The Three Definitive Songs of Men At Work (In Honor of Greg Ham)

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With his unfortunate passing Thursday at the age of 58, we offer the songs that defined reed player Greg Ham’s contributions to Men At Work (he specialized in flute and saxophone).

“Overkill” (from Cargo)

Following up an extremely successful debut album — which contains some of the decade’s ultimate reed riffs — it was a tall order to come up with a second set that holds up.

Cargo, Men At Work’s second album, was a formidable follow-up to Business As Usual, a package of ten tracks that ranged silly to paranoid. “Overkill” was an example of the latter, a song that was lyrically spooky in spite of its soothing melodic structure.

Ham’s solo segment on this cut was not particularly lengthy but the time when the spotlight gleamed on his soprano sax was a pure delight. Woven into the rest of the song, his small flourishes here and there are similarly delightful.

“Down Under” (from Business As Usual)

Ham was caused considerable heartache by the lawsuit brought against him a few years ago by Larrikin Music regarding his performance on “Down Under.” Claiming the flute riff was lifted from a tune 75 years its senior, the publisher won a considerable financial settlement (and added fiscal pain to an already sad affair for Ham).

Putting the subjective opinion of its origin aside, Greg’s solo at the head of “Down Under” has become to non-Aussies a sort of musical personification of Australian culture. That is, it’s light-hearted, humorous and full of spirit.

“Who Can It Be Now” (from Business As Usual)

It was the shot over the bow, as they say, the opening statement of the song that introduced Men At Work to a worldwide audience.

Eschewing the idea that things get better with repetition, band leader and co-producer Colin Hay chose Ham’s rehearsal take on “Who Can It Be Now” as the one that should appear in the finished song. Or, more succinctly stated: he nailed it the first time, the mark of a consummate musician.

– Michael Verity

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