May 09

MEN AT WORK – “Down Under”

FT + Popular148 comments • 9,361 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. 1
    poohugh on 13 May 2009 #

    This is the most base song ever. It is enjoyable to hear it with at least 50 other people, anything less and its crapness shines through.

  2. 2

    Between some time in 1978, when I started listening to the charts as some kind of ultrapunky disciplinary project — as defined by me and not really imposed on the world at large! (pogo in yr bedroom! but only when yr mum’s gone out!) — i had treated number ones as a signal of value, that had to be acknowledged

    not that something getting to no.1 was actually by definition good, but that something getting to no.1 was a sign that a significant cultural micro-polity within the world-at-large considered it good, and that this had to be factored into my own understanding of what music meant; what its values were and what its value is

    this is the song where my confidence in this metric totally broke down — where my dislike for it (and its success) absolutely overrode my attempt to keep distinct a private sociological-anthropogical research schema from the energies of my own taste

    three possible reasons:
    A: i was confident enough in my own knowledge of what i knew and didn’t yet know but needed to, to take absolute as opposed to provisional stands (as noted, my earlier year-zero punky extremism was very fierce, but very largely kept to myself)
    B: i had now left college and was — sorta kinda — earning my own living and paying my own way (yes hullo dole office), so couldn’t afford keeping my options open any longer
    C: this is the worst record ever made ever (!)

  3. 3
    rosie on 13 May 2009 #

    Although of course Men at Work were scarcely more Aussie than the Bee Gees were – singer and songwriter Colin Hay being a Scottish laddie.

    A pleasantly agreeable little ditty which I suspect owes more to Barry Mackenzie and promotions for the intruder Foster’s lager (disgusting stuff) than to the affections of the genuine Australian diaspora. A few years later when I lived not far from Earls Court I commented to a young Aussie, who was gay like most of those I knew and worked with seemed to be, that the Australians I met were very far from the standard ‘ocker’ image. He said that’s why they were all in London.

    I seem to recall a video in which members of the band put on the ocker act including bush hats with corks attached and tubes of ice-cold piss, and the flautist playing up a gum (or whatever) tree.

    As for Vegemite – it’s Marmite for wimps, innit!

  4. 4
    pinkchampale on 13 May 2009 #

    knowing it was coming up, i concentrated on this more than usual when I heard it on capital gold the other day. i actually found myself quite moved by the song’s central idea that everywhere the singer went he could find an aussie being cheerfully vulgar, and everything would be alright. mind you, i was already a bit primed for this reaction after witnessing, and admiring, some spectacular public drunkenness outside the covent garden walkabout last week.

  5. 5
    Steve Mannion on 13 May 2009 #

    I remember thinking the video was fun and the song slightly less so. I can’t see my own views differing much from Tom’s for the rest of the 80s which makes commenting difficult.

  6. 6
    Tom on 13 May 2009 #

    The video boosted my score when I watched it last night.

  7. 7
    Billy Smart on 13 May 2009 #

    #2 Watch: A week of Eddy Grant’s patently superior ‘Electric Avenue’.

  8. 8
    Pete Baran on 13 May 2009 #

    Totp watch in my house: Dad pshawing and saying “Men at work, what do THEY know about work”.

  9. 9
    LondonLee on 13 May 2009 #

    I’ve been trying to construct a cricketing joke about Australia and Electric Avenue being not too far from The Oval but without success.

    I don’t know anything about Men At Work but this is always struck me as some old duffers (Dire Straits maybe) attempting to make a “new wave” record. I’m not surprised it was huge in America.

  10. 10
    Erithian on 13 May 2009 #

    Pinkchampale #4 – my office isn’t far from the Covent Garden Walkabout – are you sure this public drunkenness was Aussies and not disgruntled Arsenal or Chelsea fans after the “Champs League” semi-finals?

    The flute and the percussion intro (sounding like a pinball machine) are the hooks here, and it’s one I remember fondly. How you feel about the subject matter possibly depends on how you feel about Aussies: personally I can honestly say I’ve never met an Aussie I didn’t like – an Aussie friend told me there were plenty she didn’t like but they generally didn’t come over here. But the rhyming of, for instance, “speaka my language” and “Vegemite sandwich” shows a band not taking itself too seriously and producing a highly listenable shuffle into the bargain.
    Men at Work had a dramatic and brief impact – for a week or two their single and album were at number one in the US and UK simultaneously, which is rare enough but must be unique for such a new band. I’ve just looked it up and the “Business As Usual” album was top of the US album chart for 15 weeks, replaced by “Thriller” which stayed for 17 weeks. An Aussie invasion of the US predating Crocodile Dundee by three or four years.

    Incidentally – Eurovision Watch – the first semi-final was on last night, and I note that Finland’s entry is by a band called Waldo’s People. The boy’s been moonlighting!

  11. 11
    Tom on 13 May 2009 #

    At the time this was popular at school, especially because it taught us all the word chunder.

    My other contemporary memory is of huge confusion between Men At Work and Men Without Hats – a health and safety official’s nightmare.

  12. 12
    Tom on 13 May 2009 #

    #9 LondonLee – yr “old wine in new wave bottles” hypothesis surely confirmed by their having a single called “Dr Heckyll And Mr Jive” – perhaps THE most pub rock title of all time.

  13. 13
    Steve Mannion on 13 May 2009 #

    #11 especially when it then also starts raining men

  14. 14

    #11: i think the chunder-factor was actually another of the reasons behind my (basically unreasonable) loathing — i have never liked the whole giggly area of “mainstream-sanctioned naughtiness”, i used to get terribly cross even as a kid when grown-ups said “sugar” instead of “shit”, and i am completely allergic to the whole look-at-us-we-smoking-DOPE thing in amsterdam bars — if yr expecting a medal for behaviour with zero negative consequences, I WILL HAPPILY SUPPLY THE NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES D00DS and earn you yr medal

    yes, yes i was a weird kid

  15. 15
    mike on 13 May 2009 #

    #12 – Wasn’t that also the title of a Pigbag album? They’re not pub rock!

    #11 – There was also a Men At Play in 1983 – an obscure electro/hip hop act as I recall, who had a tune called “Dr. Jam”.

    Um, yes, “Down Under”. You know what: I must have heard this many dozens of times over, but I’ve never bothered to work out what they were singing about. It’s amiable enough, and it provokes a pleasurable Proustian rush, so I’m happy to leave it there. A five from me. Terrible album cover, wasn’t it?

    I also quite liked “Who Can It Be Now”, the single which preceded it.

  16. 16
    pinkchampale on 13 May 2009 #

    eritian – no it was early on saturday evening. a load of aussies taking advantage of the unseasonable weather by playing a pissed-up game of aussie rules in the street. with attendant risks to passers-by and parked cars. all quite entertaining to witness, though clearly destined to end in a massive ruck.

    glad it’s not just me who was confused by the men at work without hats

  17. 17
    Rory on 13 May 2009 #

    Hello everyone. I’ve been watching from the sidelines for about ten years’ worth of number ones, wondering when would be the right moment to join in. I decided it had to be a song that I bought myself when it was a hit, which ruled out the Arrival tape my parents bought me and the countless songs I overheard through my early teens, when I was spending all my pocket money on comics and Rubik’s Cubes. And even this one I bought as part of an album rather than as a single… but 1983 was my First True Year of Pop, and this is near enough to where it started, so here I am.

