Down Under (song)

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"Down Under"

7" Australian single
Single by Men at Work
from the album Business as Usual
Released October 1981
Format 7"
Recorded 1981
Genre New wave
Length 3:42
Label Columbia
Writer(s) Colin Hay, Ron Strykert
Producer(s) Peter McIan
Men at Work singles chronology
"Who Can It Be Now?"
"Down Under"
"Be Good Johnny"
Audio sample
file info · help

"Down Under" (also known as "Land Down Under") is a Platinum-certified single recorded by Australian new wave rock group Men at Work. In 1980, it was originally released as the B side to their first local single titled "Keypunch Operator", released before the band signed with Columbia Records. Both early songs were written by the group's co-founders, Colin Hay and Ron Strykert. The early version of "Down Under" has a slightly different tempo and arrangement than the later Columbia release.[1] The most well known version was then released on Columbia in October 1981 as the second single from their debut album Business as Usual (1981).

The song went to number one in their home country of Australia in December 1981, and then topped the New Zealand charts in February 1982. Released in North America in mid-1982, the song topped the Canadian charts in October. In the United States, the song debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 on 6 November 1982 at No. 79, and reached No. 1 in January 1983 where it spent four non-consecutive weeks. It eventually sold over two million copies in the US alone.

In the UK, the song topped the charts in January and February 1983, and is the only Men at Work song to make the UK top 20.[2] The song also went No. 1 in Ireland, Denmark and Switzerland, and was a top 10 hit in many other territories. It has become a popular and patriotic song in Australia.[3]

Background and writing[edit]

Colin Hay told Songfacts: "The chorus is really about the selling of Australia in many ways, the over-development of the country. It was a song about the loss of spirit in that country. It's really about the plundering of the country by greedy people. It is ultimately about celebrating the country, but not in a nationalistic way and not in a flag-waving sense. It's really more than that."[4]

Colin Hay has also said that the lyrics for "Down Under" were inspired by the Barry McKenzie character.[5]


The lyrics are about an Australian traveller circling the globe, proud of his nationality, and about his interactions with people he meets on his travels who are interested in his home country.

One of the verses refers to Vegemite sandwiches, among other things; the particular lyric "He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich" has become a well-known phrase.[6]

Slang and drug terms are used in the lyrics:

Travelling in a fried-out Kombi, on a hippie trail, head full of zombie.

In Australian slang "fried-out" means overheated,[7] Kombi refers to the Volkswagen Type 2 combination van,[6][7] and having "a head full of zombie" refers to the use of a type of marijuana.[6][7] Cultural slang is also used: after the second verse the refrain is "where the beer does flow and men chunder"; "chunder" means vomit.[6]

Cultural significance[edit]

The flute part in the song was based around the tune of "Kookaburra", a well-known Australian children's rhyme.[8] (See Copyright lawsuit below for more details.)

The exterior shots for the music video were filmed at the Cronulla Sand Dunes outside of Sydney.[9]

The song is a perennial favourite on Australian radio and television, and topped the charts in the U.S. and UK simultaneously in early 1983.[10] It was later used as a theme song by the crew of Australia II in their successful bid to win the America's Cup in 1983,[11] and a remixed version appears during the closing credits of Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles. Men at Work played this song in the closing ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics, alongside other Australian artists.[8] The song also became the unofficial theme of the Australian team at the Sydney Olympics, with the usually pro-Australian crowd singing along if an Aussie had won a gold medal.

In May 2001, Australasian Performing Rights Association (APRA) celebrated its 75th anniversary by naming the Best Australian Songs between 1926 and 2001, as decided by a 100 strong industry panel, "Down Under" was ranked as the fourth song on the list.[12]

The song was ranked number 96 on VH1's 100 Greatest Songs of the 1980s in October 2006.[13]

Simon Whitlock, an Australian professional darts player who plays in Professional Darts Corporation, uses the song as his walk-on music.[14]

Cover versions[edit]

