514. ‘Down Under’, by Men at Work

I have to admit, straight off the bat, that the sight of this song on the list aux number ones made me shudder… I try to approach every song with an open-mind, void of prejudice and preconception (an approach which is going to become increasingly difficult when we reach songs I’ve lived through…) But ‘Down Under’ is a song that has always got on my wick.

Down Under, by Men at Work (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, 23rd January – 13th February 1983

What is it that annoys me? The flutey bits, the faux-ethnic vibe, the strange accent that it’s delivered in – not an Australian accent – the fact that it isn’t funny enough to be a novelty song, but is funny enough to be irritating… (Though the video, which I had never seen before today, is very goofy, and does make the song a bit more palatable.)

I come from a land down under… Where women glow and men plunder… It is a paeon to being Australian. The singer travels the world, from Brussels to Bombay, and is beloved of all because he comes from a land down under. I once spent a holiday in Thailand with what felt like half of Sydney, all celebrating Australia Day. And every third song they sang was ‘Down Under’… I’m not sure the locals of Koh Samui were all that enamoured of their Aussie visitors, as the beer flowed, and the men chundered…

Having said that, what would improve this song in my eyes would be for it to up its Aussie-ness to the extreme. We need lines about ‘utes’, and being ‘daggy’ (actually this song is pretty damn daggy), and a ‘flaming galah’ or two for good measure. And we need it sung by Joe Mangle from ‘Neighbours’. (Yes, most of my Australian cultural references come from mid-to-late ‘90s soap operas. Strewth!)

In a nice coincidence, ‘Down Under’ is back in the charts as I write this, and the original singer Colin Hay has a credit. (It’s been as high as #5 in the UK.) This new drum ‘n’ bass version, although not the sort of thing I’d usually enjoy, ups the weirdness of the song and somehow works better. For me. I realise that this song is loved by a lot of people, people that aren’t even Australian, but I’ve never really got it.

Men at Work were from Melbourne, and had released ‘Down Under’ in their homeland back in 1981. The band actually wrote it as a comment on how Oz was being ‘Americanised’, and that the Australian things referenced in the song were under threat. While I wouldn’t want to disagree with the songwriter, I’d say that that angle has been completely lost over time. ‘Down Under’ has been voted the ‘2nd Most Australian Song’ ever, presumably just behind ‘Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport’. Away from this hit, Men at Work wouldn’t get back into the Top 20 in Britain. In the US and Australia, though, they enjoyed more success before splitting up in 1986. They are currently touring again, with Colin Hay.


14 thoughts on “514. ‘Down Under’, by Men at Work

  1. Put me down as a fan im afraid. I bought it, it topped my charts, and it was totally the video that sold it. From hereon its the golden age of the pop video and the world was opened up to the MTV US market as the UK in particular underwent a Second Invasion of new exciting pop led by inventive promos. Away from the video its less fun but i liked them enough to catch them in Nottingham in 84. They were decent enough 🙂 plus, struth, aussies are great except for the fascist snooty customs people who put me off ever going again. Apparently importing a carton of longlife australian milk back into australia is worth a telling off, as is cocoa powder because its positively swarming with mad cow disease that i might choose to spread over herds of cattle. Ah well, i spend my tourist money elsewhere these days anyway… 🙂

    • I have to say that I had written most of that post before watching the video, and I agree that it’s the video that sells it. Separated from the vid, the song itself is just a bit… weird?

      I have never been to Australia, and now that they’ve cancelled ‘Neighbours’ I doubt I ever will, if I can’t do the Ramsay Street tour : ) But I do think ‘strewth’ definitely needs to be more widely used as a word…

  2. It’s a fun little ditty for me. For me and probably many others, Men at Work are probably known mostly for this and their other US #1 “Who Can It Be Now” though in their time they were legitimate stars with their accompanying album Business As Usual selling out every other album in 1983 aside from Thriller and winning Best New Artist at the Grammys along with other lesser Top 10 hits soon after before fading. Colin Hay notably had bit of a resurgence in popular culture during the ‘00s when fan Zach Braff got him on his show Scrubs for several appearances and record a song for the Garden State soundtrack.

    • Yes, I know I’m in the minority on this one, but it just gets on my nerves… And it’s surprising how big Men at Work were in the US, when they were borderline one-hit wonders in the UK…

  3. I loved this one. Who Can It Be Now was annoying. So was Be Good Johnny… Overkill was good. Colin Hay would freak me out with the “eye” thing, tho.

    “…got on my wick…” I guess that translates into “got on my nerves?”

  4. I’m actually also in the camp that likes the tune. I find it pretty catchy. The dialect never bothered me. Instead, I found it kind of funny.

    I also had never heard of a Vegemite sandwich before. Whether based on descriptions I’ve read I would actually like it is a different question! 🙂

  5. No I never could warm up to them. I like quirky but this one…no. They are very popular for a moment everywhere.

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