May 09

MEN AT WORK – “Down Under”

FT + Popular148 comments • 9,713 views

#514, 29th January 1983

A curious feature of Britain’s number ones is how they mirror the history of global travel: “Summer Holiday” in the 50s, Demis Roussos in the 70s, and now Men At Work’s paean to the Australian diaspora, spreading back along the old hippie trail and into Europe. “Down Under” is a song for anyone who’s ever felt the happy shock of familiarity in a strange place.

You could make a strong case, of course, that familiarity is precisely not the point of travel in the first place. Imagine an English-abroad version of “Down Under”, in which a laddish singer expresses his intense relief at finding someone who not only speaks the Q’s E but has fish and chips on hand too. “Down Under”‘s cameraderie is built on – and has contributed to – an idea of Aussies abroad as an ever-jovial brotherhood of chunderers on the rampage: an image which, I’d guess, annoys more travellers than it empowers.

But even if every Australian backpacker in the country bought a copy of “Down Under”, it wouldn’t have topped the charts without crossing over. Its cause was surely helped by the Police being on holiday – Men At Work’s take on pop-reggae is a cruder, bouncier knock-off of Sting’s, albeit with a bizarre Ian Anderson style flute break shoved in the middle.

The flute helps take the edge of the chorus’ unsubtlety. and there’s a taut and well-practised new wave group in here somewhere – but in the end “Down Under” lives or dies by how well you can cope with its high-participation afterlife.



1 3 4 5 All
  1. 121
    punctum on 12 Nov 2013 #

    More surprising is that if it hadn’t been for Men At Work I would have been writing about Richard Clayderman. That’s what the reality of 1983 was like.

  2. 122
    Cumbrian on 12 Nov 2013 #

    I saw that in your review. Having been 2 at the time, I obviously have no recollection of what 1983 was like, much less musically. Judging by the #1 singles though – and the future entries you have alluded to – I can’t imagine that there are loads of great albums knocking around for TPL. Be interesting to see what you have to say about them though – in particular the next one (assuming I have read your final line correctly).

  3. 123
    Erithian on 12 Nov 2013 #

    As Punctum points out (and I did at #10) number 1 single and album both sides of the water.

  4. 124
    Ed on 16 Nov 2013 #

    What happened to TPL?

    A couple of cracking entries – Business as Usual and an absolute blinder on Raiders of the Pop Charts – have just disappeared.

  5. 125
    Rory on 17 Nov 2013 #

    It’s more than a couple of entries, it’s a great disturbance in the Force…

  6. 126
    Patrick Mexico on 18 Nov 2013 #

    RIP TPL? I hope not, but Marcello’s recent tweets suggest so.. :-/

  7. 127
    Cumbrian on 18 Nov 2013 #

    TPL is done with by all accounts. Marcello can speak for himself on the matter. As Patrick alludes to, you can find out why on Twitter.

    A shame, but I can at least partly understand where he is coming from I think.

  8. 128
    thefatgit on 18 Nov 2013 #

    If TPL is over for good, it’s a shame but I kind of understand why. TPL has been and always will be fantastic project (and the motive for undertaking such a mammoth project was never short of noble). Marcello and Lena both have plenty to be proud of with some of the most insightful and beautiful writing to be found anywhere on the web. I hope he does add a final footnote to TPL, and I wish success to any future project Marcello may wish to undertake.

  9. 129
    iconoclast on 18 Nov 2013 #

    Anyone want to take over???

  10. 130
    Cumbrian on 18 Nov 2013 #

    Personally speaking, the journey is probably more important than the destination with projects of this type. As a result, I guess you’d have to start from scratch, otherwise it’s an ’83 onwards look, with no back story. My writing isn’t up to the inevitable comparison either, so it would be a no from me. Maybe someone with more talent will give it another crack.

  11. 131
    punctum on 18 Nov 2013 #

    Nobody’s taking TPL over, with the possible exception of publishers waving huge cheques…

    My posts still exist, although currently only in draft form; four of them have been subjected to urgent re-editing (call it “de-H*rp*risation” – his news was the final straw) but I remain extremely dubious about republishing them since I’ve no idea how many times I’m going to have to re-edit and delete musicians’ names if more grubby revelations come to hand, thereby rendering the story meaningless. In that context – and as I said on Twitter – writing the blog therefore stops being fun, and starts becoming a strain (which latter my doctors advise me to avoid as much as possible, i.e. all the time).

    I should also point out that due to general Blogger robot idiocy, two of the posts from the seventies which I edited have appeared at the top of the blog, and are therefore now out of sequence (weirdly, the other two stayed exactly where they were).

    But at the moment I am not inclined to republish. Instead I need to question my own feelings about pop, as it may end up turning out to have been a total, wretched, gruesome con. Suffice it to say that I am angry and feel betrayed by people in the music business whom I respected and trusted but have turned out to be completely unworthy of respect or trust.

  12. 132
    James BC on 18 Nov 2013 #

    Harper hasn’t been convicted of anything yet.