  • During the 1980s Yossi and Avi Piamenta recorded traditional Jewish wedding lyrics to the tune of the song. The name of this song is Asher Bara Sasson ve'Simcha. It is often played at Orthodox Jewish weddings and celebrations. Whilst the composition remains unaffected none of the lyrics relate to the original song.[15]
  • In 1983, Hong Kong pop singer Alan Tam made a cover of the song, which was included in his album "Late-coming Spring". The Cantonese version is called "一於少理" ("Just Don't Care" in English).[16]
  • In 1985, Lithuanian rock band Antis made a cover of the song, which became one of their most well known hits. It was called "Zombiai" (Lithuanian for zombies). Antis' version has original lyrics which represented ironic attitude towards Soviet regime (Lithuania was part of Soviet Union at the time), however some parts remain very similar. The chorus from Antis' lyrics "Gyvenk kaip galima švariau, Pikti kenkėjai budi tundroj. Paklausyk, paklausyk ar girdi – Zombiai atrieda, atidunda." which means "Live as clean as possible, Angry pests are on the watch in tundra, Listen, listen, do you hear – Zombies roll in and thunder".[17]
  • A Finnish cover version titled "Tervetuloa Länteen, Andrej" (Welcome to west, Andrej) of the song was released by Vilperin Perikunta in 1992. The original story of the song was changed to tell a tale of Andrej, a Russian proletarian who travels to Finland to search for a job and better life in a welfare state. In the chorus Finland is described as "road to the top of heaven" and "road to freedom" for a Russian. In this cover version the flute parts were played with violin and a banjo lick was added to the background.[18]

In 2001, a performance of the song by the Red Army Choir was released on the CD Andrew Denton's Musical Challenge. The song was performed in the manner of a Russian folk song and featured clapping, and accordion.[19]

Copyright lawsuit[edit]

In 2008 on the ABC-TV quiz show Spicks and Specks the question was posed "What children's song is contained in the song Down Under?" resulting in phone calls and emails to Larrikin Music the next day.[20] Larrikin Music subsequently decided to take legal action against the songs writers Colin Hay and Ron Strykert.

Sections of the flute part of the recording of the song were found to be based on the children's song "Kookaburra", written in 1932 by Marion Sinclair. Sinclair died in 1988[3] and the rights to the Kookaburra song were deemed to have been transferred to publisher Larrikin Music on 21 March 1990.[21] In the United States, the rights are administered by Music Sales Corporation in New York City.

In June 2009, 28 years after the release of the recording, Larrikin Music sued Men At Work for copyright infringement, alleging that part of the flute riff of "Down Under" was copied from "Kookaburra". The counsel for the band's record label and publishing company (Sony BMG Music Entertainment and EMI Songs Australia) claimed that, based on the agreement under which the song was written, the copyright was actually held by the Girl Guides Association.[22][23] On 30 July, Justice Peter Jacobson of the Federal Court of Australia made a preliminary ruling that Larrikin did own copyright on the song, but the issue of whether or not Hay and Strykert had plagiarised the riff was set aside to be determined at a later date.[24]

On 4 February 2010, Justice Jacobson ruled that Larrikin's copyright had been infringed because "Down Under" reproduced "a substantial part of Kookaburra".[25]

When asked how much Larrikin would be seeking in damages, Larrikin's lawyer Adam Simpson replied: "anything from what we've claimed, which is between 40 and 60 per cent, and what they suggest, which is considerably less."[26][27][28] In court, Larrikin's principal Norman Lurie gave the opinion that, had the parties negotiated a licence at the outset as willing parties, the royalties would have been between 25 and 50 per cent.[29] On 6 July 2010, Justice Jacobson handed down a decision that Larrikin receive 5% of royalties from 2002.[29][30] In October 2011 the band lost its final court bid when the High Court of Australia refused to hear an appeal.[31]

Until this high-profile case, "Kookaburra"'s standing as a traditional song combined with the lack of visible policing of the song's rights by its composer had led to the general public perception that the song was within the public domain.[32][33]

The revelation of "Kookaburra"'s copyright status, and more-so the pursuit of royalties from it, has generated a negative response among sections of the Australian public.[34][35][36][37] In response to unsourced speculation of a Welsh connection, Dr Rhidian Griffiths pointed out that the Welsh words to the tune were published in 1989 and musicologist Phyllis Kinney stated neither the song's metre nor its lines were typical Welsh.[33]