    Rosie (if I can launch into first-name familiarity), it’s a bit of a stretch to claim that Men at Work weren’t an Australian band because one of its five members only moved there at age 14, half a lifetime before they released this! Certainly my generation of young Aussies (I was fifteen when the band’s popularity was at its peak at the beginning of 1983) thought of them as Australian; most of us didn’t know much about Hay’s background. Our equivalent of TOTP, Countdown, was obsessed with the band for months, not least because of their international success.

    As a portrait of Aussies this was obviously a cartoon, even to 15-year-olds, but in that time and place the mere presence of lyrics about chundering in number one songs was intriguingly transgressive – a seven-inch dose of theory just as we were starting to do the practical. We hadn’t yet been there and done that when it came to the travelling, but that only added to the aspirational appeal. One striking feature (in hindsight) of “Down Under” is its reference to destinations that seemed tantalizingly obscure to young Aussies, in the form of Brussels and Bombay; the 1984 Redgum song “I’ve Been to Bali Too” spoke more to the actual experience of most young Australian travellers in the 1980s. Perhaps that’s down to Hay’s cross-cultural perspective; come to that, perhaps even the title is (we weren’t in the habit of thinking of ourselves as “down under”, although the phrase gained more currency in Australia after this song charted).

    Again in hindsight, it’s no surprise that the band were bigger in the US than anywhere else. Not only did they have the “band from far away” novelty they would have had here in the UK, the themes of their biggest hit would have spoken to young Americans just as much as to young Australians (Brussels being as exotic to them as to us, and a similar “ugly American” stereotype hanging over them as well).

    The music on this sounds less dated than on some of their other songs, thanks to the flute being more difficult to place in time than the saxophones on most of Business as Usual. The “taut and well-practised new wave group” is really elsewhere, on “Helpless Automaton”, and could have done interesting things if they’d let it. But they were part of an Australian pub rock tradition that produced some weird hybrids during these few years, few of which made it out of the country, and the musical tension shows. You had to be there, I suppose. Because I was, and as a nod to my 15-year-old self at the start of his new obsession with popular music, I’m tempted to give this a higher rating, but it’s also a song that any Australian my age is thoroughly sick of by now, so five sounds about right.

  18. 18
    intothefireuk on 13 May 2009 #

    Loathed it when it came out and for some time, having only caught a glimpse of the video, actually thought they were a bunch of hippies (the flute didn’t help). However, come their next single, ‘Overkill’ all was forgiven as I thought this was a little gem.

  19. 19
    Tom on 13 May 2009 #

    #17 hi Rory – great first contribution and welcome aboard. Excellent to get some Aussie perspective on this.

  20. 20
    Glue Factory on 13 May 2009 #

    #17 – I like the idea of Americans finding as much to identify with as Australians. I have to admit that as a twelve year old Londoner, Brussels and Bombay sounded exotic to me.

    It made me wonder if other countries have their own “Down Under”. As I might have mentioned elsewhere, for West-Coast Canadians of a certain age, Spirit Of The West’s “Home For A Rest” seems to occupy a similar role, with it’s themes of travel and references to traditional music (the flute in Down Under echoing the Australian nursey rhyme Kookaburra).

    Despite it’s “high-particpation afterlife”, I struggle to dislike this. It’s one of those songs where any reservations I have (based on grim nights in theme pubs) are simply worn down by the melody.

  21. 21
    johnny on 13 May 2009 #

    as an american i always noticed a tendency for british travelogue songs to be very unappreciative of the destination in question, with a palpable eagerness to return back home as soon as possible. this as opposed to the stereotype of the ignorant-but-happy american/australian/european traveller some of you have been talking about. the only two examples i can think of off the top of my head are the clash’s “Safe European Home” and the Kinks’ “Holiday in Waikiki”, but maybe there’s something to this observation? you tell me.

  22. 22
    LondonLee on 13 May 2009 #

    ‘Dreadlock Holiday’ is probably the most famous example of that.

    We don’t really do “road” songs either

  23. 23
    peter goodlaws on 13 May 2009 #

    I’m a little surprised at the negativity towards this number one and indeed this band, as I think the fleeting visit afforded us by Men at Work was one of the highpoints of the period. I loved “Down Under” from the moment I heard it and had no hesitation in acquiring “Business as Usual” in an instant on the back of it and being far from disappointed. Let the sociologists gloomily pick the “meaning” of DU apart but for me there is nothing to get one’s knickers in a twist about here and in fact I detect a definite feelgood element to it, as demonstrated by the ludicrous “speaka my language – vegimite sandwich” line. What we have here imho is a fine little pop song, with the flute (was Midge playing it? suggests Waldo. And he doesn’t mean Mr Ure) leaping around all over the place to add to the fun. The accompanying album is also first rate (DU by no means being the best track on it) and for me, Men at Work were like a breath of fresh air. I repeat my puzzlement that they have been red-carded so enthusiastically here. But that’s Popular!

    Bit surprised too at the Men at Work/Men Without Hats confusion, the latter being French Canadians.

    Colin Hay certainly an Australian and not a Scot, despite his birthplace. Consider Frank Ifield, late of this blog. Born in Coventry to Australian parents who then went back to Australia where Frank grew up before he came back here to embellish his career, with not inconsiderable success. Nationality? Australian surely…

  24. 24
    Erithian on 13 May 2009 #

    About as Australian as Rod Hull.

  25. 25
    LondonLee on 13 May 2009 #

    Frank Ifield cannot be contained by your puny geographical classifications.

  26. 26
    peter goodlaws on 13 May 2009 #

    # 24 – Not quite, Erithian. Hull went to Oz by himself as an adult in his mid twenties. Ifield was a child of eleven and went with, I repeat, his Australian parents.

    #25 – Sorry, Lee. I’m afraid I don’t agree with you at all.

  27. 27
    AndyPandy on 13 May 2009 #

    I didn’t mind this at the time (in my immature way I liked it because it seemed to be all about getting off your tits everywhere which was basically all I was doing back then before it all went a bit sour for me). However now I think its just quite a catchy tune but also tinged with nostalgia for those couple of years before the partying got out of control and things started to go wrong.
    I reckon it’s a 7 or 8 for me.

    12 & 15 etc: and Jackie McLean had a bit of classic jazz-funk out a couple of years before called “Dr Jackyll and Mr Funk” I think it was even a minor hit

  28. 28
    Rory on 13 May 2009 #

    Thanks for the welcome, Tom – glad to join the conversation at last!

    #23 Agreed about the album – there are at least four tracks on it that I prefer to this, including all the other singles.

  29. 29
    wildheartedoutsider on 13 May 2009 #

    I wonder how this would have fared if they’d employed Aussie accents to go with the coloquialisms?!

  30. 30
    lonepilgrim on 13 May 2009 #

    I don’t mind this too much although I can’t get too excited about it either. Whereas my feelings for Phil Collins were soured by his association with prog (of which I had been an avid consumer only a few years earlier) Men at work had no such baggage, however there’s something a bit pedestrian about them as performers which is why I don’t care too much about them now.
    I can’t remember whether the Castlemaine XXXX Australian stereotype pre or post dates this tune. I know Barry Humphries had promoted the idea back in the 70s(?) but I don’t think it was too mainstream then.

  31. 31
    koganbot on 13 May 2009 #

    Like Mike, while I knew for a fact that this had lyrics – there most certainly were vocalists pronouncing words – it never occurred to me to figure out what they meant. This wasn’t owing to any dislike of the music: sorta lounge reggae with pleasing pop harmonies uptop. Would give it an 8 on Jukebox, a 7 here, with the high standards you lot seem to have for number ones.

    I do think I preferred Men Without Hats. (Les Hommes Sans Chapeaux? Excuse me if the spelling is wrong.)