  13. 133
    punctum on 18 Nov 2013 #

    That isn’t the point, and you know it isn’t.

  14. 134
    Cumbrian on 18 Nov 2013 #

    Well, fair play to you. No one can say you’re a man without principles.

    For what it’s worth, I enjoyed the blog immensely, appreciate the time and work both Lena and you put into it and accept your reasoning. Hope you find something else you find worth writing about at some point, as it is always worth reading your work (if only to challenge my own preconceptions though frequently it provided me much more than that).

  15. 135
    Chelovek na lune on 18 Nov 2013 #

    I can only echo Cumbrian’s post #134. I will greatly miss reading Marcello’s (and Lena’s) insightful, eye-opening, and considered, commentaries – which I really think deserve a wider audience. Although I think I do understand and respect the reason for this halt: not least as I fear that the notion that much of pop (and other broader parts of post-1960s culture) has been and is a con is depressingly close to the truth. But I am a crusty old reactionary, and have been all along…

    I do very much hope that you find something to turn your great observational and analytical skills to, though. – And thanks for the insights so far.

  16. 136
    iconoclast on 18 Nov 2013 #

    I can only echo posts #134 and #135. TPL will be much missed.

    I can’t help but add that although “Post-1960’s culture” does indeed deserve much cynicism, if you regard *all* of it that way you’ll only make yourself miserable.

  17. 137
    punctum on 18 Nov 2013 #

    I don’t know that “cynicism”‘s the right term here – I suppose it’s the human condition. When I grew up, came down to London and finally met all of these jazz musicians whom I idolised when I was a kid, only to find…well, MC, you know that alto player you love so much, why he’s an incurable alcoholic and borderline schizophrenic who empties hotel mini-bars in fifteen minutes? Or that brilliant pianist who shoots heroin for breakfast? Everybody’s a fuck up, maybe were always fucked up…

    …and so H@rper, and also G@mb@cc1n1; they’re falling like ninepins and I wonder – who’s real? Who is there left to trust?

    So yes, the whole sorry business was making me miserable, which is why I’m stopping writing about it. Particularly given who and what were coming up next on TPL.

    I guess what I’m trying to say here is that being cynical presumes you never loved something, which certainly wasn’t the case with me and pop. But now…I just don’t know.

  18. 138
    Rory on 18 Nov 2013 #

    I’ve been following TPL from the sidelines for quite a while, pretty much in awe of what you’ve achieved – but not commenting there directly, because it never felt quite right to do so. I feel I should explain that. There have been indications that you’ve found the relative lack of comments at TPL dispiriting, and have come close to quitting before because of it. As someone who’s been blogging for thirteen years myself, who’s never had more than a small band of dedicated commenters and lost even those when life required I take an extended hiatus at one point, I know something of how that feels. I switched off comments altogether this year in part so I could free myself from worrying that I was shouting into the void; now that I know I am, it feels oddly liberating.

    But I also switched them off because I noticed something strange: when I write something that I put everything into, a long and personal entry, perhaps a poetic entry (literally, in some cases), it feels okay if there are no comments, and it feels okay if there are lots of comments… but it doesn’t feel so great if there are only one or two comments, and if they’re brief throwaways that add little to a post I poured my soul into. When that blog post is the only place that writing exists outside my hard drive, seeing a throwaway comment attached to it feels a bit like someone drew a moustache on my self-portrait.

    And I think my feeling that way is why I’ve never commented at TPL. You’ve poured your soul into just about every entry. You’ve tried to find something compelling to say about every single album, and you’ve invariably succeeded (most recently, you surprised this decades-long Mike Oldfield fan by pointing out that his erstwhile collaborator David Bedford scored the strings on “Our House”, which I had never known). Every entry has felt deeply personal, deeply considered, and individually and in aggregate a significant work of art. How could I add a moustache to an entry like Lexicon of Love? So I never did. Sometimes I linked to them from my own blog; sometimes I left a comment here instead, below your links to them. But posting at TPL never felt quite right. (I then ask myself why I so happily dived into commenting here at Popular… I think it’s because Tom had long before turned FT itself into a group production, and a community had already gathered around the comments, so commenting here didn’t have those same intrusive connotations for me.)

    That may well just be me. But I wanted to explain why you’ve never seen me commenting at TPL, so that I could say that, despite that absence, I’ve been very much present as a reader, and have admired your work there enormously. You got me to listen to Love Over Gold after three decades of not bothering.

    I certainly sympathise with the urge to stop. I’d just be sorry to see the writing that you’ve already posted there lost to the web. I hope that we might see the previous posts again, with or without an accompanying line drawn in the virtual sand. But either way, thank you for sharing it in the first place.

  19. 139
    Jimmy the Swede on 18 Nov 2013 #

    I don’t do Twitter so I’m not really sure what’s happened here for the Mighty Marcello to pull the plug on TPL, certainly one of the most extraordinary projects I have ever come across anywhere. Perhaps he and Lena, to whom I also send salutatioms, have become victims of the great rock and roll swindle – for punctum perhaps an inevitable conclusion.

