Friday, April 30, 2010

SONG #103: Everything I Need


About once a year, I fall in love with an old song that completely takes me by surprise.  It's usually either by a band I've mostly disregarded, or just a song that slipped by me, or something that comes on the radio at just the right time to hit me just the right way.  I'm sure there are dozens of examples, but this one is one of the most vivid.  It's the first single off of the third Men At Work album.  

Did you even know there was a third Men At Work album?  I'm pretty certain that you didn't care.  Cargo, the second album, had two huge hits on it ("Overkill" and "It's A Mistake") but you could tell that time was running out on the band.  It's the classic story-- the band spent ten years playing pubs and writing songs, and the first album, Business As Usual, was the result of ten years of work together, and it exploded (thanks to MTV-- Men At Work was one of the first bands to hit via video, amazing since Colin Hay's lazy eye is even more distressing than Thom Yorke's) and became at the time the most successful debut album in history.  Cargo was written in a year, and it showed-- it was a lot spottier, though "Overkill" might be the band's greatest moment.  By the end of that tour, just when the band had finally scaled an international mountain, was headlining 20,000 seat sheds and arenas, and had the world at its feet, they completely fell apart and splintered over years-old grudges, fights over the money, jealousies about recognition, and sadly-stereotypical reactions to life in the fame fishbowl.  By 1985, basically only singer Colin Hay and his right hand man Pete Ham were left.  

When Two Hearts came out, no one was paying attention, including me.  I like the first Men At Work as much as any 80s kid, but it already felt dated by 1985, and I had moved on to hardcore punk and away from the Top 40 by then.  I remembered seeing the ugly album cover and laughing at it.  They were the Australian Hall and Oates, and the world moved on to INXS, Crocodile Dundee and Mel Gibson for its Aussie fix.

Fast forward to 1989.  I'm home for the summer from college, working a few random crummy jobs and basically killing time.  My folks were out of town, so I had the house to myself, and never really changed my nocturnal habits from the previous semester.  One bored, boring July night around 2:25am, I put MTV on, and the video for "Everything I Need" came on (God knows why-- Colin Hay's brother must have been a production assistant or something), and I was hooked from the first line by the melody.  I hadn't heard a Men At Work song in probably five years. and I thought Hay sounded terrifc.

The next day, I went to the Annapolis Record and Tape Exchange to look for a cheap copy of Two Hearts.  No luck, but even better, they had a ten cent copy of the actual 7" with the picture sleeve. 

I threw it on when I got home, liked it even more than I had half-awake the night before, and listened to it for about three days straight.

Why this song at that moment for me?  I think it has to do with a couple of things.  I was moved by the nostalgia of the first verse:

Movin' up and down and from side to side
With so many things to do
I want to go again I want another ride
This time should see it through
We never realized as the years rolled by
That we never really had a clue
But we knew one day we'd come alive
And in the end there's me and you

The way Hay sings "never really had a clue" gets me every time.  It seems like an apology to his fractured band, even as he continues to use their name, and even as he is moving on from them.  I think I was starting to feel that way about my hometown that summer.  I wasn't unhappy, but I was feeling restless and ready for something else.  I had friends home from college, and friends who hadn't left, but it all felt like an imitation of the high school kid who had been living that life authentically two years before. Two summers later, I'd move 3,000 miles to California and never look back.  I couldn't have put words to it at the time, but I think that, while that desire to go home and be with the people you grew up with is a powerful one, you do naturally begin to replace them with more adult concerns:

Oh my babe, she gives me everything
She gives me everything I need

I think this song tapped into that desire in me to move on to something I could love without the baggage of the past.

I also love what I feel like is the self-mocking bridge, where Hay goes reggae in obvious imitation of his previous work, and quotes one of his former songs.  It's a nice moment of levity that suggested to me that Colin Hay was a good guy who was aware that this might be the last time in his career that other people would pay him to make records. 

Finally, I love how life comes full circle sometimes.  Twenty years after I bought this single and spent a week lost in it, I opened for Colin Hay in SF with Megan Slankard, and he was one of the most down-to-earth guys I've ever opened for.  And I'll say this-- he can still absolutely sing his ass off (actually, he's better now in many ways), and no one loves his wife more than he does.  So while there seems to be a tale of acrimony and spite woven into the Men At Work story, Colin Hay is pretty believable as a talented, weird-looking guy who knows he got incredibly lucky in 1982, and has had the sense to recognize it,  stay grounded, and thank his lucky stars that people still come to see him.  It makes the final lines of this song amazingly autobiographical, considering they were written when the top of the mountain was still in his sights:

And if you think us fools and you criticize
Then my friend, the joke's on you, I'll say it again
Oh my babe, she gives me everything
She gives me everything I need



  1. This post made me laugh. I can;t even begin to count the number of conversations I've had with Jeff that follow this basic template:

    Jeff - Hey, do you know what I've been listening to?
    Ben - No, what?
    Jeff - The third Men at Work record!
    Ben - There's a third Men at Work record?
    Jeff - Yeah and there's this song . . .
    Ben - Why did they put out a third f***ing Men at Work record? Wasn't the second one bad enough?
    Jeff - The second one was really under-rated. "Overkill" is a great song. Anyhow, the third record . . .
    Ben - Just to clarify, your current claim is that the second single off of Men at Work's dogs**t second record is really good AND I should be listening to their third record?
    Jeff - Yes, now listen about the third record, there's this song . . .
    Ben - Is the song about a vegemite sandwich? Because I'm only interested in Men at Work songs about weird Australian food spreads.
    Jeff - NO. It is NOT about a vegemite sandwich. It's about loss and the band breaking up and . . .
    Ben - Again, I just want to reiterate my one criteria for listening to songs off of the third Men at Work record: number of vegemite references must be over two.
    Jeff - FINE! Don't listen to the song. You're missing out though.

  2. HA! Pretty much a perfect transcription. Except there's usually a bit more cursing, I think.