  32. 32
    Jonathan Bogart on 13 May 2009 #

    To the suggestions that Americans bought it because it echoed back their own experience of being abroad I can only offer a dumbfounded “wha..?” Americans don’t go abroad, and they certainly don’t think about how they’re perceived when they do. (This from someone who spent his adolescence in Latin America. Something like <30% of the country has ever left it, and if that figure includes people who came from elsewhere we’re hovering around <10%.) Besides, very few Americans (and people, surely) pay such close attention to lyrics as such a proposition would require.

    I certainly had no idea that it was about Australians abroad; if asked, I would have said that the rhyme for “under” was “plunder.” Australians as lawless pirates; Mad Max and that.

    From a Yankee perspective this is of a piece with the early-mid-80s (ca. 1982-1986, with outliers like Plastic Bertrand and Martika at both ends of the decade) phenomenon of global pop peeping its head in, a strange and not often replicated experience within US borders. Nena and Men Without Hats (yes, easily mixed up) and Baltimora and After The Fire and Falco and Trio and a-ha and even Dexys misidentified as Irish could be slotted into that category, not to mention all the standard British material we were getting. (Apologies to any upcoming bunnies I may have spoilt.) Exotic but not too exotic, bouncy and synthy (mostly) and with a strong visual hook, it was a cornucopia of bizarre one-offs and wild outliers just waiting to be steamrolled by homegrown juggernauts like M*d*nn*, B. Spr*ngst**n, M. J*cks*n and Pr*nc*.

    I don’t know if the standard U.S. attitude towards the MTV pop of the 80s, a combination of gobsmacked glee at the weird variety of it all and a pitying condescension at its uselessness (because so few of these bands were ever Serious Album Artists in our country), has gotten much play in the UK. Most Americans are surprised to learn that Dexys and Madness, e.g., ever had more than the one song. Always remember that most Americans have to be reminded the rest of the world exists.

    EDIT: And I see that Kogan’s made some of my points already. Grist for the mill.

  33. 33
    Snif on 13 May 2009 #

    Rory – you might be able to remember this to agree or disagree, but I seem to recall that “Down Under” had already been a hit in Australia, and in fact Men At Work had had their really big splash of success by time Down Under happened OS – it was a big deal again, because this was the year that an Australian entry won the America’s Cup….a US-held yacht race that probably means nothing in the UK, but Australian interests had been entering for years, and in ’83 finally wrested the prize away from the Yanks, who’d won it every year since its inception (it was almost a national holiday, the Prime Minister achieving fame for saying “Any boss that sacks somebody for not turning up for work today is a bum”). The song used in the TV coverage was “Down Under”, and I can only guess that this was what helped propel it into the charts overseas.

    In Australia, MAW’s first album had already been a smash, it felt like every track had been released a a single, and so this was just a repeat of same. The band themselves were regarded as irreverent pranksters, the film clip was typical of their presentation, live TV appearances were always

    “One striking feature (in hindsight) of “Down Under” is its reference to destinations that seemed tantalizingly obscure to young Aussies, in the form of Brussels and Bombay; the 1984 Redgum song “I’ve Been to Bali Too” spoke more to the actual experience of most young Australian travellers in the 1980s”

    But MAW were of the generation that still recalled a time when young Aussies travelled from Australia to Britain by hauling overland across SE Asia, up through the Middle East and over Europe to finally wash up at Earl’s Court…a route that now would be virtually inconceivable (I’m still waiting for the travelogue TV show re-doing the route)…Bali’s heyday was just around the corner (one tires of older folk bemoaning the loss of the “real” Bali of their long-distant youth)

  34. 34
    Doctor Casino on 14 May 2009 #

    I’ve just looked it up and the “Business As Usual” album was top of the US album chart for 15 weeks, replaced by “Thriller”

    Yes – “Business is Usual” is absolutely UBIQUITOUS in American thrift stores and garage sales. It is everywhere, propelled by this and “Who Can It Be Now?” In addition to the point about Americans not being habitual travelers, I’d also add that for Americans, Australians are fantastically rare creatures; I’ve met two, maybe three in my lifetime (counting a German who moved there after college), and they have the same appeal as aliens in Star Trek – an incredibly foreign species that by some stroke of luck speaks a recognizable, though adorably odd, version of our language.

    I don’t mind the band at all; they have some underrated singles in “It’s A Mistake” and “Overkill” (great hooks throughout that one, kind of a rewrite of “Who Can It Be Now?” but not bad). This one work very well, it’s sort of silly on the surface but does have a sweet idea about finding companionship where you least expect it. I don’t think it’s so much that everywhere you go you run into drunken Australians and thus never get into contact with other cultures – it’s more like those days traveling where you’ve really enjoyed getting into contact with other cultures, it’s been very fun thank you but god would it be nice to talk to somebody *familiar* to get back in my comfort zone for just a little bit. So he’s in this “den in Bombay,” or Brussels or whatever, runs into what seems like a scary situation, this giant muscular guy…but it turns out he’s found a friend, a fellow countryman, someone who may also be feeling traveler’s blues! Nice story. I guess for me the real daydream is that I’d be traveling in some ridiculously far-off place (I am actually going to pass through Mumbai later this year) and, just as I’m getting burnt out on the joys of exploration, run into, not a godforsaken fellow American, but one of them quirky Australians I’ve heard so much about.

    And welcome aboard to Rory!

  35. 35
    Doctor Casino on 14 May 2009 #

    Incidentally, have there been any other hits built around this premise? It seems like there must be tons of cultures scattered in diaspora that might find some resonance in similar sentiments. I feel like there’s a really obvious song but I just can’t think of it.

  36. 36
    wildheartedoutsider on 14 May 2009 #

    Walk like an Egyptian?!!

  37. 37
    wildheartedoutsider on 14 May 2009 #

    More seriously, The Proclaimers’ “Letter From America” is essentially about the experiences of Scots abroad.

  38. 38
    Rory on 14 May 2009 #

    #30 – The stereotypes predate this, although the “Don’t give a XXXX” campaign came afterwards, once the brand went global in the wake of Fosters’ success (and around the same time, the old Aussie joke went global: Why’s it called XXXX? Because Queenslanders Australians can’t spell “beer”). Barry Humphries was the one who popularised the word “chunder” through his Barry Mackenzie strip in Private Eye, which spawned two Australian films in the early 1970s; Humphries was also the one who suggested the name “Bruce” to Cleese and co. for the Monty Python “philosophers” sketch. The hats with corks were a creation of English cartoonists at around the same time, although they’ve since been taken up by Australian souvenir manufacturers.

    #32 – I didn’t want to suggest that Americans in general were bigger international travellers than Australians, just that a city like Brussels would seem more exotic to you (and us) than to UK people who heard its name on the news every other week thanks to the EU connection. I know that differences in annual leave and the range of potential domestic options create different travel situations in the US and Australia.

    #33 – Yes, “Down Under” topped the Australian charts well before 1983. 1983 was when their much-anticipated second album came out locally (mid-year, Wikipedia reminds me, which sounds right, because I was one of the ones doing the anticipating). You’re right that the song was played to death during the America’s Cup campaign, but that didn’t happen until September that year. Billboard says that it topped the US charts simultaneously with the UK charts, and claims it was because “their funny, irreverent videos became MTV favorites” (“Who Can It Be Now?” had already been a US number one for the band, and Business as Usual topped the US charts in November 1982). I notice that Wikipedia claims that the America’s Cup win was what popularised the song internationally, which I will now go and amend!

