Who Can It Be Now?

Album: Business As Usual (1982)
Charted: 45 1
  • songfacts ®
  • Artistfacts ®
  • Lyrics
  • This was the first single Men at Work released, and it became a huge hit. The group started as an acoustic duo with singer Colin Hay and guitarist Ron Strykert. After a few years playing pubs in Australia, they were discovered by an American who worked for CBS records and signed them.
  • In our interview with Colin Hay, who wrote this song, he explained: "I was up in the bush in Southern New South Wales with my girlfriend, just sitting outside at night. We had this little tree hut in the middle of the bush. It was a great place to kill the time, mess around with ideas. It was just an idea that popped out, it took about half and hour to write that song. I was living in St. Kilda in Melbourne, which is a great part of Melbourne. At that particular time it was a very interesting area, it was frequented by everybody from the high Jewish population, punks, drug movers, all kinds of different people. It was about six or seven hours drive away, sitting in the middle of the bush in New South Wales and that song just popped out. My girlfriend at the time said, 'that will be your first hit, that song,' and she was right."
  • The Business As Usual album was #1 in the US for 15 weeks, a record at the time for longest stay at #1 for a debut album.
  • The famous saxophone part originally didn't come in until the middle of the song, which suited when the band played it in bars. When they recorded it, producer Peter McIan identified the sax as a hook and moved it to the beginning of the song, also making it more prominent throughout. This opening sax riff made the song instantly identifiable.
  • The video went well with the lyrics about a paranoid man in his house. MTV didn't have many videos at the time, so intriguing and distinctive ones like this got a lot of airplay. Colin told us how they made their videos: "It was usually three or four people involved, and we just roughed a storyboard of what we wanted to do. We didn't have much money to make the videos, only $5000-$6000 to make the who thing, so we would find friends in that department that we could use or we would find a good location and just shoot it. There was a certain amount of narrative involved as well. We would play to our strengths, whatever each one of us could particularly do, we would cater to that. Really it was kind of spontaneous in the sense that it wasn't that thought out. It was more trying to inject the personality of the band."
  • The song was released in Australia in 1981. It was gradually released around the world, where it got a great reception, but CBS Records in America dragged their feet - they didn't release it in that country until the middle of 1982, by which time the song had already hit #1 in Australia.

    The timing worked out well: the group was able to complete an Australian tour and join Fleetwood Mac as the opening act on their Mirage tour, which ran from September to October 1982. By the end of that tour, the song was #1.

    It's a good thing the American release didn't wait much longer: Michael Jackson's Thriller album was issued in November 1982 and soon dominated the pop landscape.
  • Colin Hay recorded an acoustic version for his 2003 album Man At Work.
Please sign in or register to post comments.

Comments: 14

  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn September 18th 1982, Men at Work performed "Who Can It Be Now" on the ABC-TV program 'American Bandstand'...
    Two months earlier on July 4th, 1982 it entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #83; and on October 24th, 1982 it peaked at #1 {for 1 week} and spent over a half-year on the Top 100 {27 weeks}...
    The song did better in the U.S.A. than in the group's native Australia, where it reached #2...
    Was track one of side one on the quintet's debut album, 'Business As Usual', and on November 7th, 1982 it peaked at #1 {for 15 weeks} on Billboard's Top 200 Albums chart {it would take Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' album to bump it out of the top spot, and it stayed at #1 for 37 non-consecutive weeks}...
    The 'Business As Usual' album would also produce one other Top 100 record, "Down Under", and that record would also reached #1 {for 4 weeks}.
  • Markantney from Biloxi, MsJuly 2014, I'm from that era (in my 40s), so I remember the song quite well. It was right when MTV came out and though the song was popular, their unique videos (I believe) brought personality to their music.

    The last few lines (the way Colin is Riffing the lyrics), the background vocals, and that MAD Sax playing towards the end of this song is what separates it from most.
  • Bruce from San Jose, CaColin Hay's CREEPY Wandering Eye in the video....really is the "icing on the cake" for this surreal song! When I first saw the music video, I thought it was a special effect of some kind, but later I learned that's his REAL EYE doing the wandering! YIKES! Creepy, and memorable!
  • Esskayess from Dallas, TxSort of an Aussie version of "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Ha.'
  • Tessa from Washingtonville, PaMy father & I have a thing for the 80's and older songs, so when he played me this one, I thought it was pretty sweet.
    ( If the band actually reads my comment, ummm... my dad really likes you, I think your alright, sing more songs!)
  • Rob from Sidney, AustraliaThis one is good. I have not heard the K-Mart ad.
    This is the first song off the Business As Usual album. Please excuse the typos I've been drinking all day(Actually all week, five day weekened). The song deals with paranoia which is something I can relate to. I have to take Xanax four times a day or I go totally batty. I forgot to take it once on a trip from Sidney to Darwin and it freaked me out. Scared my girlfriend something awful.
  • Kateri from Albany, Nygood song!
  • Bender from East West Virginia, VaWhen I was growing up my parents didnt have alot of money and when the gas man or the garbage man would knock on the door for his check we would all hudle in a corner at the other end of our house. This song always makes me think of that. I make a decent living, but, I still cringe when I hear a knock on my door.
  • Dave from Coal Valley, IlThis was a awesome album and still is. I had the cassette tape in my Camaro and wore it out!
  • Sarah Floyd from Bloomingdale, Ilthis sounds like a scary song. and i saw this one show and this devil had high power and the only way they will go i guess is you have to deal with it. and there were three ghosts and it was scary dont ask.
  • Dee from Indianapolis, InAnother MTV band that broke up before their time. Their songs were not the typical party & rock n' roll sterotype that MTV seemed to like. Collin Hay has put out some solo stuff that isn't bad, but Men at Work will always be his true connection to the music world.
  • Aj from Cleveland, GaThis song sounds like there's a stalker out there.
  • Louie from Staten Island, NyOne of my favorite bands.
  • Alex from New Orleans, LaK-Mart used this in advertising Halloween costume discounts as "Who Will You Be Now?"
see more comments

Chad Channing (Nirvana, Before Cars)Songwriter Interviews

Chad tells tales from his time as drummer for Nirvana, and talks about his group Before Cars.

Tim Butler of The Psychedelic FursSongwriter Interviews

Tim and his brother Richard are the Furs' foundation; Tim explains how they write and tells the story of "Pretty In Pink."

Kim Thayil of SoundgardenSongwriter Interviews

Their frontman (Chris Cornell) started out as their drummer, so Soundgarden takes a linear approach when it comes to songwriting. Kim explains how they do it.

Billy Joe ShaverSongwriter Interviews

The outlaw country icon talks about the spiritual element of his songwriting and his Bob Dylan mention.

Ben Kowalewicz of Billy TalentSongwriter Interviews

The frontman for one of Canada's most well-known punk rock bands talks about his Eddie Vedder encounter, Billy Talent's new album, and the importance of rock and roll.

Best Band LogosSong Writing

Queen, Phish and The Stones are among our picks for the best band logos. Here are their histories and a design analysis from an expert.