|Released October 1981|
Genre New wave pop rock
"Down Under" (also known as "Land Down Under") is a song recorded by Australian rock band Men at Work. It was originally released in 1980 as the B-side to their first local single titled "Keypunch Operator", released before the band signed with Columbia Records. Both early songs were written by the group's co-founders, Colin Hay and Ron Strykert. The early version of "Down Under" has a slightly different tempo and arrangement from the later Columbia release. The most well known version was then released on Columbia in October 1981 as the third single from their debut album Business as Usual (1981).
The hit song went to number one in their home country of Australia in December 1981, and then topped the New Zealand charts in February 1982. Released in North America in mid-1982, the song topped the Canadian charts in October. In the United States, the song debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 on 6 November 1982 at No. 79, and reached No. 1 in January 1983 where it spent four non-consecutive weeks. It eventually sold over two million copies in the US alone. Billboard ranked it at No. 4 for 1983.
In the UK, the song topped the charts in January and February 1983, and is the only Men at Work song to make the UK top 20. The song also went No. 1 in Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy and Switzerland, and was a top 10 hit in many other countries. It remains a popular and patriotic song in Australia.
Background and writing
Colin Hay told Songfacts: "The chorus is really about the selling of Australia in many ways, the overdevelopment of the country. It was a song about the loss of spirit in that country. It's really about the plundering of the country by greedy people. It is ultimately about celebrating the country, but not in a nationalistic way and not in a flag-waving sense. It's really more than that."
Hay has also said that the lyrics for "Down Under" were inspired by the Barry McKenzie character.
The lyrics are about an Australian man travelling the globe, proud of his nationality, and about his interactions with people he meets on his travels who are interested in his home country.
Slang and drug terms are used in the lyrics:
Travelling in a fried-out Kombi, on a hippie trail, head full of zombie.
In Australian slang "fried-out" means overheated, Kombi refers to the Volkswagen Type 2 combination van, and having "a head full of zombie" refers to the use of a type of marijuana. Cultural slang is also used: after the second verse the refrain is "where beer does flow and men chunder"; "chunder" means vomit.
The flute part in the song was claimed to have been based on the tune of "Kookaburra", a well-known Australian children's rhyme, but both Colin Hay and the flautist, Greg Ham, continue to deny that any part of the song was appropriated. (see Copyright lawsuit below for more details.)
The exterior shots for the music video were filmed at the Cronulla sand dunes in Sydney.
The song is a perennial favourite on Australian radio and television, and topped the charts in the US and UK simultaneously in early 1983. It was later used as a theme song by the crew of Australia II in their successful bid to win the America's Cup in 1983, and a remixed version appears during the closing credits of Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles. Men at Work played this song in the closing ceremony of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, alongside other Australian artists.
In May 2001, Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) celebrated its 75th anniversary by naming the Best Australian Songs between 1926 and 2001, as decided by a 100 strong industry panel, "Down Under" was ranked as the fourth song on the list.
The song was ranked number 96 on VH1's 100 Greatest Songs of the 1980s in October 2006.
Simon Whitlock, an Australian professional darts player who plays in Professional Darts Corporation, uses the song as his walk-on music.
In 2008, on the ABC-TV quiz show Spicks and Specks the question was posed "What children's song is contained in the song Down Under?" The answer, "Kookaburra", a song whose rights were owned by Larrikin Music, resulted in phone calls and emails to Larrikin the next day. Larrikin Music subsequently decided to take legal action against the song's writers Colin Hay and Ron Strykert.
Sections of the flute part of the recording of the song were found to be based on "Kookaburra", written in 1932 by Marion Sinclair. Sinclair died in 1988 and the rights to the Kookaburra song were deemed to have been transferred to publisher Larrikin Music on 21 March 1990. In the United States, the rights are administered by Music Sales Corporation in New York City.
In June 2009, 28 years after the release of the recording, Larrikin Music sued Men At Work for copyright infringement, alleging that part of the flute riff of "Down Under" was copied from "Kookaburra". The counsel for the band's record label and publishing company (Sony BMG Music Entertainment and EMI Songs Australia) claimed that, based on the agreement under which the song was written, the copyright was actually held by the Girl Guides Association. On 30 July, Justice Peter Jacobson of the Federal Court of Australia made a preliminary ruling that Larrikin did own copyright on the song, but the issue of whether or not Hay and Strykert had plagiarised the riff was set aside to be determined at a later date.
On 4 February 2010, Justice Jacobson ruled that Larrikin's copyright had been infringed because "Down Under" reproduced "a substantial part of Kookaburra".
When asked how much Larrikin would be seeking in damages, Larrikin's lawyer Adam Simpson replied: "anything from what we've claimed, which is between 40 and 60 per cent, and what they suggest, which is considerably less." In court, Larrikin's principal Norman Lurie gave the opinion that, had the parties negotiated a licence at the outset as willing parties, the royalties would have been between 25 and 50 per cent. On 6 July 2010, Justice Jacobson handed down a decision that Larrikin receive 5% of royalties from 2002. In October 2011, the band lost its final court bid when the High Court of Australia refused to hear an appeal.
Until this high-profile case, "Kookaburra"'s standing as a traditional song combined with the lack of visible policing of the song's rights by its composer had led to the general public perception that the song was within the public domain.
The revelation of "Kookaburra"'s copyright status, and more-so the pursuit of royalties from it, has generated a negative response among sections of the Australian public. In response to unsourced speculation of a Welsh connection, Dr Rhidian Griffiths pointed out that the Welsh words to the tune were published in 1989 and musicologist Phyllis Kinney stated neither the song's metre nor its lines were typical Welsh.
Colin Hay version
A new version of the song was produced by Colin Hay, coinciding with the thirtieth anniversary of the original's release. Requested by Telstra for use in an Australian advertising campaign during the 2012 Summer Olympics period, the song was available through iTunes on 31 July.
In the new version, Hay intentionally changed the flute part that caused the copyright lawsuit.
7": CBS / BA 222891 Australia
- "Down Under" – 3:44
- "Crazy" – 2:34
7": CBS / A 2066 Europe
- "Down Under" – 3:44
- "Helpless Automaton" – 3:23
12": CBS / BA 12229 Australia / promo-release 1986
- "Down Under (Extended mix)" – 5:30
- "Sail to you (Extended mix)" – 5:48