They have gone in threes again this week.
There was Dick Clark. As he did when Don Cornelius passed earlier this year, my friend JB said everything I wanted to say about Dick Clark in his post over at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’. When I heard the news of Clark’s passing and thought of his legacy, I immediately thought Cornelius was more influential.
Duane Dudek of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel also had a fine piece on Clark, drawn largely from a new book that’s deeply skeptical of Clark’s role in how “American Bandstand” came to be integrated. The headline says it all: “Dick Clark’s TV legacy, including on race, is complicated.”
There was Levon Helm. He holds a singular place in the history of this blog. His PR people are the only ones to ask that a song be taken down in the five years we’ve been doing this. The tune we shared came off a free sampler his record label handed out at Record Store Day three years ago. Go figure.
There was Greg Ham. He was one of the Men At Work, the guy who played flute and sax and keyboards in a group that for a time in the early ’80s was one of the most popular bands in the world. Greg Ham, just 58, was found dead at his home in Melbourne, Australia, on Thursday.
After word spread of Ham’s death, his fans turned to Colin Hay. When you think of Men At Work, he’s the guy who comes to mind, and rightly so. He wrote most of their songs, sang lead on most of them and still performs charmingly reworked versions of them in his solo act.
Men At Work fans crashed Hay’s website while trying to read his statement about his friend’s death.
Greg Ham and Colin Hay were friends for 40 years, having met while seniors in high school. “We shared countless, unbelievably memorable times together,” Hay said. “We played in a band and conquered the world together. I love him very much. He’s a beautiful man.”
Less beautiful was that Ham felt his legacy marred by a copyright lawsuit. An Australian court ruled in 2009 that his memorable flute riff on “Down Under” was cribbed from “Kookaburra,” an Australian nursery rhyme written in the 1930s. Doubt anyone outside Australia hears it that way. You know the riff.
Men At Work put out only three albums. I had the first two — “Business As Usual” and “Cargo” in the early ’80s, then sold them at the end of that decade. Time, it seemed had passed them by.
Then, nine years ago, I discovered “Man @ Work,” a record on which Colin Hay covered some of those old Men At Work songs Hearing them again, it was clear how good those songs were, and are.
You also know Ham’s sax solo on “Who Can It Be Now.” It was, Hay said yesterday, “the rehearsal take. We kept it, that was the one. He’s here forever.”
Greg Ham is here forever, too.
“Be Good Johnny” and “Down By The Sea,” Men At Work, from “Business As Usual,” 1982. It’s out of print but is available digitally. The used vinyl is fairly common. I bought this record and “Cargo” last year for $1 each.
Ham and Hay composed the music for “Be Good Johnny,” and that’s Ham as the adult speaking to the kid.
“Down By The Sea,” composed by Ham, Hay, guitarist Ron Strykert and drummer Jerry Speiser, is the last cut on the album. It’s laid back, but still a bit of showcase for each of them.