Since the verdict, Colin Hay has continued to insist that any plagiarism was wholly unintentional. He says that when the song was originally written in 1978, it did not have the musical passage in question, and that it was not until two years later, during a jam rehearsal session, that flautist Greg Ham improvised the riff, perhaps subconsciously recalling "Kookaburra". Hay has also added that Ham and the other members of the band were under the influence of marijuana during that particular rehearsal. Greg Ham was found dead in Melbourne on 19 April 2012. In the months before his death, Ham had been despondent over the verdict, and convinced that "the only thing people will remember me for" would be the plagiarism conviction.

2012 re-release[edit]

A new version of the song was produced by Colin Hay, coinciding with the thirtieth anniversary of the original's release.[38] Requested by Telstra for use in an Australian advertising campaign during the 2012 Summer Olympics period, the song was available through iTunes on 31 July.[39]

In the new version, Hay intentionally changed the flute part that caused the copyright lawsuit.[40]


7": CBS / BA 222891 Australia[edit]

  1. "Down Under" – 3:44
  2. "Crazy" – 2:34

7": CBS / A 2066 Europe[edit]

  1. "Down Under" – 3:44
  2. "Helpless Automaton" – 3:23

12": CBS / BA 12229 Australia / promo-release 1986[edit]

  1. "Down Under (Extended mix)" – 5:30
  2. "Sail to you (Extended mix)" – 5:48

Chart positions[edit]

Chart (1981–1983) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[41] 1
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[42] 6
Canadian RPM Top Singles[43] 1
Denmark (Tracklisten) 1
Finland (Suomen virallinen lista)[44] 4
France (SNEP)[45] 4
Germany (Media Control AG)[46] 9
Ireland (Irish Singles Chart)[47] 1
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[48] 2
Netherlands (Mega Single Top 100)[49] 2
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[50] 1
Norway (VG-lista)[51] 2
Poland (Polish Singles Chart)[45] 1
South African Chart[52] 2
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[53] 6
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[54] 1
UK (Official Charts Company)[2] 1
U.S. Billboard Hot 100[55] 1
U.S. Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary[55] 13
U.S. Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks[55] 1

Year-end charts[edit]

