The passing last week of Men at Work's multi-instrumentalist and key creative force Greg Ham likely caught more than a few pop music fans off-guard, but those who knew the 58-year-old best probably (and sadly) weren't all that shocked. Ever since the puzzling 2010 court decision that determined the band's signature 1982 hit "Down Under" duplicated "substantial portions" of popular Australian children's song "Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree," friends say that Ham had been despondent, even relapsing into drug and alcohol abuse in part due to his discomfort over the situation. The cause of death for the musician - found dead April 19 in his home near Melbourne - has yet to be determined, but it's difficult for any original fan of Men at Work's early-'80s heyday not to feel resentful about a court decision as suspect and potentially damaging as the "Down Under" judgment.
Nevertheless, former bandmate Colin Hay has been quick to praise the positive elements of Ham's life and the enriching perspective his personality brought to so many of the lives he touched. This, of course, is fitting and essential in the face of the loss of someone young and talented, but the sentiment is especially resonant in light of this week's feature, one of Men at Work's few tracks that featured Ham on lead vocals and drew from his solo songwriting efforts. Despite its seemingly downbeat title, "Giving Up" - a deep album track from the band's seldom-heard 1985 swan song LP, Two Hearts - actually embraces an uplifting if contemplative view on treasuring the joys of life while it's still possible. In essence, the song is about NOT giving up, and it serves as a particularly poignant requiem for an individual Hay remembered as "a beautiful man" graced with boundless humor and energy. Musically, this tune showcases one of Ham's least recognized gifts - his singing voice - and demonstrates the important role he served in a band clearly fronted by Hay but also most certainly graced with far more than mere backing from Ham. Fans celebrating the famous respective saxophone and flute parts from Men at Work hits "Who Can It Be Now?" and "Down Under" should probably also check out the group's unjustly out-of-print final record, which really allowed Ham to stretch out quite memorably as both songwriter and lead vocalist.
- Listen to "Giving Up" in its entirety here.
- Compare prices on Men at Work CDs here.
- Top Men at Work Songs of the '80s
- Top Down Under Artists of the '80s
- Best '80s Songs Featuring Saxophone
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Columbia - Greg Ham Pictured Above, Far Left