Men Without Hats is a Canadian synthpop group from Montreal, Quebec characterized by the deep, expressive vocals of their lead singer Ivan and their elaborate use of synthesizers and electronic processing. They achieved their greatest popularity in the early to mid 1980s with their most successful single, “The Safety Dance”, a Top 10 hit in both the US and the UK, as well as other countries including South Africa.
At the core, Men Without Hats consisted of Ivan Doroschuk (vocals, keyboards) and his brother Stefan (guitars), with various other members joining and leaving the group, including a third Doroschuk brother, Colin (electronics), and the pet cat vensel, whose voice was sometimes used for mixing and effect.
The band was founded in 1977 in Montreal. During the late 1970s, the band underwent numerous personnel changes. Ivan was the only continuing member through all the line-up shuffles, but brothers Stefan and Colin Doroschuk, and keyboardist Jeremie Arrobas were relative constants. A popular but unconfirmed tale is that the group’s name originated from a misread announcement to one of their early gigs as “Men Without Pants” by a francophone MC in Montreal.
Their first release was the EP Folk of the 80’s, released in 1980. By this time, the band consisted of Ivan and Stefan Doroschuk, Arrobas, and guitarist Roman Martyn. Shortly after the release of the EP, Martyn left and was replaced by Jean-Marc Pisapia. Pisapia stayed only a short time before leaving; he was replaced briefly by Tracy Howe, who also left in short order — although long enough to be credited on a reprint of Folk of the 80’s, despite not appearing on it.
Howe later achieved some success with his new band, Rational Youth. Pisapia, meanwhile, also found success in the Canadian music industry, going on to form The Box.
Mike Gabriel also joined Men Without Hats around this time, but by 1982 Arrobas and Gabriel left to work with Pisapia in a new (pre-Box) band, then eventually founded their own group, Isinglass.
Ivan and Stefan Doroschuk subsequently recruited Allan McCarthy (percussion, electronics) to join the group. This trio erupted onto the international scene with their worldwide hit single “The Safety Dance” from their 1982 debut album Rhythm of Youth. The song spent four weeks at number three on the Billboard Hot 100, and was also a major hit in the UK Singles Chart, peaking at #6. The song also became successful in their homecountry of Canada, reaching #12 on the Canadian Singles Chart, and also reached the top ten in various European countries. It was rated the 11th biggest selling single of the year in South Africa in 1983.
Adding Colin Doroschuk (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.
Reshuffling the line-up again, the band (now more-or-less a duo of Ivan and Stefan) released the album Pop Goes the World in 1987. The album’s title track reached #20 on the Billboard Hot 100, #2 on the Canadian Singles Chart and also reached #1 in Austria. The song was also featured in the 1987 film Date with an Angel, and became the 15th biggest selling single in South Africa for 1988.
Their next album, The Adventures of Women & Men Without Hate in the 21st Century, released in 1989, featured a cover of ABBA’s song “SOS”.
Their 1991 album Sideways, dominated by processed electric guitars instead of keyboards, revealed a dramatically different sound for the band due to synthpop falling out of style. The album failed to attract an American label despite the group’s efforts to convince their own record label that it would be the next big thing. Soon after, the band disbanded.
Four years after the release of Sideways, one-time band member Allan McCarthy died of AIDS in 1995. Lead singer Ivan Doroschuk released a solo album, The Spell, in 1997. Stefan and Mack MacKenzie (of 3 O’Clock Train) released Ride of Glory, a post-modern Western-themed CD.
The Safety Dance was featured in a memorable scene in the 1996 film Bio-Dome, resulting in a minor reemergence of popularity.
Stefan and Ivan Doroschuk later regrouped in 2003 to release the group’s final studio album, No Hats Beyond This Point.