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Top 11 Best Men At Work Songs

When one discusses debut albums, they often mention the big names like The Beatles, Zeppelin, Whitney Huston, and Kanye West. The Australian group, Men At Work, while perhaps well-known, are considered by some, especially those outside Australia, to be a one hit wonder; however, nothing could be further from the truth.

But what are the Best Men At Work Songs of all time? Let’s find out, but first, let’s take a look at…

Where it all started

Formed in 1975 in Melbourne, Men At Work seems to be the perfect name since the nucleus was a snowballing of musicians and friends who came and went until they eventually settled down for a bit. 

The name, Men At Work, was suggested by lead singer and guitarist Colin Hay. He thought of it when the band needed to come up with something to write on a blackboard outside The Cricketer’s Arms Hotel in Richmond.

Building a reputation… 

Starting as a solid pub band in Australia, Men At Work released their first single on their independent label called M.A.W. in 1980. Not bad for a group five years into their career. The single contained a country rock-influenced tune called “Keypunch Operator,” with “Down Under” as the B-Side.

Initially, the two tracks did nothing. But, by the end of that year, Men At Work was more in demand than any other unsigned band, and even some signed bands. They were also amongst the highest-paid. One year later, in 1981, the group signed with CBS records. 

Aussie All the Way…

Men At Work were the first Australian artists to have a simultaneous #1 album and single on the charts. They’ve won a Grammy and have been inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame. Men At Work has sold over 30 million copies worldwide. 

Now that you know the background, here are my picks for the best songs by Men At Work, starting with…

Helpless Automation

Album: Business As Usual

This one is a bit strange to start with, but it speaks a lot to the band’s social consciousness about the world around them and how it is constantly changing. Art has been described as having many functions, one of them being to reflect the truths of society. 

“Helpless Automation” described the hopeless melancholy that overcomes a worker who’s lost their job to a machine that can outperform them. This was a harsh reality for many people around the world during the early 80s.  

The song is one of the saddest Men At Work songs ever recorded. And was no doubt a comforting tune to workers who were sitting at home as the narrator in the song, with no excuse to go out into the sun. 

Man With Two Hearts 

Album: Two Hearts

This one was the last single from Men At Work’s final album, Two Hearts. The song is another great example of how the band was able to put together a fantastic instrumentally-driven song to which a vocal could be added.

“Man With Two Hearts” has hooks like a fish and tackle shop. The drum groove and smooth bass line carry you away while a nice snappy snare in the high-end keeps time. 

Above it all glides Colin Hay’s vocals. For me, the particular cherry inside this song is the excellent guitar work in the middle of the tune. And for that, it can be listed as one of the best Men At Work songs of all time.

Down By The Sea

Album: Business As Usual

The beach and the sea hold significance for most people when it comes to being carefree. The sea is where sailors went for an adventure and escape in the old days. Now, it is a place of refuge from our mundane working lives once or twice a year.

“Down By The Sea” has a bit of that image embedded in it. But, it also revolves around being in love and carefree together. Simply having the freedom to do simple things together like going to the beach. A super relatable song which is what makes it so special.

Catch A Star 

Album: Business As Usual

For me, this has to be one of the most underrated Men At Work songs of all time. Getting into the why’s and how’s of it isn’t worth it. But trust me when I say you’ll be doing yourself a favor. 

The song has a reggae groove to it which is peddled along on a beautiful-sounding delayed guitar. Once the drums come in, you are hooked and riding along in your metaphorical low-rider and banging your head. 

A fan favorite…

The bass line is particularly unique on this one. It seems to play against the drums rather than with them at times, but it works in the very best of ways. 

The vocal is undeniably Hay’s, and it soars as only he can over the instrumentation. The super catchy “You and I, You and I” before the chorus just makes you want to sing along. That’s probably why, despite not having massive chart success, “Catch A Star” remained a fan favorite at live shows. 

Underground 

Album: Business As Usual

This is another lesser-known tune from Men At Work. Additionally, it was probably the least successful single from the album and didn’t even chart in most countries. 

Despite that, it contains very positive energy, which is unique to Men At Work. When hearing this tune, you can sense a fierce resistance toward hardship which can become infectious. The bass line on this one is particularly thumpy. 

Overkill

Album: Cargo

There are many reasons why this is one of Men At Work’s biggest hit songs. But, for my money, one of the biggest contributors to its success is that the lyrics can be interpreted in a myriad of ways. 

“Overkill” could be about a love entanglement that has run its due course. But, it could just as easily be interpreted as the expression of being run down from too much work. Likewise, I found a hint of obsession over something, whether it be a person or thing, coming through in the lyrics.

Whatever the meaning… 

The instrumentation offers a nice thumpy rhythm section that has some surprising depth. So, try cranking this one on some headphones and paying attention. In terms of style, this one was a break away from the group’s usual reggae influence. 

The song peaked at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #5 on the Australian Kent Music Report. It was also a top ten track in Canada, Ireland, and Norway. And, to this day, remains one of the most popular Men At Work songs.

Be Good Johnny 

Album: Business As Usual

This song has received a fair amount of scorn for being a rip-off track of Chuck Berry’s classic “Johnny B Goode.” However, in my opinion, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and tribute. 

This is one of Men At Work’s best feel-good tunes. And, in terms of subject matter, it doesn’t have a lot in common with Chuck Berry’s song. “Be Good Johnny” revolves around a boy being sent to school and being warned to steer clear of trouble. 

