When the world at large was first introduced to Colin Hay in the early ’80s, the chameleon-eyed vocalist was extolling the virtues of Vegemite and mugging shamelessly in charmingly entertaining videos with his band, Men at Work. America loved the band — the group’s U.S. debut, Business as Usual, sold 5 million copies, broke The Monkees’ record for most weeks at No. 1 for a debut album and was still in the Top 10 when its sophomore album, Cargo, hit the top of the charts. Before that, they had been a sensation back home in Australia. Business as Usual had broken Split Enz’s record for longest stretch at No. 1 on the Australian album charts, and prior to its release, Men at Work was the country’s highest paid unrecorded act.
Unfortunately, Men at Work had a fairly short run, folding after 1985’s successful Two Hearts. Hay began a solo career almost immediately, with his 1987 debut Looking for Jack and its 1990 follow-up, Wayfaring Sons, getting good notices and generating decent sales. But the advent of Grunge marginalized Hays’ quaint Folk/Pop and he never approached his band’s successes.
That might have been the beginning of obscurity for Hay, but a move to California and a shift into occasional acting roles revived interest in his work. Hay appeared on JAG and The Larry Sanders Show, his songs were used on What About Brian?, Cane and The Black Donnellys and he was frequently an actor/musical contributor on Scrubs, an association that led Hay to contribute a song to Zach Braff’s Garden State soundtrack.
Hay’s solo work has been consistently good, particularly 2002’s Company of Strangers and 2007’s Are You Lookin’ at Me? His latest, American Sunshine, will be released in August. And Hay is still mugging, if a little more subtly, after all these years — along the way he started his own label. The name? Lazy Eye.