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.

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