    And true, Men at Work were of the generation that recalled the hippy trail, but the ones buying most of their records weren’t. The band were in their late twenties when they had their hits, but early ’80s school-age record buyers like me knew nothing of hippy trails, and our older siblings who were off travelling in their early twenties (post-uni) were going to Bali and London, not Bombay and Brussels.

  39. 39

    it’s not exactly touristic, obviously, but re diaspora there’s the rastafarian “exiles in babylon” relationship to africa, which started to become concrete once its stars began to travel there

  40. 40
    Erithian on 14 May 2009 #

    And of course the Pogues’ “Thousands Are Sailing” for the Irish.

    More recently, what songs would continue Tom’s idea about the UK charts mirroring the history of Brits’ global travel? – any number of Ibiza anthems? “Pure Shores”, at least in the context of the film it soundtracked?

    Snif – yes we did notice your America’s Cup victory up here! I understand the national mood was such that you could have renamed the beach in Sydney “Bondy” for the occasion. It was the period when Aussies were emerging from the “cultural cringe” with musicians and film directors asserting themselves (“Gallipoli” was a massive success here), leading up to the bicentenary in 1988. And even if “Down Under” wasn’t a great cultural artefact, as a sign of greater confidence in the nation it was unmistakable. (You’d just got the Ashes back too.)

  41. 41
    Rory on 14 May 2009 #

    The Kent Music Report (via Wikipedia) says that “Down Under” peaked at no. 1 in Australia for six weeks at the end of 1981 and beginning of 1982. That twelve month sea-voyage to Blighty is a shocker…

  42. 42
    Pete on 14 May 2009 #

    Ain’t Going To Goa.

  43. 43
    lonepilgrim on 14 May 2009 #

    I would imagine that the video was a factor in it’s success in the US via MTV – and around this time there was Jonathan King popping up on TOTP with news of what was hot in the US charts before he started Entertainment USA.

  44. 44
    wildheartedoutsider on 14 May 2009 #

    It’s strange looking back on this that it never struck me as any sort of ‘novelty song’ back in the day. I think perhaps it was more accepted in the early 80s that comedy had a part to play even in “serious” muisic. Artists like Elvis Costello, The Specials, XTC and The Police all displayed a sense of humour in the their songs (albeit rather dry at times) and groups like Madness obviously incorporated much humour and silliness into their music without ever being dismissed as a novelty act. Maybe I just saw this as ‘serious music with humorous lyrics’ rather than a comedy/novelty song.

  45. 45
    johnny on 14 May 2009 #

    don’t recall anyone else mentioning this, but there was a curious fad for all things Australian in ’80’s America. This song was the first taste of it, but before long we had Foster’s, Outback Steakhouse, Banana Republic clothing (in the mid-’80s the store’s look was definitely Aussie-centric), Aussie shampoo, “Crocodile Dundee”, etc.

  46. 46
    peter goodlaws on 14 May 2009 #

    Snif – Erithian’s quite right. Your America’s Cup win was big news here too, if only for the fact that the Yanks finally lost a contest they were never supposed to lose, rather than the Ossies winning it. I seem to recall that the bloke at the US boat club where the cup had always been on display was loathe to relinquish the trophy even though they were no longer the holders. This was always replicated, of course, by the English cricket authorities always insisting on the Ashes remaining at Lords even when Australia held them, which was and is more often than not.

  47. 47
    AndyPandy on 14 May 2009 #

    Dire Straits ‘Twisting By the Pool’, Wham! ‘Club Tropicana’ (sort of), ‘El Vino Collapso’ by Black Lace, Cats UK ‘Luton Airport’ (again sort of), ‘Englishman in New York’ by Sting

    all related to the English abroad

  48. 48
    wildheartedoutsider on 14 May 2009 #

    …And to some extent both “California Dreaming” and “California Girls” are about being displaced Californians missing various aspects of home life. And of course “Homeward Bound” was an autobiographical tale of Paul Simon’s yearnings for his American homeland whilst sitting in Wigan or Widness station (depending on which version of the story you believe)

  49. 49
    Jonathan Bogart on 14 May 2009 #

    I would venture to state that the America’s Cup win went almost entirely unnoticed by America!

  50. 50
    rosie on 14 May 2009 #

    48: I’ve mentioned somewhere in the archive, haven’t I, that ’twas me who conjured up that story about Homeward Bound and Widnes North station (as it was in the early 70s) in a throwaway remark I made in the Liverpool Uni student newspaper. I was amazed when, years later, it seemed to have become common knowledge. It was going to be Runcorn originally, but I thought that was much too obvious with Runcorn station being on a viaduct surrounded by an industrial landscape.

  51. 51
    ace inhibitor on 14 May 2009 #

    re #s 37/39/40/48 – traveller/homesick songs – victorian pop culture was drenched with the tears of exiles/emigrants/travellers pining for home; Home Sweet Home = quintessential parlour ballad bastardisation of the exile song, but street ballads, theatre songs, music hall songs were all full of it. Scottish and Irish tunes mostly, though there were english versions of the same theme, and it was an international, diaspora song culture; emigrants to north america and australia took songs with them, obviously (portable culture) but versions written in the States found their way back into songbooks published in the UK. the Pogues and the Proclaimers were deliberately writing in that tradition, the Proclaimers most directly – Letter from America making the link between the highlands deliberately emptied of people by the clearances in the 18th/19th centuries (lochaber no more / sutherland no more / lewis no more) and the central belt mining/steel/new towns left redundant and emptied in the (19)80s (bathgate no more / linwood no more / methil no more). I’m struggling to fit men at work into this, but most australians I’ve met are aware of some version of this history…

  52. 52
    wildheartedoutsider on 14 May 2009 #

    #50 Yikes, it really IS a small world-wide-web, isn’t it?! When I was trying to refresh my memory as to the various versions of events regarding the subtext to Paul Simon writing that song I Googled it for more info (…didn’t stop me miss-spelling Widnes, though!) and found something written by a “Rosie” and I thought… “that’s a coincidence …no, can’t be the same one!” I remember the good old days when you used to be able to stroll around the internet for years and never bump into the same person twice!

  53. 53
    o sobek! on 15 May 2009 #

    lcd soundsystem’s ‘north american scum’ is vaguely in this lineage also

  54. 54
    wichita lineman on 15 May 2009 #

    Not a diaspora song, but I’m Going To Spain by Steve Bent is a song, delivered in a Slough-born falsetto, about quitting decaying 70s Britain: “I sold my car, threw in my job, I’m 24 years old…” Covered with aplomb (and numerous lyric changes) by The Fall on the Infotainment Scan. It’s pettiness and uptight (or plain weird) lyric kinda explains why there aren’t many songs about globetrotting Englanders: “My mother cried on Friday night, told me to take good care. She wrapped me up some sandwiches and I hate them, yes I hate the cheese and pickle…”

    Apparently, Bent appeared on New Faces, and the single came out in 1975 on Bradleys (so he was labelmates with the Goodies and Stephanie de Sykes). It eventually ended up on Kenny Everett’s World’s Worst Records album, which is way harsh. It’s unique, and A Partridge/D Brent-like, though I’m fairly sure it’s serious. Beyond that, Steve Bent’s destiny is even more of a mystery than the Dreamweavers’.

    Re 51: I’d love to know which English nineteenth century songs you’re thinking of, Ace. Much of the Italian and Irish American ballad tradition is based on this, of course, but I’m curious to know if any English homesickness songs were written by post-war emigrants to, say, Australia.

    It’s a great call – but rather disturbing, humbling even – to realise the English equivalent of Down Under is Dreadlock Holiday. We don’t travel well, do we?

