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Colin Hay

Blessed with an easy charm and a gift for melody, Colin Hay parlayed his success as the chief singer/songwriter for the Australian new wave titans Men at Work into a long career as a troubadour and occasional actor. Hay stumbled slightly at the outset of his solo career, with his 1987 debut Looking for Jack failing to maintain the mass audience he earned with the blockbuster success of Men at Work. By the end of the 1990s, Hay sowed the seeds for what became an enduring career. He turned away from major labels and founded his own indie Lazy Eye; he backed away from arena rock and began singing sweet folk-pop, he embraced his adopted hometown of Los Angeles and found a creative foil in Cecilia Noel, a Peruvian singer he'd later marry. Hay also happily returned to such Men at Work hits as "Who Can It Be Now," "Down Under," and "Overkill," finding a receptive patron in Zach Braff, who featured Hay's music in his 2004 film Garden State and his sitcom Scrubs, giving the singer a boost in popularity in the early 2000s. Hay seized the opportunities this brought him, accepting offers to appear in other film and television projects, joining Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band, developing a song-and-stories act he captured on live albums, regularly touring and recording, a journey captured in the 2015 documentary Colin Hay: Waiting for My Real Life and extended with such albums as 2022's Now and the Evermore. Thanks in part to the global success of Men at Work's "Down Under," Hay will forever be associated with Australia, though it is not his country of birth. Born just south of Glasgow in Saltcoats, Colin James Hay spent his formative years in Scotland before emigrating with his family to Australia in 1967 at the age of 14. Just over a decade later, inspired by the burgeoning new wave scene, he teamed up with fellow guitarist Ron Strykert in Melbourne and formed Men at Work. Along with bandmates Greg Ham, John Rees, and Jerry Speiser, Hay and Strykert developed a sound that fused quirky melodic pop with an edgy new wave sensibility. Released in 1981, Men at Work's debut album Business as Usual was a massive global hit, topping the charts in Australia, the U.S., the U.K., and several other countries. In the U.S., videos for their hits "Down Under" and "Who Can It Be Now?" were put into heavy rotation on the nascent MTV network, giving Hay and his band even greater access to a fresh young audience. While it didn't reach the lofty heights of their debut, 1983's Cargo was still a big success and yielded one of Hay's signature songs in the hit single "Overkill." By 1985, Men at Work had begun to fracture and when their third album, Two Hearts, proved a critical and commercial disappointment, the band called it quits a year later. Hay's 1987 solo debut, Looking for Jack, was a moderate chart success with a slick studio sound befitting its era. Relocating to the U.S., he settled outside of Los Angeles in the city of Topanga and recorded 1990's Celtic-rock-infused Wayfaring Sons as the Colin Hay Band. After parting ways with MCA, Hay more or less became an independent artist for the remainder of his career and spent much of the '90s issuing albums like Peaks & Valleys (1992) and Transcendental Highway (1998) on various small labels before founding his own Lazy Eye imprint in 2002. He also pursued a parallel acting career, appearing on The Larry Sanders Show, JAG, and The Mick Molloy Show. While his solo albums never recaptured the massive success of Men at Work's early releases, Hay nonetheless built up a strong cult following that included celebrities like Metallica's James Hetfield and actor Zach Braff. In the 2000s, Braff became a champion of Hay's music and helped spark renewed interest in the singer's career by featuring his music on Braff's hit television series Scrubs. He also included Hay's acoustic ballad "I Just Don't Think I'll Ever Get Over You" in his 2004 directorial debut Garden State, introducing Hay's solo music to a new generation of listeners in advance of releases like 2007's Are You Lookin' at Me? and 2009's American Sunshine. Hay remained prolific through the next decade, releasing albums like 2011's Gathering Mercury and 2017's acclaimed Fierce Mercy. He also continued acting in small roles and had a 2015 documentary film, Colin Hay: Waiting for My Real Life, made about his career. Hay returned to the studio to record 2021's I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself, a collection of cover songs by artists like Gerry & the Pacemakers, Faces, and Glen Campbell. Hay's next album of original material, Now and the Evermore, arrived on Compass Records in 2022; it featured a cameo from Ringo Starr.
© Timothy Monger & Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo


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