Down Under (song)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"Down Under"
7" Australian single
Single by Men at Work
from the album Business as Usual
B-side"Crazy" (AUS/NA)
"Helpless Automaton" (EU)
Released2 November 1981[1]
Lyricist(s)Colin Hay
Producer(s)Peter McIan
Men at Work singles chronology
"Who Can It Be Now?"
"Down Under"
"Be Good Johnny"
Audio sample
Music videos
"Down Under" on YouTube

"Down Under" is a song recorded by Australian rock band Men at Work. It was originally released in 1980 as the B-side to their first local single, "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.[7] The early version of "Down Under" has a slightly different tempo and arrangement from the later Columbia release.[8] The best-known version was then released on Columbia in 1981 as the second single from Men at Work's debut album Business as Usual (1981).

The hit song went to number one in their home country Australia in December 1981, and then topped the New Zealand charts in February 1982. The song topped the Canadian charts in October 1982.[9] 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. Topping the US Billboard chart for four non-consecutive weeks, it eventually sold over two million copies in the US alone. Billboard ranked it at No. 4 for 1983.[10] In the UK, the song topped the charts in January and February 1983: the only Men at Work song to make the UK top 20.[11] The song also went to No. 1 in Denmark, Ireland, Italy and Switzerland, and was a top 10 hit in many other countries.

"Down Under" is perceived as a patriotic song in Australia; it remains popular and is often played at sporting events.[12][13][14] In January 2018, as part of Triple M's "Ozzest 100", the 'most Australian' songs of all time so far, "Down Under" was ranked number 2 behind Cold Chisel's "Khe Sanh".[15]


The lyrics to "Down Under" depict an Australian man travelling the globe, meeting people who are interested in his home country. The story is based in part on singer Colin Hay's own travels abroad, including a prominent reference to a Vegemite sandwich (a popular snack in Australia), which derived from an encounter with a tall baker from Brussels who emigrated from Brunswick, Melbourne.[13] Hay has said the lyric was partly inspired by Barry Humphries' character Barry McKenzie, a comically stereotypical Australian who tours abroad.[16]

Slang and drug terms are featured in the lyric. It opens with the singer "travelling in a fried-out Kombi, on a hippie trail, head full of zombie". In Australian slang, "fried-out" at that time meant that it is in really poor condition and overheating (as in a short circuit rather than drunk/high), "Kombi" is short for "Kombinationskraftwagen" and refers to the Volkswagen Type 2, and "full of zombie" refers to the use of a type of marijuana.[13] "Hippie trail" refers to a subcultural tourist route popular in the 1960s and 1970s which stretched from Western Europe to South-East Asia. The song also contains the refrain "where beer does flow and men chunder". To "chunder" means to vomit.[13]

Speaking to Songfacts about the overall meaning of the lyric, Hay remarked:

The chorus is really about the selling of Australia in many ways, the overdevelopment 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.[16]

The promotional video comically plays out the events of the lyric, showing Hay and other band members riding in a Volkswagen Kombi van, eating muesli with a 'strange lady', eating and drinking in a café, and lying in an opium den. The band are moved along at one point by a man in a shirt and tie who places a 'Sold' sign in the ground. Exterior shots were filmed at the Cronulla sand dunes in Sydney.[17] The band are seen carrying a coffin across the dunes at the end. This, Hay has explained, was a warning to his fellow Australians that their country's identity was dying as a result of overdevelopment and Americanization. Hay has also stated that the same ominous sentiment lies behind the choral line, "Can't you hear that thunder? You'd better run; you'd better take cover".[13]


Billboard called it a "tongue-in-cheek story song that relies on percussion and vocals more than sax."[18]

Cultural significance[edit]

The song is a perennial favourite on Australian radio and television, and topped the charts in the US and UK simultaneously in early 1983.[19] 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.[20] Men at Work played this song in the closing ceremony of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, alongside other Australian artists.[21]

In May 2001, Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) celebrated its 75th anniversary by naming the Best Australian Songs from 1926 to 2001, as decided by a hundred-strong industry panel. "Down Under" was ranked as the fourth song on the list.[22]

The song was ranked number 96 on VH1's "100 Greatest Songs of the 1980s" in October 2006.[23]

"Down Under" was added to the National Film and Sound Archive's Sounds of Australia registry in 2007.[24]

"Down Under" was one of the goal songs for Australia during the 2022 FIFA World Cup.[25]

Copyright lawsuit[edit]

In 2007, on the ABC-TV quiz show Spicks and Specks, the question was posed, "What children's song is contained in the song 'Down Under'?" The answer, "Kookaburra", a song whose rights were owned by Larrikin Music, resulted in phone calls and emails to Larrikin the next day.[26] Larrikin Music subsequently decided to take legal action against Hay and Strykert, the song's writers.

