For this “Things That Bring Back Memories” post, I am going to pick something pertaining to the topic of “Music“. There are so many songs that I can remember from years ago, and since music is a huge part of our family, the memories come streaming back when you hear a certain song.
Do you ever have that tune that comes on the radio, and you can just automatically remember where you were, who you were with and what you were doing? It amazes me, how as I get older, I can’t remember things from last week – but have that certain song come on the radio on a “Flashback” day, and “BOOM”, I am back in the place I was when I heard it. Don’t know if it’s the side effects of my brain surgery, which they said might affect certain memory, but I’m so glad that I can remember some things of the “good old days.”
So to get on with this “Things That Brings Back Memories” blog post for this week, I’m going to pick “Down Under” by Men at Work, which was released in 1980 as the “B” side of a record. The song on the “A” side is one that even I don’t remember. Shows what the people thought would be popular back then, huh? If you don’t know about the song that I’m talking about, here it is:
More Info on “Down Under / Men at Work”:
“Down Under” (also known as “Land 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 than the later Columbia release. The most well known version was then released on Columbia in October 1981 as the third 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. 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 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.
The lyrics are about an Australian man traveling the globe, proud of his nationality, and about his interactions with people he meets on his travels who are interested in his home country.
The lyric “He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich”, from the song’s second verse, has become a well-known phrase.
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, 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. Cultural slang is also used: after the second verse the refrain is “where the beer does flow and men chunder”; “chunder” means vomit.
More Info on the Band:
Men at Work were an Australian rock band, which formed in 1978. Their founding mainstay was Colin Hay on lead vocals; he formed the group with Jerry Speiser on drums and Ron Strykert on lead guitar. They were joined by Greg Ham on flute and keyboards and then John Rees on bass guitar. This line-up achieved national and international success in the early 1980’s. In January 1983, they were the first Australian artists to have a simultaneous No. 1 album and No. 1 single in the United States Billboard charts – Business as Usual (released on 9 November 1981) and “Down Under” (1981), respectively. With the same works, they achieved the same distinction of a simultaneous No. 1 album and No. 1 single on the Australian, New Zealand and United Kingdom charts. Their second album, Cargo (2 May 1983) was also No. 1 in Australia, No. 2 in New Zealand, No. 3 in the US, and No. 8 in the UK. Their third album, Two Hearts (3 April 1985), reached the top 20 in Australia and top 50 in the US.
At the Grammy Awards of 1983 they won the Best New Artist category; while at the ARIA Music Awards of 1994 they were inducted into the related Hall of Fame. Men at Work have sold over 30 million albums worldwide. According to Australian musicologist, Ian McFarlane, “rrespective of the band’s fairytale rise to prominence, their phenomenal success inextricably created worldwide interest in Australia and Australian music… they simply opened the floodgates with little more than a clutch of great songs” The group disbanded in 1986 and reformed in 1996 to disband again by 2002.
In May 2001 “Down Under” was listed at No. 4 on the APRA Top 30 Australian songs and Business as Usual appeared in the book, 100 Best Australian Albums (October 2010). In February 2010 Larrikin Music Publishing won a case against Hay and Strykert, their record label (Sony BMG Music Entertainment) and music publishing company (EMI Songs Australia) arising from the uncredited appropriation of “Kookaburra” for the flute line in “Down Under”. On 19 April 2012 Greg Ham was found dead at his home of an apparent heart attack.
Some Other Interesting Facts:
- In 2009, the music publishing company that owns the rights to the Australian children’s song “Kookaburra” sued the “Down Under” songwriters, claiming the flute riff copied the children’s classic. On February 4, 2010, Justice Jacobson ruled in favour of Larrakin Music who own “Kookaburra’s” publishing rights – the song having been originally penned by music teacher Marion Sinclair in 1932. In his judgment he said that Men At Work had infringed Larrikin’s copyright because “Down Under” reproduced “a substantial part of Kookaburra.”
- The Meaning of “Fried out Kombi” is a broken-down van. The lyrics are often translated as “Combie,” but the correct spelling is Kombi. It came from the VW Kombivan which was very popular in the 1960’s and early 1970’s, especially with surfers and hippies.
- This became an unofficial national anthem when Australia won the America’s Cup in 1983, an event the United States had never lost. The then Prime Minister of Australia, Bob Hawke, was so delighted with Australia’s win, he gave the whole country the day off and announced on the news that any boss who fired an employee for taking the day off “is a bum!”
- The song was ranked number 96 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Songs of the 1980’s in October 2006.
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