Ah, music as education.
Show of hands… how many of y’all “Children of the 80s” knew that “Down Under” was a nickname for Australia before you heard the song? And had you ever heard of Vegemite?
…and, no we still have no idea what a Combie is.
Men at Work’s catchy “Down Under” tells the tale of a young man caravan-ing (yes, in a Combie) across the world, spreading the gospel of Australia: “I said to the man, are you trying to tempt me / because I come from the land of plenty.”
And if the song was good, the video was even better. Perfectly 80s, it featured some of the most head-scratching visuals ever put on MTV (to that point, at least): Greg Ham up in a tree playing a flute while a stuffed-koala-on-a-rope dangles above his head, Colin Hay getting his palm read while he eats cereal on the beach, and then there’s the video’s ending– a single, 45-second shot of the band (dressed in white) leading a group of men (dressed in black) as they lug a steamer trunk across the outback. Odd.
No, it’s not the most conventional video (or song topic, for that matter), but it worked. “Down Under” was huge (or ‘uge if you’re from Australia) in 1982, reaching #1 in January 1983. It also helped push Men at Work’s debut album Business as Usual to #1, where it stayed for three months before being knocked off by a little something called Thriller.
But all is not right in Men at Work land. In February 2010, a judge ruled that the flute solo in “Down Under” was ripped off from a children’s song owned by an Australian publishing house. Now the lads are facing the prospect of having to shell out millions of bucks in royalties… all because of a 1930s tune called “Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree.”
Somehow that just doesn’t seem right (or raight if you’re from Australia). Call us crazy, but something so awesomely 80s as “Down Under” should just get an automatic exemption.
We ♥ Down Under.