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Men At Work – Down Under

Posted by Big Boo on February 28th, 2011

Men At Work Down UnderDepending on where in the world you live, there are some bands who appear to you to be one hit wonders, whilst in reality they may well have been very successful in their homeland. Dexys Midnight Runners are a good example of band that will be well remembered in the UK, but abroad may only have had a single hit.

Here in the UK, Men At Work are the opposite to Dexys. An Australian band who were pretty successful there, in Blighty they are really only remembered for one song, and that was Down Under (sometimes known as A Land Down Under, thanks to the chorus lyrics).

Down Under was originally recorded in 1981, but when it was reissued the following year it took the world by storm, hitting the number one spot in Australia, the UK and Ireland, the US, and a few more countries besides. I guess it was seen as a bit of a novelty record thanks to the funny lyrics and the catchy tune (but more on that in a bit) and that’s why it did so well.

The song tells the story of an Australian traveller touring the world, who meets various people on the way who befriend him because of his nationality. For a country brought up on Marmite it also introduced the UK to Vegemite, the Australian equivalent of the love-it-or-hate-it foodstuff. I’m sure it must have been because of Down Under that us Brits were even able to buy Vegemite in supermarkets for a while (not sure if you still can, but I don’t think so). For more on this food by product see the rather amusing Vegemite entry in the BBC’s h2g2 (An online attempt at creating a real Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, in a similar manner to Wikipedia).

I mentioned earlier the catchy tune, and it is this that has got the band into trouble. It was alleged that the flute solo is in fact the music from the song Kookaburra, a Girl Guides’ song written in 1935 by Marion Sinclair. In 1988 Sinclair died, and the copyright to the song ended up in the hands of publisher Larrikin Music in 1990. Jump forward to 2009 and Larrikin decide to sue Men At Work for ripping off Kookaburra, and get this, they managed to win their case at Men At Work were ordered to pay 5% of their royalties from the song since 2002!

The above case has actually angered many Australians, not just because of how unfair it is to sue someone for something done nearly 30 years ago, but also because until that point Kookaburra had been seen as part of Australia’s heritage and was considered part of the public domain.

Still, it’s a great song, and really takes me back to my childhood. Have a listen and watch the video below…

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