    The Internet will be the finish of us all.

  20. 140
    punctum on 18 Nov 2013 #

    Rory – thanks for that, but lack of comments wasn’t the main reason for my previous disillusion with the blog. I just felt that I’d been scrabbling at the TPL coalface for over five years with little to show for it; I could go into detail but that would be diva-level whingeing.

    I was aware that pop’s sordid subtext was always in the background of the music I wrote about but it has now overwhelmed the music to such an extent that the music can’t really be heard anymore.

    JtS – well, indeed. R*y H@rp3r is the latest prominent person to be nabbed for things he may or may not have done back in the seventies day, and given how he was a major link on four different TPL posts, it just became too much, too tiring, too infuriating.

  21. 141
    weej on 18 Nov 2013 #

    I’m sorry to see TPL go too, though as with Rory @138 I didn’t have the guts to comment – or more likely had nothing relevant enough to say apart from “I liked that” – which doesn’t really add anything.

    The “sordid subtext” is bothering me too – I even managed to end up talking about Roy Harper (a favourite of my father’s) in my Pulp Songs blog this week FFS. I don’t know if this is all about Roy’s song ‘Forbidden Fruit’ or whether it’s something else, but as with most of you I wonder / dread how much / who else is going to come out of the woodwork. I think everyone knows that artists are only human, and humans when given a feeling that they are special and can do whatever they like tend to do bad things. It doesn’t excuse it, of course, we just have to pick up the pieces and work out whether we can or should try to understand them – my instinct is not to, but the lingering respect I previously had for them says ‘try’. It’s all down to perceptions, perhaps – there are no geniuses – or genius is limited to narrowly defined fields at the very least – so how can we indulge in imagined personal connections with people who well otherwise may be monsters? How can we give them that impression that they are above normal standards of human behaviour? Fuck, it’s difficult, isn’t it? And with the whole world of music to deal with it’s nightmarish. So I can understand your refusal to continue.

    Anyway, I’m going on a bit, just wanted to say that I enjoyed reading it and will miss it.

  22. 142
    tm on 19 Nov 2013 #

    I’ve read very little of TPL as I’ve always been daunted by the sheer depth and breadth of it. I’ve greatly enjoyed the bits I did read and very sorry to see it go.

    Having read Peter Brown’s The Love You Make when I was 12 or 13, I had my illusions about musicians as people shattered fairly early on. It’s rarely spoiled the music completely for me but it does make me wary about the people who make it: “please don’t put your life in the hands…etc etc…”

  23. 143
    tm on 19 Nov 2013 #

    Ah, the old posts are still up there…guess I need to get working on the back catalogue!

  24. 144
    Ed on 26 Nov 2013 #

    I am another avid TPL reader who is deeply sorry to see it go, but I fully understand Marcello’s reasons for not wanting to carry on.

    On the relationship between an artist’s character and their work, and how that holds up if the artist is one of the most terrible people imaginable, this brilliant post by Mark on William Mayne is well worth a look: http://freakytrigger.co.uk/ft/2012/01/william-mayne-1928-2010-or-what-if-the-greatest-20th-century-childrens-author-were-to-present-us-with-an-intractable-moral-knot/

    On the wider question of the corruption of pop in general, it reminds me of a fantastic picture caption I read in an exhibition on the early years of Hollywood, a long time ago at the BFI / Momi.

    After a couple of exhibits showing a bit of the sordid ‘Hollywood Babylon’ side, there was a picture of some anonymous young 1920s movie types horsing around outside in the California sunshine. The caption said something like: “Although there was prostitution, drug addiction, corruption and abuse in the early days of Hollywood, there were also many young people having the time of their lives.”

    That thought still seems to me to be, if not quite a way to cancel out the cynicism, then certainly a way to keep it in its place.

  25. 145
    hectorthebat on 5 Nov 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1002
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Pause & Play (USA) – Songs Inducted into a Time Capsule, One Track at Each Week
    VH-1 (USA) – Nominations for the 100 Greatest 80s Songs (2006)
    Theater van het Sentiment, Radio 2 (NL) – Top 40 Songs by Year 1969-2000 (2013) 30
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    APRA (Australia) – The 10 (+20) Best Australian Songs (2001) 4
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

  26. 146
    phil6875 on 12 Apr 2015 #

    Famously Men At Work are one of only six artists to have simultaneously held the top spot in the U.S. and U.K. singles and albums charts and this is the track he did it with. ‘Business As Usual’ being the album of course.

  27. 147
    Rory on 14 Apr 2015 #

    Phil6875’s bump of this thread reminded me that I was unduly harsh on this track, in my first-ever Popular comments thread. Given the far less-memorable things I’ve given 5 to in the years since, I think I’ll nudge this to 6.

  28. 148
    Gareth Parker on 23 May 2021 #

    I like the perkiness of this track. A very generous 8/10 from me.

1 3 4 5 All

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)

If this was number 1 when you were born paste [stork-boy] or [stork-girl] into the start of your comment :)


Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page