Saturday, January 15, 1983

Men at Work hit #1 on the Hot 100 with “Down Under”

First posted 10/20/2020; updated 3/16/2021.

Down Under

Men at Work

Writer(s): Colin Hay, Ron Strykert (see lyrics here)


Released: October 23, 1981


Peak: 14 US, 15 CB, 15 RR, 13 AC, 15 AR, 1 CO, 13 UK, 13 CN, 16 AU (Click for codes to singles charts.)


Sales (in millions): 2.0 US, 0.6 UK, 2.6 world (includes US + UK)


Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 2.0 radio, 223.0 video, -- streaming

Awards: (Click on award for more details).

About the Song:

The first version of this Australian classic was released in 1980 as the B-side to “Keypunch Operator.” After Men at Work signed with Columbia Records, they re-recorded “Down Under” with a different arrangement and tempo. It was released in Australia in late ’81 and reached the top of the charts. It would be another year before it charted in the U.S. After “Who Can It Be Now?” hit #1 in America, “Down Under” was released as the follow-up and hit the Billboard Hot 100 on November 6, 1982. It topped the charts in January 1983 and helped propel the album to the top of the U.S. charts for 15 weeks. The song also reached the pinnacle in the UK, Denmark, Ireland, Italy, and Switzerland. WK

The song’s lyrics focus on a man who travels the world meeting people curious about his home country of Australia. Colin Hay was inspired by his own experiences as well as Australian entertainer Barry Humphries, who created a “larger-than-life character” SF who “was a beer-swilling Australian who traveled to England.” SF References include Vegemite sandwich (a popular Australian snack), a “fried-out Kombi” (an overheated Volkswagen), and “head full of zombie” (marijuana use), and “chunder” (Aussie slang for vomit). The song and its quirky video were practically a parody, but Hay said “it is ultimately about celebrating the country, but not in a nationalistic way and not in a flag-waving sense.” SF

Hay explained that Ron Strykert created the bass riff with percussion played on bottles filled with varying degrees of water, which would produce different notes. He said “it had a real trance-like quality to it. I used to listen to it in the car all the time. When I was driving along one day..the chords popped out and a couple of days later I wrote the verses.” SF

The band were sued in 2009 for copyright infringement. Larrikin Music claimed the flute solo in the song was based on the 1932 song “Kookaburra” written by Marion Sinclair. In 2010, it was ruled that Larrikin would receive 5% of royalties from 2002, WK which ended up being about $100,000. However, legal fees added up to about $4.5 million. SF


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