    I’m afraid I’ve nothing useful to say about Down Under – this thread is several times more interesting than the single. The only thing I liked about it in ’83 was the flute; I’d just discovered Love’s Da Capo and heard shades of Tjay Cantrelli mixed in with the XXXX reggae-lite.

  55. 55
    Jonathan Bogart on 15 May 2009 #

    ace inhibitor brings to mind what may be the granddaddy of all “it’s good to see a familiar face in these foreign lands” pop songs, George M. Cohan’s 1904 “Give My Regards to Broadway.” In its original incarnation Broadway was a much more specific reference than it parses as today, because the street’s name hadn’t yet become metonymous with “American Musical Theater” — that would happen eventually, and Cohan was one of the figures who made it happen. But the opening line of the song is “Did you ever see two Yankees part upon a foreign shore” (though the action of the show in which it was introduced was set in England, which even I’m not used to thinking of as foreign, quite).

    Cohan was quite explicitly trying to create a straight-up American identity to compete with the Irish, Jewish, African-American (which is a special case, most of “their” music about longing for the old plantation, mammy’s knee, etc. being imputed by minstrel tradition rather than expressive of any organic reality), etc. “heritage” music which made up a good chunk of popular song at the time. As a result, he’s gone down in the histories as a hyperpatriot, but he strikes me as being more of a canny businessman — by staking no particular ethnicity to his rah-rah bullshit (in the best sense), he was going for the largest possible market. If he had to create that market along the way, well, it worked. He made loads of money — always the unanswerable argument in American pop culture.

    My analysis would be that the song was enormously successful for two reasons; the least important being its later life as a sort of anthem of New York theater; and the first one being that it sublimated the primal impulse of American pop post-Reconstruction, which was a longing for the Old Order, whether expressed as Old Black Joe pining for the plantation, or recent immigrants warbling about the homeland, or any of the literally millions of home & mother songs that sent piano sales skyrocketing during one of the first-ever tech bubbles in the 1880s — as I say, by shifting the POV to “foreign shores” it sublimated all of that into a longing for America AS SHE IS rather than in the Good Ol Days, a neat trick which conservatives over here are still turning to fun and profit. All of which, I’d argue, is the basis for American pop culture in the twentieth century: a rock-solid belief in America herself undercut by a recurrent and sometimes tragic sense of non-participation in her. We’re always the guy not on the ship saying “Tell all the gang at forty-second” ….

    Jesus Christ I didn’t mean to write a precis of my next book. Sorry all.

  56. 56
    Erithian on 15 May 2009 #

    Wait a minute – Rosie, are you telling us that we have amongst our number the very source of one of the great rock’n’roll myths?! I don’t think you’ve mentioned that before… I’ll have to dig out the travelogue I read once that said that Paul Simon was in a hurry to get from Widnes to his next gig in Huddersfield or somewhere – the owner of Widnes folk club drove him to the station and they got there just in time as the train was pulling in! The same book quoted Simon as saying “if you’ve been to Widnes you’ll know why I was in a hurry to leave”, which also sounds like an invention.

    Peter #46 – I’m assuming the America’s Cup is an actual trophy which the Aussies could have taken home with them – unlike the Ashes. Ever since 1882, when the Sporting Times published the obituary for English Cricket “which died at the Oval… the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia”, the notion of winning or retaining the Ashes has been symbolic, and the actual urn presented to the England captain in 1883 has never been officially regarded as a trophy. I may be wrong but I don’t even remember any captain being presented with a replica before David Gower in 1985.

  57. 57
    Billy Smart on 15 May 2009 #

    Didn’t like this when I was ten – the singalong chorus and flute made it seem too winsomely jovial to my taste.

    An unfortunate personal consequence of this mid-eighties phase of Popular is the continual reminder of just how priggish and serious I was between latter childhood and puberty – the propotion of number ones that I actively disliked at the time must be higher during this period than at any other.

    In this case, I’ve changed my mind a bit since 1983 in that I rather like the Police-like stylings of this, and would quite enjoy it if it was an instrumental, but as a song it still makes me feel as if I’m being jollied up by somebody who doesn’t really think very much. Proper geezer music, of a sort.

  58. 58
    Martin Skidmore on 15 May 2009 #

    The only thing I quite liked was that nice flute melody – otherwise I disliked it a lot, for more or less the reasons Mark cites above: ‘aren’t we naughty, in a manly way – isn’t that great?’ Sounded far too pleased with itself for no half-decent reason.

  59. 59
    rosie on 15 May 2009 #

    Erithian @ 56: Surely I’m not the only Populista to have created an urban musical myth? Or does the surprise stem from being bog-standard comp/redbrick/student newspaper rather than public school/oxbridge/NME?

    Paul Simon’s biographer specifically denies that the incident took place. Anyway, in my version Paulie was waiting for the last train back to his hotel in Liverpool, which seems to me a lot more plausible than going to Huddersfield. You can’t get to Huddersfield from Widnes directly (or if you can now you couldn’t in the early 60s because that line terminated at Manchester Central). If he was going to Huddersfield, it would have been from St Helens, and that of course is where he would have been taken.

  60. 60
    wildheartedoutsider on 15 May 2009 #

    “It’s A Long, Long Way To Tipperary” is surely worth a mention too. Often thought of as a First World War song but written in 1912 so slightly ‘ahead of its time’ in terms of that particular sub-genre!

  61. 61
    Davey on 15 May 2009 #

    Hi all,

    A bit late now the discussion’s moved on, I know but as a newish reader (and ex-Aussie) I’ve been waiting for this one for a little while too. Over the past few weeks via Youtube I’ve revisited the Men At Work ‘canon’, if you can call it that – and agree with posters above that while MAW had better singles (I love the anti-war sentiment of ‘It’s A Mistake” in particular) this one still makes me smile, thanks mostly to that fantastic little intro.

    I have to confess though I don’t know what they’re talking about on W’pedia when they say the flute melody is based on the childrens’ song ‘Kookaburra (… sits in the old gum tree’), but think also it’s one of the best parts of the song. Maybe it’s one reason why it sticks in the brains of so many Australian kids from that and earlier generations …

    Tom, I think it’s a bit unkind to say this one was helped to Nr 1 by the Police being on holiday – even though I agree there are similarities between the bands. If anything, I think I prefer Colin Hay’s voice to Sting’s, though they both have those faux-reggae inflections. Hay sounds to me more likeable and warm. I mean, would you catch Sting singing lyrics like the ones in this song? I love the silliness of it all: “lying in a den in Bombay/ with a slack jaw and not much to-say” et al … ehm, actually, now I think of ‘Walking On the Moon’, I’ll admit Sting did sing lyrics like that – only, arguably, he wasn’t joking. Ever.

    I also remember the America’s Cup victory, and probably can’t convey how exciting the atmosphere was at that time in Oz. It did have a lot to do with American cultural dominance, and was therefore a Phyrric victory. That this song got a second go at the top because of it though was a bonus. But to risk sounding cliched, they did have better songs: “Jonny (Be Good)” was another good one.

    Though I’ve probably heard Down Under about a thousand times, in too many venues to name, my favourite experience was being in a crowded bar in Seoul in 2005 with some friends, one of whom is Liberian. When he heard that song he just went nuts, and so did I. Something about that weird global appeal … who can ever explain it.

    My second favourite MAW experience was seeing Colin Hay turn up on Scrubs only to have his acoustic guitar smashed at the end of the episode.

    A definite 8 for me, but Tom I’m pleasantly surprised by your 5!

  62. 62
    Davey on 15 May 2009 #

    Oops, sorry for the double posting.

