Men At Work - Down Under (1980)
- 80's score: 2.65
“Down Under” is a song recorded by Australian rock band Men at Work. It was originally released in 1980 as the ...
“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 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 from the later Columbia release. The most well known version was then released on Columbia in 1981 as the third single from their debut album Business as Usual (1981).
The hit song went to number one in their home country of Australia in December 1981, and then topped the New Zealand charts in February 1982. The song topped the Canadian charts in October 1982. 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. Billboard ranked it at No. 4 for 1983.
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. 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.
In January 2018, as part of Triple M’s “Ozzest 100”, the ‘most Australian’ songs of all time, “Down Under” was ranked number 2.
The lyrics to Down Under depict an Australian man travelling the globe, who meets people who are interested in his home country. The story is based in part on singer Colin Hay’s own experiences, including a prominent reference to a Vegemite sandwich (a popular snack in Australia), which derived from an encounter, during Hay’s travels abroad, with a baker who emigrated from Brunswick, Melbourne. Hay has also said that the lyrics were partly inspired by Barry Humphries’ character Barry McKenzie, a comically stereotypical Australian who tours abroad.
Slang and drug terms are featured in the lyrics. They open with the singer travelling in a fried-out Kombi, on a hippie trail, head full of zombie. In Australian slang “fried-out” means overheated, “Kombi” refers to the Volkswagen Type 2 combination van, and having “a head full of zombie” refers to the use of a type of marijuana. “Hippie trail” refers to a subcultural tourist route popular in 1960s and 70s 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.
Speaking to Songfacts about the overall meaning of the lyrics, 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.
The promotional video comically plays out the events of the lyrics, showing Hay and other members of the band riding in a VW 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. The exterior shots for the music video were filmed at the Cronulla sand dunes in Sydney. 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.