone behind, and stepping into the unknown…” In 1981 the band were playing in pubs around Melbourne, their lives were relatively carefree and they harboured no illusions about becoming a global pop phenomenon, Hay was living in the Melbourne bayside suburb of St. Kilda, and barely getting by as a jobbing musician “ You spend a lot of years trying to get something, fame or recognition or getting to a certain point, and then when you actually achieve it , there’s always a certain amount of fear that comes with that, a sense of loss of control of a situation any more, there’s other people involved, it gets bigger and bigger with much more stress.”
Overkill builds on the simple premise that despite the apparent enormity of life’s ups and downs, one should take life one day at a time, so the common themes of MAW songs are present here as well – isolation, loneliness, anxiety, paranoia – the promo video predominantly features only Colin Hay, so this lends a personal note to proceedings, and makes this song one of the most haunting, reflective, and pensive, of the band’s compositions. The video was shot in St. Kilda (Melb), where Hay had lived for some time, it opens at night with him walking along the pier and then via the thoroughfares adjacent to the esplanade, a sense of introspective melancholy inhabits the lyrics and the clip “Day after day it reappears/ Night after night my heartbeat, shows the fear/ Ghosts appear and fade away/ Come back another day…” the inspired guitar solo at the bridge and Ham’s saxophone flourishes added to the ambience of the track, which charted #3 in USA, #5 in Aust and #21 in UK.
The band would basically take a year off at this time to deal with the stress and tension building inside the group, but by the time they had spent $450,000 making their third album Two Hearts after sacking their producer Jimmy Iovine (below), Hay then sacked drummer Speiser and bassist Rees, and founding members guitarist Ron Strykert and flautist/saxophonist Greg Ham then both departed the group, Two Hearts stiffed and Men at Work became Man at Work with only Hay left, they were on a rapid downward career trajectory.
Hay pursued a solo career but chart success eluded him, and by 1996 he reunited with Greg Ham in a re-formed MAW and successfully toured South America for two years in 1996-97, and released a live version of all the Men At Work favorites, plus a new studio recording entitled The Longest Night.
In 1983 MAW had won a Grammy for Best New Artist, by the end of 1985 the group had disbanded, lead guitarist Strykert would fall out dramatically with Colin Hay over disputed royalties and copyright, and spend time in gaol for threatening to kill him in 2007. According to police records Ron Strykert, was arrested on Feb. 13th. 2008 by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies in connection with an outstanding bench warrant on a charge of making criminal threats to kill lead singer Colin Hay in December 2007, in a telephone conversation with Hay. Strykert had been arraigned to appear in the Malibu County Court in May 2008 on misdemeanor charges but he failed to appear, Strykert denied making the threats and Hay said that he did not think that Strykert would have actually carried out the threat. Just 24 hours prior to the alleged death threats being made Strykert (below) revealed his current state of mind in a post on his Myspace site with a curious and enigmatic message, ostensibly to promote his forthcoming album Paradise, he signed the post – “Mystery Man, working enigma, and don’t eat American Peanut Butter. Ron Strykert.”
Men At Work’s descent from the phenomenal high of 1981-82 was as swift as the ascent, but the ride had been spectacular, in 1994 Men at Work were inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame, the hits had dried up, but as noted Colin Hay and Greg Ham did go round again as MAW. Colin Hay would release no less than twelve solo albums between 1987-2017, perform in several films including Wills and Burke (’85), Cosi (’96), and The Craic (’99), and also perform as part of the Ringo Starr All-Stars Band (below, Hay far left), and occasionally as support act on tours with the Violent Femmes and Barenaked Ladies.