The song peaked at #3 on both the US Billboard Top Tracks and New Zealand Charts. It was a top ten on the Australian Kent Music Report and a top twenty hit in Canada.  

Hekyll And Mr. Jive

Album: Cargo

Despite the obvious parody of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, this song can be interpreted in many different ways. That is a testament to Hay’s ability as a lyricist. As a result, this can easily be viewed as some of his best work and is not bad for a group’s second album.

The music video depicts the group’s keyboardist Greg Ham, as the infamous Dr. Hekyll, as he labors away in a laboratory to create a potion that transforms him into the super smooth and flirty Mr. Jive. 

Despite all the theatrics, this song is not a massive chart crusher; Dr. Hekyll and Mr. Jive peaked at #6 on the Australia Kent Music Report and #12 on the US Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks. It peaked at #28 and #26 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and US Cash Box Top 100, respectively.

Who Can It Be Now

Album: Business As Usual

This was voted the best debut single at the Australian Countdown Music Awards in 1981. It is another super vague one in terms of lyrics, which means that it can become deeper and more elaborate with every listen.

What does it mean now?

At first, you can take the song literally. Someone who is frustrated at unwanted company knocking on the door and trying to tiptoe across their floor to avoid letting the person know that they are there. 

However, when you start to dig in a little, you can easily see how this track can revolve around someone who is not in the healthiest state of mental health. 

This person seems unable to deal with their problems in a normal way. And, therefore, turns to isolation and perhaps even some kind of substance abuse. You can view the knocking at the door as a healthy way to confront problems, and our narrator cowers in the safety of his house (isolation).

A milestone…

“Who Can It Be Now” reached #2 on the Australian singles chart within a year of its release and was certified gold in the group’s home country. It proved to be a song with a lot more steam as it peaked at #8 in Canada more than a year later. 

This success encouraged a US release which was done more than two years after the song originally came out. The song went to number one in July of 1982. Today, it is still one of the most well known Men At Work songs.

Its A Mistake 

Album: Cargo

Here we have one of the best examples of Colin Hay’s social consciousness as an artist. In the 1980s, one of the biggest fears on people’s minds was the threat of nuclear exchanges taking place between the Soviet Union and the US.

“It’s A Mistake” revolves around a high-ranking officer in one of these military powers who seeks answers from his superiors as to whether he and his men will have to go to war or not. And whether these new godlike weapons made soldiers irrelevant. 

The song was the third single from the Cargo album and peaked at #34 in Australia. In the US, it did much better. Entering at #42 and climbing to #6 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was the group’s fourth and final top ten hit in the US.

Down Under

Album: Business As Usual

Strange how many great hit songs are initially discarded as mere B-Sides. This was the case with Men At Work’s world-conquering hit. Initially recorded with a slower tempo and more laid-back feel, some of these early recordings survive to this day. 

But, it was the CBS re-recording after the band had signed that went on to become a titanic hit. And what would become Men At Work’s signature song worldwide.

Inspired partly by Colin Hay’s travels and interactions with foreigners abroad (most notably one concerning a vegemite sandwich and a tall baker who had emigrated from Melbourne), this is a song that makes you want to be an Australian and brags that you too are “from the land of plenty.”

An Australian anthem?

“Down Under” has become embedded in Australian culture and was even used by the crew of Australia II in their successful bid to win America’s Cup in 1983. The group performed it at the closing of the Olympics in Australia.

The song went to #1 in Australia in 1981, and by 1982 it was #1 in Canada and New Zealand. In November of that year, it entered the US charts at #72 and reached #1 by January of the next year, where it stayed for four non-consecutive weeks. 

It was ranked #4 on the US Billboard for the whole of 1983 and has sold well over two million copies. Therefore, it can easily be called one of the best Men At Work Songs ever.

On the Hunt for Awesome Songs?

We can help with that. Take a look at our detailed articles on the Best The Guess Who Songs of All Time, the Best Breaking Benjamin Songs of All Time, the Best Maroon 5 Songs of All Time, the Best Fleetwood Mac Songs, and the Best Chicago Songs of All Time for more amazing song selections.

And, you need to hear all those tracks. So, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Bluetooth Headphones Under $100, the Best Bluetooth Headphones Under $200, the Best Cheap Earbuds Under $100, and the Best Headphones Under $200 you can buy in 2022.

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Best Men At Work Songs – Conclusion

Well, that’s a choc a bloc, fair dinkum list of Men At Work songs. They were not the first music act from Australia to gain international success, but they have been one the biggest. Aside from a sweet-sounding Shelia named Kylie and some hard rockers who go under the name of ACDC. But they are both another list for another day.

Until next time, happy listening.

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About Joseph L. Hollen

Joseph is a session musician, writer, and filmmaker from south Florida. He has recorded a number of albums and made numerous short films, as well as contributing music to shorts and commercials. 

He doesn't get as much time to practice and play as he used to, but still manages (just about!) to fulfill all his session requests. According to Joseph, it just gets harder as you get older; you rely on what you learned decades ago and can play without thinking. Thankfully that's what most producers still want from him.

He is a devout gear heat and has been collecting musical instruments all his life. As his wife, Jill, keeps on saying, "You're very good at buying nice instruments, but terrible at selling them!".

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