Greg Ham along with Colin Hay were the core of Men At Work. The Australian band played a major part in ushering in the ’80s sound. Before them, music was still in transition. There was a lot of “easy listening” music playing on the airwaves, and disco was beginning its decline.
Then in 1981, Men At Work burst on to the scene with their number 1 hit, “Who Can It Be Now?”, featuring the great saxophone playing by Greg Ham:
They followed that hit with their signature hit, “Down Under”, which really introduced us to our friends in Australia, and to vegimite sandwiches. The song also featured the incredible and distinctive flute playing of Greg Ham.
Those songs, along with “Be Good Johnny”, helped make Business as Usual a classic album.
Men at Work won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist for 1983, beating out some pretty good competition of Asia, Jennifer Holliday, The Human League and Stray Cats.
Greg Ham left the band in 1985 as they were touring in support of that album. But Ham and Hay reunited in 1996 with a different Men At Work lineup behind them. They did some touring, and performed “Down Under” at the closing ceremony of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, alongside Paul Hogan of Crocodile Dundee fame. They had been mostly inactive after that. Sadly, we will never see another Men At Work reunion.
Recently, Men At Work made some headlines as they were involved in a copyright controversy when a court found that the flute riff from “Down Under” was unmistakably the same as popular children’s tune Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree, penned by Toorak teacher Marion Sinclair more than 75 years ago for a Girl Guides competition. That decision left Greg shattered.
He said, “It has destroyed so much of my song”.
“It will be the way the song is remembered and I hate that.
“I’m terribly disappointed that that’s the way I’m going to be remembered – for copying something.”
I, and millions of other people would never remember him for that. He will be remembered as a legendary musician who brought some incredible music into our lives. I will finish with some quotes that friend and bandmate Colin Hay had to say about Greg:
“We played in a band and conquered the world together. I love him very much. He’s a beautiful man.”
“We shared countless, unbelievably memorable times together, from stumbling through Richmond after playing the Cricketers Arms, to helicoptering into New York City, to appear on Saturday Night Live, or flying through dust storms in Arizona, above the Grand Canyon, or getting lost, driving aimlessly through the Gippsland countryside.”
“He had blond hair, rosy cheeks, ridiculously bright eyes, and along with Gyngell, was the funniest person I knew.
“He was sharp, real sharp. We were friends from then on, we liked each other.”
“The saxophone solo on Who Can It Be Now, was the rehearsal take. We kept it, that was the one. He’s here forever,” he said.
“I’m thinking about his family, and hoping they are receiving the love and support they need and deserve.”
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I should also add that if you are on Facebook, go ahead and join the group We Love Men At Work!