  63. 63
    Erithian on 15 May 2009 #

    #51 – of course not all British and Irish emigrants to Australia went voluntarily! A good many convict songs are collected in “The Fatal Shore” by Robert Hughes, and indeed one of them provided the title of the book. Then, some 200 years after the First Fleet, there was the oddity of a convict song, “Van Diemen’s Land” by U2 turning up on their Great American Album, “Rattle and Hum”. (Oddly enough, U2’s first UK top ten hit came while “Down Under” was number one.)

  64. 64
    rosie on 15 May 2009 #

    Those of us of a certain age will fondly remember, as children, watching Shirley Abicair on the telly singing “Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree”. She had long blonde hair and played the zither, and one can well imagine Waldo having one of his moments.

  65. 65
    Conrad on 15 May 2009 #

    MAW – not to be confused with Masters At Work

    Very hard to connect with Men at Work; so much of being into bands as an adolescent is wrapped up in wanting to be like that artist, associating with them/their gang. Men at Work seemed like a novelty act to the average Brit teenager at the time, and not a particularly inspiring one. You didn’t want to be in Men at Work (don’t think the name helped).

    The intro is catchy and the song is harmless enough though.

  66. 66
    Rory on 15 May 2009 #

    #61 – “the Men At Work ‘canon’, if you can call it that” – it’s a shame they fizzled out, really, as there were such high expectations for them. They even beat the Human League to the best new artist Grammy! It’s kinda sad to read the discography on Wikipedia with three times as many live and compilation albums as studio releases. Cargo was a more-than-respectable follow-up, with lots of good stuff on it, but they took a hiatus after a couple of years of touring frenzy and that was pretty much the end of them; the third album Two Hearts had a few decent songs (“Hard Luck Story” was my favourite), but they’d dropped some members and their music already sounded like yesterday’s news. I wonder if the main problem was their age when they hit it big; Colin Hay and Greg Ham both turned 30 in 1983. If they’d all been 20, would they have been taking a hiatus just as the game got started? Maybe they knew they’d never top it.

    (#34 – I forgot to say thanks before, Doctor Casino, but thanks for the welcome. Right, I’ll stop saying thanks for welcomes now. Itching to get onto our next instalment… which I knew would happen once I got started here.)

  67. 67
    Erithian on 15 May 2009 #

    Rosie #64 – it’s not a 1983 memory, but those of a certain age might also remember “Kookaburra” featuring in “Singing Together”, an early 70s schools radio programme which brought primary school classes countrywide together to learn then vote on a selection of folky tunes from around the world. (Another popular tune in the programme was “Stenka Razin”, the original Russian song from which “The Carnival is Over” was adapted.)

    Rory #66 – the next instalment is somewhat topical!

  68. 68
    Billy Smart on 15 May 2009 #

    Re #35 – Does ‘Sloop John B’ count? It’s a pretty definitive being away from your homeland song, but not really specific to any one group of people.

  69. 69
    ace inhibitor on 15 May 2009 #

    wichita#54 – well it kind of begs the question of what we mean by ‘english’ songs, given that english cities and industrial towns were full of migrants/immigrants from the 19th century on… Is ‘the Leaving of Liverpool’ an english exile song, for example? very place-specific, but given that Liverpool was getting on for 50% Irish during the years before and after the famine in the 1840s…there are recorded versions by the pogues and the dubliners, but also by euan mccoll (salford, but 2nd generation scottish) and the seekers (australian!!)

    the songs I know about, or knew pretty well in a previous life, were printed on sheets of paper & sung in the streets – if you liked the song or the performance, you bought the sheet. So, a commercial practice – we’re talking ‘pop’ rather than ‘folk’, & they’d print and sing anything that sold. For a city like Manchester (the collection I know) there are huge numbers of these things collected – thousands. a big proportion of the songs were Irish or scottish (traditional, or imitations of) -but then so were a fair proportion of their audience. A fair number of ‘english’ exile songs look like straightforward imitations, with ‘farewell to old Ireland’ replaced by ‘old England’ – but some reworked the theme for more obviously industrial, northern English settings. the other thing about exile songs is that they seem to be as popular in the setting they lamented ‘leaving’ as in north america/australia – which probably links with jonathan #55’s point, but in ways that I can’t work out now cos its time to leave work :)

  70. 70
    AndyPandy on 15 May 2009 #

    so is the plaque at the station in Widnes all because of Rosie’s mythmaking – they even tried to get Paul Simon’s girlfriend/muse Kathy to unveil it!

  71. 71
    wichita lineman on 16 May 2009 #

    K-Tel alert. Down Under was the opening track on Hot Line, followed by:
    Level 42 – The Chinese Way
    Sharon Redd – In The Name Of Love
    China Crisis – Christian
    Steve Hillage – Kamikaze Eyes
    Billy Griffin – Hold Me Tighter In The Rain
    The Maisonettes – Heartache Avenue

    It was a BOGOF double album. Quite uninspiring artwork, but a good random track list. Anyone recall the Steve Hillage track? Sounds intreeging.

    Re 64: I’d rather have seen Shirley Abicair’s Am I Losing You, a gravity defying zither-based heartbreaker, at no.1 than MAW’s proto-XXXX ad.

    Re 69: Ace, thanks. Yes, The Leaving Of Liverpool is an English song in my book, the whole country is mongrel so let’s not get too choosy.

  72. 72
    Davey on 16 May 2009 #

    Hi Rosie @64 – that’s interesting … but can you hear any resemblance between Kookaburra and the flute on ‘Down Under’ at all? Maybe in a different key or something …

    Rory @66 – just looked up ‘Hard Luck Story’ – interesting video! How cool are those dancing kids?

  73. 73
    Mark M on 16 May 2009 #

    A pair of migration songs from 1980s, heading from Thatcher-blighted parts of the UK to the supposedly booming capital: The Smiths’ London (with trace memories of Billy Liar) and Shop Assistants’ Caledonian Road.

  74. 74
    DV on 16 May 2009 #

    I’ve got quite fond of this in retrospect – not so much the fatuous vocals but the liquid bassline.

  75. 75
    AndyPandy on 16 May 2009 #

    re emigration songs and the countries of Britain: it should be also born in mind that post 17th century proportionately fewer people emigrated from England than from Scotland and Wales. There was extreme poverty in all three countries but in England it was more about migrating from the country to the new industrial towns.

  76. 76
    peter goodlaws on 20 May 2009 #

    Rosie #64 – Waldo has asked me to ask you whether the show to which you refer also featured “Tinger and Tucker the two little bears”?

    Is this a wind-up?

  77. 77
    lonepilgrim on 20 May 2009 #

    #76 Tinga and Tucker were two koala bear puppets who appeared on a 60s kids programme with the host Auntie Jean. The show also featured Willy Wombat and something called the wibbly-wobbly way. I don’t recall the kookaburra song on the show – I remember it from school music lessons.

  78. 78

    i associate tinga and tucka (and the kookaburra song) with rolf harris — am i confusing all australian high culture with itself?

  79. 79
    mike on 20 May 2009 #

    I was a member of the official Tinga And Tucka Club, and hence the proud owner of my very own “Boomerang Woomerang”. This might have been an early attempt to wind up my mother, who thought that the show’s puppet-based dramatisations of Bible stories were in poor taste. (The show’s whole premise was a religious soft-sell, as I recall. So you’d get T&T putting on head-dresses and pretending to be King David and the Pharaoah of Egypt, stuff like that.)

