Men Without Hats is a Canadian new wave/synthpop group, originally from Montreal, Quebec. Their music is characterized by the distinctive baritone voice of their American-born Canadian lead singer Ivan Doroschuk, as well as their elaborate use of synthesizers and electronic processing. They achieved their greatest popularity in the 1980s with "The Safety Dance", a worldwide Top Ten hit (#3 in the United States) and "Pop Goes the World". After a hiatus for most of the 1990s and 2000s, Doroschuk reformed the band in 2010, and released Love in the Age of War (2012). The reformed group, based in Vancouver, has continued to perform, including a European tour in 2015 and Australia in 2016.
Men Without Hats was founded in Montreal in 1977 as a punk rock band featuring Ivan Doroschuk (vocals), Pete Seabrooke (guitar), Dave Hill (bass) and John Gurin (drums). Ivan had previously sung in a band called Wave 21 with Jérémie Arrobas (vocals, keyboards), Stefan Doroschuk (bass) and Colin Doroschuk (guitar). In 1979, Wave 21 renamed themselves to Men Without Hats, after the punk band.
The Doroschuk brothers, all three of whom are classically trained musicians, were born in Champaign, Illinois while their Canadian father was earning a doctoral degree. They moved to Montreal as young children when their parents returned to Canada. The group's name came about because the brothers, following a self-described principle of "style before comfort," refused to wear hats during Montreal's cold winters, calling themselves "the men without hats."
In addition to the Doroschuks, the group has also included numerous additional members and guest or touring performers, many of whom quickly came and left during the first five years. Frontman and songwriter Ivan Doroschuk was the only constant member, while Stefan and Colin Doroschuk as well as Arrobas remained as relatively steady members through the early 1980s.
Their first recording to be released was the 1980 EP Folk of the 80's. At this point, the band had changed styles from punk to new wave and officially consisted of Ivan (vocals, bass) and Arrobas (keyboards); also appearing on the EP were auxiliary members Stefan Doroschuk (bass), Roman Martyn (guitars), and Lynne Thibodeau (backing vocals).
Shortly after the release of the debut EP, Martyn left and was replaced by Jean-Marc Pisapia, who stayed only a short time before leaving, and later founded The Box. Pisapia was replaced briefly by Tracy Howe, who also left in short order, co-founding Rational Youth shortly after his departure. Arrobas voluntarily left the group just before the recording of their next album.
Rhythm of Youth. The trio subsequently enjoyed a hit in Canada with "The Safety Dance", which peaked at No. 11 in May 1983. The song soon charted in the United States, spending four weeks at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, and was a major hit in the UK Singles Chart, peaking at No. 6. The song also reached the top ten in various other European countries, peaked at No. 2 in New Zealand, and was rated the 11th biggest-selling single of the year in South Africa in 1983.
Adding Colin (who had guested on Rhythm of Youth) as an official fourth member, Men Without Hats released the album Folk of the 80's (Part III) in 1984. While lead single "Where Do The Boys Go?" was a top 40 hit in Canada, the album failed to match the international success of Rhythm of Youth.
In 1985, the band released the EP Freeways, consisting of multiple (and multi-lingual) remixes of one of their earliest efforts, Ivan and Arrobas's 1980 song "Freeways" (which had previously been released as a B-side in 1982). To support the EP, the group undertook a related tour, footage from which would later (in 2006) be released on DVD as Live Hats.
Reshuffling the line-up again, the band released the album Pop Goes the World in 1987 with Ivan, Stefan, and Lenny Pinkas. The song "Pop Goes the World" reached No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100, No. 2 on the Canadian Singles Chart, and was No. 1 in Austria. The song was later featured in the 1987 film Date with an Angel, and became the fifteenth biggest selling single in South Africa for 1988.
The group's next album, The Adventures of Women & Men Without Hate in the 21st Century, released in 1989, featured a cover of ABBA's song "SOS." The musicians on the album were essentially the touring band from Pop Goes the World, which included Bruce Murphy on keyboards and guitar, Marika Tjelios on bass, Richard Sampson on drums, and Heidi Garcia on vocals and keyboards.
The 1991 album Sideways, dominated by electric guitars instead of keyboards, revealed a dramatically different sound for the band, based in part on Ivan's exposure to Nirvana. According to Ivan, "We had a contractual obligation for one more album with Polygram so I said to them, we'll take half of the allotted budget if they would allow us to do the record I wanted... so we did this guitar-oriented record but Polygram were horrified. 'Men Without Hats without keyboards aren't going to work,' they claimed and that was the end of the story with Polygram." The line-up on the album was Ivan on vocals, Felix Matte on lead guitar, John Kastner on rhythm guitar, Stefan on bass, Michel Langevin on drums and Colin on keyboards.
The group officially disbanded in 1993, after the career setback of failing to attract another American label as a result of the negative reception to Sideways. The band's final concert was a benefit to support a women's shelter in Montreal, with guitarist Denis D'Amour replacing Matte and Kastner, who both had left the band in 1992.
Ivan Doroschuk, has explained that "The Safety Dance" is a protest against bouncers stopping dancers pogoing to 1980s new wave music in clubs when disco was dying and new wave was up and coming. New wave dancing, especially pogoing, was different from disco dancing, because it was done individually instead of with partners and involved holding the torso rigid and thrashing about. To uninformed bystanders this could look dangerous, especially if pogoers accidentally bounced into one another (the more deliberately violent evolution of pogoing is slamdancing). The bouncers did not like pogoing so they would tell pogoers to stop or be kicked out of the club. Thus, the song is a protest and a call for freedom of expression.
In 2003, on an episode of VH1's True Spin, Doroschuk responded to two common interpretations of the song. Firstly, he notes it is not a call for safe sex. Doroschuk says that is reading too much into the lyrics. Secondly, he explained that it is not an anti-nuclear protest song per se despite the nuclear imagery at the end of the video. Doroschuk stated that "it wasn't a question of just being anti-nuclear, it was a question of being anti-establishment."