Charts (1983) Position
US Billboard Hot 100 4


  1. ^ Australia Encyclopedia Archive accessed 14-Dec-2013 at the Wayback Machine (archived May 13, 2003)
  2. ^ a b Men at Work UK chart history, The Official Charts Company. Retrieved 9 February 2012.
  3. ^ a b "'80s hit Down Under copies kids' song: court". CBC News. Associated Press. 4 February 2010. "Larrikin Music owns the copyright" 
  4. ^ "Down Under". Retrieved 11 February 2010. 
  5. ^ Down Under song information Songfacts; Retrieved 27 January 2009
  6. ^ a b c d Pop, Classic (1 September 2009). "Down Under-covered". BBC News magazine (BBC). Retrieved 7 July 2010. "Kombi ... Kombinationskraftwagen – aka the trusty old VW camper van ... zombie ... potent strain of marijuana (on occasion laced with angel dust) The use of "slack jawed, and not much to say" "lying in a den in Bombay" depict the traveller "on the nod". Being "on the nod" is a common after effect of the use of heroine or as in this case smoking opium. The video clip even shows the actual "nod" occurring briefly." 
  7. ^ a b c "SongMeanings / Lyrics / Men At Work – Down Under". Retrieved 9 July 2010. "A Volkswagen Kombi is a minivan. It's fried-out because of the heat and it's probably overheating. Head full of zombie refers to him being wasted on a head full of pot." 
  8. ^ a b "Men At Work lose plagiarism case". BBC News. 4 February 2010. Retrieved 7 July 2010. 
  9. ^ "Men at Work's Colin Hay on Friday Night Videos intro for Down Under". 
  10. ^ "Artist Biography – Men at Work". Billboard. 2007. Retrieved 7 July 2010. "second American number one early in 1983 and it became the band's first British hit single; the song reached number one in both countries simultaneously." 
  11. ^ Shears, Richard (5 February 2010). "Men At Work face £33m bill after judge rules Australian band copied Down Under melody". Daily Mail (London). Retrieved 24 January 2011. 
  12. ^ "The final list: APRA'S Ten best Australian Songs". APRA. 28 May 2001. Retrieved 26 August 2008. 
  13. ^ "Ep. 167 "100 Greatest Songs of the 80s (Hour 1)". VH1. Retrieved 24 January 2011. 
  14. ^ "Simon Whitlock". Sky Sports. Retrieved 19 November 2013. 
  15. ^ "CD Review – Yihiyu Leratzon by Piamenta". 
  16. ^ "YouTube: 谭咏麟 – 一於少理". 
  17. ^ "YouTube: Antis – Zombiai". 
  18. ^ "YouTube: Vilperin Perikunta – Tervetuloa Länteen". 
  19. ^ "Various – The Andrew Denton Breakfast Show Musical Challenge". 
  20. ^ "Down Under and Kookaburra in copyright battle". The Sunday Telegraph. 12 October 2008. Retrieved 12 October 2012. 
  21. ^ JACOBSON, J (7 September 2009). Larrikin Music Publishing Pty Ltd v EMI Songs Australia Pty Limited [2009] FCA 799 (30 July 2009). Sydney: Federal Court of Australia. "170. ... with effect from 21 Match 1990 ... Yes" 
  22. ^ Davies, Lisa (25 June 2009). "Claims Men At Work hit Down Under is a rip-off of Kookaburra song". Retrieved 7 July 2010. "claiming Larrikin doesn't actually have copyright to Kookaburra – the Girl Guides do." 
  23. ^ "Girls may have guided Men at Work's song Down Under". The Australian. 25 June 2009. [dead link]
  24. ^ "Men At Work face plagiarism case". BBC News. 30 July 2009. 
  25. ^ "Larrikin Music Publishing Pty Ltd v EMI Songs Australia Pty Limited [2010] FCA 29 (4 February 2010)". Retrieved 27 April 2010. 
  26. ^ Dingle, Sarah (4 February 2010). "Australian court rules 'Down Under' riff plundered". Australia News Network. 
  27. ^ Dingle, Sarah (4 February 2010). "Men at Work plundered Kookaburra riff: court". ABC News. 
  28. ^ Arlington, Kim (5 February 2010). "Infringement Down Under". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 7 July 2010. "Larrikin is entitled to recover damages" 
  29. ^ a b "Larrikin Music Publishing Pty Ltd v EMI Songs Australia Pty Limited (No 2) [2010] FCA 698 (6 July 2010)". Australasian Legal Information Institute. 6 July 2010. para. 45. Retrieved 9 July 2010. "File number(s): NSD 145 of 2008 ... 45. Mr Lurie expressed the opinion that having regard to his experience in conducting license negotiations in the industry, and taking into account percentages that were agreed in other instances of sampling, a fair remuneration for the license to use the copyright in Kookaburra for the purpose of writing and exploiting Down Under negotiated on an arm’s length basis between willing parties would have been a royalty in the order of between 25% and 50% of the total income of Down Under. ... 222. The 5% figure is the total percentage payable to Larrikin of the APRA/AMCOS income." 