Sections of the flute part of the recording of the song were found to be based on "Kookaburra", written in 1932 by Marion Sinclair. In fact, producer Peter McIan remembered the inclusion of the melody being a "musical joke" by flautist Greg Ham – he can even be seen sitting on a gum tree in the song's music video while playing the riff.[27] Sinclair died in 1988[12] and the rights to "Kookaburra" were deemed to have been transferred to publisher Larrikin Music on 21 March 1990.[28] 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.[29][30] 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.[31]

On 4 February 2010, Jacobson ruled that Larrikin's copyright had been infringed because "Down Under" reproduced "a substantial part of 'Kookaburra'".[32]

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."[33][34][35] 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.[36] On 6 July 2010, Jacobson handed down a decision that Larrikin receive 5% of royalties from 2002.[36][37] In October 2011, the band lost its final court bid when the High Court of Australia refused to hear an appeal.[38]

Until this high-profile case, the standing of "Kookaburra" 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.[39][40]

The revelation of the copyright status of "Kookaburra", and more so the pursuit of royalties from it, has generated a negative response among sections of the Australian public.[41][42][43][44] In response to unsourced speculation of a Welsh connection, 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.[40]

Colin Hay has since suggested that the deaths of his father, Jim, in 2010, and Men at Work flute player Greg Ham, in 2012, were directly linked to the stress of the court case.[45]

Track listing[edit]

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

7": CBS / 43.539 Brazil[edit]

  1. "Down Under" – 3:44
  2. "Who Can It Be Now?" – 3:21

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

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

7": Columbia / 38-03303 USA[edit]

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


Certifications and sales[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[74] Gold 50,000^
Canada (Music Canada)[75] Gold 50,000^
Denmark (IFPI Danmark)[76] Gold 45,000
Germany (BVMI)[77] Gold 250,000
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[78] Gold 30,000
United Kingdom (BPI)[79] 2× Platinum 1,200,000
United States (RIAA)[80] Platinum 1,000,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.
Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

Colin Hay versions[edit]

A new version of the song was produced by Colin Hay, coinciding with the thirtieth anniversary of the original's release.[81] 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 2012.[82]

In the new version, Hay intentionally changed the flute part that caused the copyright lawsuit.[83]

Luude featuring Colin Hay[edit]

"Down Under"
Single by Luude featuring Colin Hay
Released19 November 2021[84]
GenreDrum and bass
LabelSweat It Out
Luude featuring Colin Hay singles chronology
"Wanna Stay"
"Down Under"
"Big City Life"

In 2021, Australian producer Luude (real name Christian Benson, from the Tasmanian tech house dance duo Choomba),[85][86] remixed "Down Under" as a drum and bass track, with Colin Hay re-recording the vocals for the track's release on the Sweat It Out record label.[87][88] In January 2022, the drum and bass version of "Down Under" debuted at number 32 on the Official UK Singles Chart Top 40[89] and at number 48 in Australia.[90] The single climbing into both country's Top 10 a month later.[90][89] In New Zealand, the record climbed to number one on the Official Singles Chart, and by 6 February 2022 had spent four weeks at number one.[91] On 22 January 2022, the Luude version of "Down Under" was ranked at number 65 on the Triple J Hottest 100, 2021.[92]

At the 2022 ARIA Music Awards, the song was nominated for Song of the Year, Best Dance/Electronic Release and Best Video and Luude was nominated for Michael Gudinski Breakthrough Artist.[93]

Weekly charts[edit]

Weekly chart performance for "Down Under" (Luude featuring Colin Hay version)
Chart (2021–2022) Peak
Australia (ARIA)[90] 10
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[84] 4
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[94] 25
Czech Republic (Rádio – Top 100)[95] 43
Czech Republic (Singles Digitál Top 100)[96] 38
Germany (Official German Charts)[97] 9
Global 200 (Billboard)[98] 105
Hungary (Single Top 40)[99] 40
Ireland (IRMA)[100] 13
Lithuania (AGATA)[101] 17
Netherlands (Single Tip)[102] 7
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[91] 1
Poland (Polish Airplay Top 100)[103] 49
Slovakia (Singles Digitál Top 100)[104] 37
Slovakia (Rádio Top 100)[105] 38
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[106] 54
UK Singles (OCC)[107] 5
UK Dance (OCC)[108] 3
UK Indie (OCC)[109] 1
US Hot Dance/Electronic Songs (Billboard)[110] 20

Year-end charts[edit]

2022 year-end chart performance for "Down Under"
Chart (2022) Position
Australia (ARIA)[111] 28
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[112] 17
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[113] 67
Germany (Official German Charts)[114] 46
Lithuania (AGATA)[115] 93
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[116] 4
UK Singles (OCC)[117] 23
US Hot Dance/Electronic Songs (Billboard)[118] 86


Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[119] 2× Platinum 140,000
New Zealand (RMNZ)[120] 2× Platinum 60,000
United Kingdom (BPI)[121] Platinum 600,000

Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

King Stingray version[edit]

"Down Under (Under One Sun)"
Single by King Stingray
Released19 October 2022
LabelCooking Vinyl Australia
King Stingray singles chronology
"Down Under (Under One Sun)"
"Lookin' Out"

Australian rock group King Stingray released a version on 19 October 2022[122] and featured on the soundtrack of the Tourism Australia short film, Come and Say G'day. "Down Under" is the band’s first release since their self-titled debut album, which was released in August 2022.[123]

For their iteration, King Stingray had discussions with Colin Hay and recorded their version in a combination of English and their local Indigenous language, Yolŋu Matha, and comes with the subtitle "Under One Sun".[124]

King Stingray performed the song with Colin Hay at the APRA Music Awards of 2023.[125]

See also[edit]


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