Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Men Without Hats Make The World Go Pop!

The 1983 worldwide smash ‘Safety Dance’ would comfortably hold a place in my all-time top 50 favourite 80s classics. I bought the vinyl 45 when the song first hit the charts here in Australia back in August ‘83, and I still think the promo-vid, with its medieval/renaissance period motifs, is one of the most memorable of the era. (It was filmed in the village of West Kington, near the town of Bath in England and also featured a local Morris Dancing group among the many extras)

The band behind ‘Safety Dance’ were Montreal based pop-synth outfit Men Without Hats. The band went through several lineup
changes in its formative years during the late 70s before settling on the line-up of Ivan Doroschuk (vocals/keyboards) and Roman Martin (guitar) joined Doroschuk’s brother Stefan (bass) and Jeremie Arrabos (drums) to form the new band during 1980. Arrabos, through his family, also provided a much needed rehearsal venue and equipment during the band’s early years. 1980 saw the release of their debut EP ‘Folk Of The 80s’ which received a limited release of 16,000 copies on the North American market. Tracy Howe came in to replace Martin soon after, and what followed was a series of revolving door line-up changes (including the third Doroschuk brother Colin), with Ivan Doroschuk remaining the only constant presence.

Men Without Hats released a couple of singles during 1982, with ‘Antarctica’ and ‘I
Got The Message’ but neither made an impact on the charts. But the band had established a solid enough supporter base to afford them the chance to record their debut album ‘Rhythm Of Youth’ during 1982, which curiously came via a recording deal with U.K. label Statik Records. It would be the next single lifted from the album that would launch Men Without Hats to worldwide success.
‘Safety Dance’ reached the top 10 in no less than nineteen countries, reaching #2 in the U.S., #2 in Germany, #6 in the U.K. and #5 here in Australia. Surprisingly the song only peaked at #11 in Men Without Hats’ native Canada. Men Without Hats profile soared fleetingly on the back of the huge popularity of ’Safety Dance’ prompting some to refer to them as North America’s answer to Kraftwerk. The album ‘Rhythm Of Youth’ (OZ#56, US#23) sold well on the back of the immense appeal of ‘Safety Dance’.

The ‘beat that’ syndrome again struck, as Men Without Hats struggled to follow up on the colossal popularity of ‘Safety Dance’. ‘I Like’ flirted with the lower reaches of the U.S. charts in late 1983 (#84), but a third single ‘Living In China’ missed altogether, and though maintaining a steady output of material with two more studio albums, it would be several years before Men Without Hats would make the charts again outside of Canadian territory.

The song to do it was ‘Pop Goes The World’ taken from the album of the same name. The song performed well in the U.S., spending 21 weeks inside the Billboard Hot 100 and peaking at #20 in early 1988. Though only reaching #66 in Australia, ‘Pop Goes The World’ did rack up 10 weeks on the singles charts. It was a typically quirky synth driven pop song and deserved to go top 10 - it also featured Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson playing flute. Men Without Hats were by that stage the trio of Ivan & Stefan Doroschuk and Lenny Pinkas. But again the band couldn’t capitalise on their second flirtation with the big time. Two more albums ‘The Adventures Of Men And Women Without Hate’ (1989) and ‘Sideways’ (1991) signalled a shift in style to a more guitar oriented sound, but were consigned to the collections of diehard MWH fans.

After an extended break of more than a decade, Men Without Hats (now Ivan and Stefan) returned to the studio to record the album ‘No Hats Beyond This Point’ in 2003. Though the profile of Men Without Hats may never have reached great heights, the fact that ‘Safety Dance’ remains one of the most popularly referenced songs from the 80s (appearing in countless TV and films, including a very cool homage in ‘Bio-Dome’ and The Simpsons), ensures Men Without Hats a permanent place in the collective memory of that era.

1 comment:

Jon Lamoreaux said...

I love MWH, but I'm sitting here listening to No Hats Beyond This Point and it's pretty awful so I Google it to see what others are saying. Honestly, I've been doing a deeper dive into their catalog lately and, as much as I love them and "Safety Dance", the only album worth owning is Pop Goes The World. Every track is good on that one. The rest struggle.
Still, it's good to see fellow MWH fans out there!