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Former Men at Work leader Colin Hay covers personal favorites on new LP

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Colin Hay, former lead singer and songwriter for 80s hit-makers Men at Work (“Who Can It Be Now?,” “Down Under”) says his 13th solo album, “I Just Don’t Know What to do With Myself” gives him a chance to pay tribute to the songs and songwriters he associates with crucial memories and eras in his life. The record features Hay rearranging 10 classic songs originally recorded by The Beatles, Jimmy Cliff, The Kinks, Glen Campbell, Blind Faith and others that provided the soundtrack to his life’s pivotal moments.

In the following interview, the Scottish-born Hay reveals that when he left the U.K. in his youth to embark on a new life in Australia, he recalls hearing The Kinks’ sublime 1967 pop ballad “Waterloo Sunset” as he walked the ship’s gangplank. He cites the song that helped him discover how tunes can have a life of their own outside of their best-known versions, and he looks back at how MTV helped take his band to the next level 40 years ago. He opened the interview by expressing his fondness for Maine.

Colin Hay: Maine is such a beautiful place, I love it there. I’ve played in Boothbay Harbor a number of times and also in Portland. The last time I played in Maine was with Barenaked Ladies and Violent Femmes on “The Last Summer on Earth” tour.

The Maine Edge: How did you settle on the lineup of songs you selected to cover on “I Just Don’t Know What to do With Myself?”

Colin Hay: I took the path of least resistance, really. I thought about different periods of my life and the songs that came to mind when I thought of them. For example, as I left the U.K. to travel to Australia, “Waterloo Sunset” by The Kinks was playing on the sound system as I walked across the gangplank to get on the ship.

The Maine Edge: Based purely on the title, I’m guessing this album was almost a therapeutic way for you to keep busy during the pandemic.

Colin Hay: The whole idea came from sitting around in the studio. Gerry Marsden of Gerry and the Pacemakers had just passed away (January 3, 2021) so I just recorded “Don’t Let the Sun Catch you Crying” and sent it to a great producer friend of mine named Chad Fischer. He orchestrated it and sent it back and said “This sounds great, send me something else” so I kept going until I had 10 songs.

I’d heard Glen Campbell singing “Wichita Lineman” but I became aware of the fact that it had been written by the great Jimmy Webb. That’s when I discovered that songs could stand up on their own, and that different people could do different versions of them. Lyrically, that song is so expansive and mysterious and spoke of things I didn’t really know about, like what’s a lineman? Contained within that lyric was this great love story, it’s just a beautiful piece of work.

For me, there was The Beatles, then there was everybody else. There are so many songs I could have recorded but I had a version of “Norwegian Wood” and a version of “Across the Universe” that I’d recorded in the studio.

The Maine Edge: You do a beautiful version of “Can’t Find My Way Home” by Blind Faith on the record with some very nice acoustic work from you. Was it the song or the band that was more important to you at the time it was released (1969)?

Colin Hay: It was a band full of people that I loved, Steve Winwood especially, and Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker. I was very interested in what they were doing. They only made one album and I particularly liked that song because I was just starting to play the guitar and Eric’s playing a nylon string guitar on that. At the time, I could barely make a crack at it but I remember playing it in the key of D and it has this kind of challenging rundown for someone just learning to play guitar, but I’ve always loved that song.

The Maine Edge: There are many of us who fondly remember seeing those early Men at Work videos on MTV, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this month. How important was MTV for Men at Work?

Colin Hay: I think it took the band over the top and gave the band a face, obviously. I don’t think the U.S. had much of a history of playing music videos before MTV. I think they had more in the U.K. and certainly in Australia where they had shows that were just full of music videos, some performance-based and some were conceptual. It gave people an idea not only how you sounded but how you looked. When MTV happened, it was such a novelty for people, it was immensely successful. In the early days, there was a limited number of people producing music videos so if you had something MTV liked, they’d put it in high rotation, which they did for us. It created a huge amount of success for the band, along with radio, where we’d had success first. We were still a radio band in the sense that I don’t think we would have been played on MTV unless we’d first had hits on the radio. They traveled hand in hand, and we were very grateful for that kind of exposure.

Last modified on Wednesday, 11 August 2021 07:10


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