  80. 80
    Tom on 20 May 2009 #

    And nowadays we get the Koala Brothers! (Only parents of current tinies may understand this)

  81. 81
    mike on 20 May 2009 #

    There is – of course! – a Wikipedia category for “fictional koalas”

  82. 82

    omg “the magic pudding”! i remember this book as clear as day yet i never owned and don’t know where i read it! (best tbook-itle ever incidentally)

  83. 83
    rosie on 20 May 2009 #

    Tingha and Tucka certainly set some bells ringing but I don’t think that was where I encountered Shirley Abicair. For one thing, Wikipedia tells me that the show didn’t begin until 1962, by which time I was fairly au fait with, and enthusiatic about, the top ten and Radio Luxembourg. For another, watching ITV was mostly (ie with the exception of Coronation Street) a no-no in our household. I think my encounter with Shirl was rather earlier.

    The song “wibbly-wobbly way” I’m pretty sure was a taunt used by my sister’s boyfriend, eventually to become my brother-in-law-whom-I-hate – because him singing it was guaranteed to set me off in uncontrollable giggles.

  84. 84
    lonepilgrim on 20 May 2009 #

    I too was/am? a member of the Tingha and Tucker club which according to wikipedia had 750,000 members. Perhaps like the Manchurian Candidate we will have been programmed to respond to a Woomerang Boomerang broadcast that will see us rise up to introduce a new world order.

    #82 ‘The Magic pudding’ gets a mention in Peter Carey’s ‘Theft: A love story’ which is how I’ve heard of it. It is a great title. The author was the basis for the film ‘Sirens’ featuring Sam Neill and several nekkid ladies.

  85. 85

    as i recall the pudding wears its bowl as a hat, has legs which it runs around on, and gets grumpy when you eat a slice of it, even though this in no way diminishes it

  86. 86
    AndyPandy on 21 May 2009 #

    Willie Wombat! I probably haven’t thought about him since I was about 4 and probably forgotten about since the age of about 8 – another one of those memories which the internet miraculously rediscovers in some dimly lit recess of my mind…

  87. 87
    AndyPandy on 21 May 2009 #

    Willie Wombat! I probably haven’t thought about him since I was about 4 and probably forgotten about since the age of about 8 – another one of those memories which with the help of the internet I miraculously rediscover in some dimly lit recess of my mind…

  88. 88
    lonepilgrim on 22 May 2009 #

    Watching the ‘Down under’ video yesterday I experienced a Proustian rush equal to memories of Tingha and Tucker when I saw ‘Tanelorn rules’ on the front of the VW combi. It brought back memories of devouring Moorcock books in my early teens – probably while rocking out to Yes and Hawkwind on headphones. According to the wikipedia entry for Tanelorn:

    The music video by Men At Work of the song Down Under shows “Tanelorn Rules” on the front of a van,perhaps referring to the Tanelorn Music Festival, held on the October Labour Day holiday weekend in 1981 near Karuah, north of Newcastle in Australia. This festival was subsequently regarded by some as being the ‘end’ of the age of Aquarius, as subsequent Australian outdoor festivals such as Narara ’85 had much of the atmosphere of an outdoor ‘beerbarn’, dominated by pub rock.

    I’m still hoping that Martin will revive his Sci-fi authors thread – maybe looking at Moorcock?

  89. 89
    wichita lineman on 22 May 2009 #

    Ronco alert: opening track on Chart Runners (part 2) followed by:
    Tunnel Of Love – Fun Boy Three
    Sexual Healing – Marvin Gaye
    Hold Me Tighter In The Rain – Billy Griffin
    Cry Boy Cry – Blue Zoo
    Breakaway – Tracey Ullman
    Endlessly – John Foxx
    Let’s Forget – White & Torch
    European Female – The Stranglers

  90. 90
    lonepilgrim on 22 May 2009 #

    ♯89 ‘Let’s forget’ has lived up to it’s title

  91. 91
    lonepilgrim on 30 Jul 2009 #

    ..and seems like someone else made the Kookaburra connection:


  92. 92
    Rory on 30 Jul 2009 #

    Kookaburra’s writ in the Old Bai-ley,
    Merry, merry king of the flute is he,
    Laugh, IP lawyers, laugh, IP lawyers,
    Pay for you must we.

  93. 93
    Tooncgull on 21 Oct 2009 #

    #61 Davey – re the appearance of Colin Hay on Scrubs – yes, I got quite excited by that, especially as he plays the far superior (to “Downunder”) song “Overkill” in that episode. I’d long forgotten MAW at that stage, and rushed out to buy Cargo on CD purely for that track! Sadly “Overkill” is the only track on the album worth having.

  94. 94
    punctum on 4 Feb 2010 #


  95. 95
    Tom on 4 Feb 2010 #

    “A big win for the underdog” where “underdog” = “a publishing company that saw an opportunity to buy a song copyright off the Girl Guides”!

  96. 96
    Rory on 4 Feb 2010 #

    Bah. Hope the damages make up for all the biscuit sales they’ll lose… although who knows, maybe the nation will side with the Guides.

    Writing songs with a mate down under,
    Looked around for some riffs to plunder.
    Said to him, “Do you think we’ll risk it?”
    He just smiled and handed me a Girl Guide biscuit.

    And I said, “Ohhh! ‘Kookaburra’ is huge down under,
    And one man’s ‘quote’ is a judge’s ‘blunder’.
    Can’t you hear the reporters thunder?
    We better run, we better take cover.”

  97. 97
    wichita lineman on 4 Feb 2010 #

    Cos the flute ‘riff’ is the bit everyone remembers…

    The band should be compensated for the free publicity they gave Vegemite. How many non-Australians had heard of it before 1983?

  98. 98
    swanstep on 5 Feb 2010 #

    Wow, the trilling flute phrase is just a bar or two (albeit repeated), so a 40-60% share of profits seems utterly insane on those grounds alone (settlement for 5% would be more like it in my view). Also, since it’s the rhythm of the trill that’s the ‘tell’, it should be material that essentially the same rhythm (in upper registers) is *all over* versions of the trad. hymn, Gloria in excelsis Deo, including Vivaldi’s. (I imagine that the original girl guide author would concede that, of course, she was building on trad, hymns, were she here.) My money’s on a vigorous appeal followed by settlement at a more reasonable figure.

    @Rory. ‘Laugh, IP layers laugh.’ Brilliant!

  99. 99
    Rory on 5 Feb 2010 #

    I can’t believe how annoyed this has made me. As you say, swanstep, the riff is a tiny quote within “Down Under”, so minor that the connection had never occurred to me before this story broke last year; and I’m guessing I’m one of the last generation of Aussie kids who would have grown up singing “Kookaburra”. Its key line is “Laugh, kookaburra, laugh, kookaburra, gay your life must be”, and I can’t see that getting much air post-1970s – not out of rampant homophobia, but out of embarrassment over the double entendre, which is so easily avoided by not teaching the song to littlies in the first place.

    So if the 1970s were more or less “Kookaburra”‘s last laugh, even that tiny quote would be the only way anyone nowadays would hear anything from it. “Kookaburra”‘s author died in 1988, so her only immortality is in the memories of middle-aged-and-above Aussies like me… and in those few notes in “Down Under”.

    So even if it was a conscious rip-off (which I’m not convinced it was), I don’t care. I don’t want to see Hay and Strykert bankrupted for the benefit of a copyright that has long since left a dead songwriter’s ownership, which sixty percent of megabucks of long-spent royalties could easily do. In the grand scheme of things, “Down Under” matters more to Australia than “Kookaburra”, the legal wranglings of lawyers looking for their “My Sweet Lord” moment notwithstanding.

    (“My Sweet Lord” mattered more, too.)

