Updated: September 5, 2013 11:31AM
Scottish native Colin Hay will be forever remembered as an Australian ambassador thanks to his role as lead singer for 80’s pop band Men at Work. This is the man who introduced the word “vegemite” into the American lexicon with the group’s chart-topping single “Down Under.” Although Men at Work received the 1983 Grammy Award for best new artist, its career was relatively brief. The group produced three studio albums over a four-year span before splintering.
That move may have cost Hay his stadium-sized audience, but it didn’t stop him from writing his best material. Hay’s solo work dispenses with the quirky humor of “Dr. Heckyll and Mr. Jive,” transcending kitsch and drawing listeners with intimacy and quiet power. Sophisticated, haunting songs including 2001’s “Waiting for My Real Life to Begin” and 1998’s “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You” possess heart-stopping emotional heft.
Hay’s solo career has built slowly but steady through the modern troubadour’s tradition of persistent club touring. He currently has eleven solo albums to his credit, including 2011’s “Gathering Mercury.” The album finds Hay musing on life and the passing of loved ones. The song “Dear Father” is a poignant open letter to Hay’s late father, brimming with the extremes of emotion that such a loss provokes.
Today, Hay’s audience includes a generation of fans that were introduced to him via television, apart from his famous band. The long-running medical comedy-drama series “Scrubs” often used Hay’s music, and once featured Hay onscreen performing his Men at Work hit “Overkill.” As a director, “Scrubs” actor Zach Braff also included “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You” in the soundtrack for his 2004 film “Garden State.” Hay also appeared on “The Larry Sanders Show.”
Hay has toured as part of former Beatle Ringo Starr’s All-Star Band. In June, Hay was a special guest on “A Prairie Home Companion.” Hay’s Finding My Dance tour arrives at Park West Sept. 7.
♦ Colin Hay, 8:30 p.m. Sept. 7, Park West, 322 W. Armitage. $30 (18+over). (773) 929-1322; parkwestchicago.com
Jeff Elbel is a Sun-Times free-lance writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org