  30. ^ Gibson, Joel (6 July 2010). "Kookaburra sits on a small fortune: ruling on Down Under royalties". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 7 July 2010. "to pay Larrikin 5 per cent of royalties from the song dating back to 2002 and on royalties from future earnings" 
  31. ^ Associated Press in Sydney (7 October 2011). "Men at Work lose appeal over Kookaburra riff". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 9 October 2011. 
  32. ^ Ham, Larissa; Arlington, Kim (5 February 2010). "Kookaburra case: publisher hits back at Colin Hay's "greed" claim – Music". The Age (Melbourne). Retrieved 27 April 2010. 
  33. ^ a b "Origins: Kookaburra – possible copyright info". Retrieved 27 April 2010. 
  34. ^ "Men at Work steal children's song... – Artists – Music". Retrieved 27 April 2010. 
  35. ^ "Kookaburra vs Down Under?". 30 July 2009. Retrieved 27 April 2010. "From: Paul Burke ... illustrates the stupidity and tragedy of copyright. ... From: bodgie ... down to two rather stubborn music industry companies ... only ones making money out of this fight are the lawyers. Damn them all. Warren Fahey" 
  36. ^ "Lawyers sue, men plunder – Music – Entertainment". Sydney Morning Herald. 2 November 2009. Retrieved 27 April 2010. "For some, Larrikin's suit will be seen as a brazen and opportunistic attempt" 
  37. ^ Ulaby, Neda (1 December 2009). "A Kookaburra Causes Trouble 'Down Under'". NPR. Retrieved 27 April 2010. "number of Australians, including Westwood, found this a bit much." 
  38. ^ Giles Hardie (27 July 2012). "Down Under loses its infringing flute". Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 27 July 2012. 
  39. ^ "Colin Hay to Celebrate 'Down Under' 30th Anniversary with Global Re-Release". Colin Hay. 24 July 2012. Retrieved 27 July 2012. 
  40. ^ "Colin Hay and Down Under 2012". Retrieved 27 July 2012. 
  41. ^ "Australian n°1 Hits - 80's". Retrieved 9 June 2013. 
  42. ^ " – Men At Work – Down Under" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50.
  43. ^ "Down under in Canadian Singles Chart". Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 1 June 2013. 
  44. ^ Nyman, Jake (2005). Suomi soi 4: Suuri suomalainen listakirja (in Finnish) (1st ed.). Helsinki: Tammi. ISBN 951-31-2503-3. 
  45. ^ a b Steve Hawtin et al. "Song title 988 - Down Under". Retrieved 25 June 2013. 
  46. ^ "Men At Work - Down Under". Media Control.
  47. ^ "Down under in Irish Chart". IRMA. Retrieved 1 June 2013.  Only one result when searching "Down under"
  48. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – Men At Work search results" (in Dutch) Dutch Top 40.
  49. ^ " – Men At Work – Down Under" (in Dutch). Mega Single Top 100.
  50. ^ " – Men At Work – Down Under". Top 40 Singles.
  51. ^ " – Men At Work – Down Under". VG-lista.
  52. ^ John Samson. "Down under in South African Chart". Retrieved 1 June 2013. 
  53. ^ " – Men At Work – Down Under". Singles Top 60.
  54. ^ "Men At Work – Down Under –". Swiss Singles Chart.
  55. ^ a b c "Business as Usual awards on Allmusic". Allmusic. Retrieved 1 June 2013. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"Physical" by Olivia Newton-John
Australian Kent Music Report number-one single
21 December 1981 – 24 January 1982
Succeeded by
"Trouble" by Lindsay Buckingham
Preceded by
"Whakaaria Mai (How Great Thou Art)" by Howard Morrison
New Zealand Singles Chart number one
19 February 1982 – 26 February 1982
Succeeded by
"Whakaaria Mai (How Great Thou Art)" by Howard Morrison
Preceded by
"Da da da ich lieb dich nicht du liebst mich nicht" by Trio
Swiss Music Chart number-one single
18 July 1982 – 14 August 1982
Succeeded by
"Abracadabra" by Steve Miller Band
Preceded by
"New World Man" by Rush
Canadian "RPM" Singles Chart number-one single
23 October 1982 – 6 November 1982
Succeeded by
"The Look of Love" by ABC
Preceded by
"Shock the Monkey" by Peter Gabriel
"You Got Lucky" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Billboard Mainstream Rock number-one single
27 November 1982 – 10 December 1982
25 December 1982 – 14 January 1983
Succeeded by
"You Got Lucky" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
"You Got Lucky" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Preceded by
"Maneater" by Daryl Hall and John Oates
"Africa" by Toto
Billboard Hot 100 number-one single
15 January 1983 – 29 January 1983
12 February 1983
Succeeded by
"Africa" by Toto
"Baby, Come to Me" by Patti Austin and James Ingram
Preceded by
"You Can't Hurry Love" by Phil Collins
UK number-one single
29 January 1983 – 12 February 1983
Succeeded by
"Too Shy" by Kajagoogoo
Irish Singles Chart number-one single
29 January 1983 – 19 February 1983