  100. 100
    thefatgit on 5 Feb 2010 #

    The issue of copyright seems to be a ticking timebomb these days. What with the clumsy and unweildly Digital Britain bill (clause 17 is an attempt to future-proof the legislation, but looks like some kind of draconian measure dreamt up by George Orwell) being read in the Lords, and these occasional plagiarism cases that crop up from time to time…

    …we should be asking in the context of the current climate, just how artists should be paid, and more importantly who should be paying them?
    Is the current copyright law adequate? And can publishers and distributors force internet providers to cut off an entire household’s broadband, with total impunity?

  101. 101
    Rory on 5 Feb 2010 #

    The riff wasn’t even incorporated into the song by Hay and Strykert, but by the band’s flautist Greg Ham.

  102. 102
    Rory on 5 Feb 2010 #

    I bet that the Wikipedia entry that Davey noticed up-thread (before the lawsuit arose*) was what tipped Larrikin off that they had a potential goldmine on their hands. They’ve owned “Kookaburra” since 1990 and the similarity only occurred to them now? After a bit of hunting through the Wikipedia page’s edit history, the claimed similarity with “Kookaburra” appears to have been added on 31 October 2006 by an anonymous contributor (and completely unsourced, at that). I hope 210.10.994.244 is proud of themselves. Their only contribution, yet!

    *Horrible thought: given the delay between 31 October 2006 and July 2009, perhaps this thread was what actually tipped Larrikin off.

  103. 103
    Rory on 5 Feb 2010 #

    We can rest easy: Larrikin launched their proceedings in 2008. But that Wikipedia entry is still in the frame.

  104. 104
    Rory on 5 Feb 2010 #

    Colin Hay’s response deserves attention.

    I wonder who was using on 31/10/06. (I miscopied the IP address above, for some reason.) It just resolves to an Australian ISP, so the trail goes cold.

  105. 105
    Rory on 5 Feb 2010 #

    Justice Jacobson said that Hay’s admission he morphed the two songs during some concerts in 2002 helped make his decision. “Perhaps the clearest illustration of the objective similarity is to be found in Mr Hay’s frank admission of a causal connection between the two melodies and the fact that he sang the relevant bars of Kookaburra when performing Down Under at a number of concerts over a period of time from about 2002,” Justice Jacobson wrote.

    Gah! Bono morphed “Electric Co.” into “Send in the Clowns” during the Red Rocks concerts, but that didn’t make them the same or even similar.

  106. 106
    lonepilgrim on 5 Feb 2010 #

    re105 any legal proceedings by Steven Sondheim against Bono would be warmly welcomed in these quarters though

  107. 107
    Rory on 5 Feb 2010 #

    That case was settled long ago, lonepilgrim – it’s why my US-purchased CD of Under a Blood Red Sky doesn’t have 30 seconds of my old LP. (To the great annoyance of early-’90s me who foolishly sold the old LP before listening to the newly purchased CD.)

  108. 108
    Snif on 7 Feb 2010 #

    “…a 40-60% share of profits seems utterly insane on those grounds alone (settlement for 5% would be more like it in my view)…”

    The way these things normally go, IIRC, is that the litigants ask/demand a ridiculously unrealistic sum, then the lawyers for both sides haggle it down to something more appropriate – the thinking is usually that if you start big, there’s the occasional chance you might finish big.

  109. 109
    MildredBumble on 7 Jun 2010 #

    Funny thing, reading about the Kookaburra plagiarism – one Karel Fialka completely ripped off MAW’s Down Under flute bit for his appalling car-crash of a hit that mixed Mary Whitehouse sensiblities with his square-eyed brat lisping his fave telly: “Hey Matthew”

  110. 110
    lonepilgrim on 6 Jul 2010 #

    swanstep @98 was right – they’ve awarded a 5% share of the Down Under profit:


  111. 111
    Rory on 6 Jul 2010 #

    “A statute of limitations restricted Larrikin from seeking royalties earned before 2002.” The band will be relieved about that, at least. Even five percent of its total earnings since 1982 would have been daunting.

  112. 113
    thefatgit on 19 Apr 2012 #

    And we say goodbye to Greg Ham. He was 58.

  113. 114
    Rory on 19 Apr 2012 #

    Oh no, that’s far too young. Farewell, Greg. I’ll always love “I Like To” and “Helpless Automaton”.

  114. 115
    Jimmy the Swede on 19 Apr 2012 #

    Yes, very sad news, this. RIP, Greg.

  115. 116
    enitharmon on 20 Apr 2012 #

    58? Aaargh!

    Very sad news indeed.

  116. 117
    john c on 31 Aug 2012 #

    My memory tells me that Australia as a place and an idea, and Australian people in general, were going through a phase of popularity in the USA when this song came out. It was a huge hit over here.

    I was under the impression that everybody loves Australians, and that everybody loves Canadians, except that the two nations do NOT like each other.

    Well, this song helped people in the USA to like Australians plenty. And how could a pop-music fan dislike Men at Work?

    Well, eventually they did . . . I remember a local radio station advertising and holding a “Men At Work Less” weekend, when they promised not to play a single song by the band. Seemed cruel to me . . .

  117. 118
    Auntie Beryl on 14 Feb 2013 #

    Spinning backwards through Popular, at last a number one that isn’t steeped in cocaine. The last (future) six have been.

    Two things about Men At Work. The first, and more important, is that Overkill is a wonderful single; hugely underappreciated and in the shadow of this here number one. Also, the first single I bought from Oldies Unlimited, a mail order operation based in Telford I think. Surely I’m not the only one on Popular to have drunk from this well.

    Additionally, I can’t hear Down Under without calling to mind how I spent some Sunday afternoons in my lost, wayward 90s. The Church was a gathering place for ex pats. Kiwis, Americans, South Africans, Aussies; and us lot; nowhere else to go but top up on yesterday’s starting point. It was a warehouse with a stage, and five hundred maniacs intent on drinking another twelve beers by two in the afternoon.

    When Down Under was played over the PA in between comedy acts and strippers, there was a huge reaction. Ex pat Aussies would throw beer in the air and high five… everyone else would hiss and boo. In a good natured way of course. And we’d stay quiet… we were there for the atmosphere, and to be revealed as English would have ruined that.

    Anyway, this song plays to me as an Aussie travellers anthem. And I don’t mind that. Six.

  118. 119
    punctum on 11 Nov 2013 #

    TPL tries to be fair to the album, but it’s an uphill struggle, the hill being Ayres Rock: http://nobilliards.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/men-at-work-business-as-usual.html

  119. 120
    Cumbrian on 11 Nov 2013 #

    Wow – my efforts not to spoil TPL for myself have just yielded a genuinely exclaimed WTF? at my computer screen. A Men At Work album got to #1? Blimey.

  120. 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.

  121. 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).

  122. 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.

  123. 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.

  124. 125
    Rory on 17 Nov 2013 #

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

  125. 126
    Patrick Mexico on 18 Nov 2013 #

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

  126. 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.

  127. 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.

  128. 129
    iconoclast on 18 Nov 2013 #

    Anyone want to take over???

  129. 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.

  130. 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.

  131. 132
    James BC on 18 Nov 2013 #

    Harper hasn’t been convicted of anything yet.

  132. 133
    punctum on 18 Nov 2013 #

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

  133. 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).

  134. 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.

  135. 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.

  136. 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.

  137. 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.

  138. 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.

  139. 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.

  140. 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.

  141. 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…”

  142. 143
    tm on 19 Nov 2013 #

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

  143. 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.

  144. 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)

  145. 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.

  146. 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.

  147. 148
    Gareth Parker on 23 May 2021 #

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

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