Why I hate ‘Down Under’ by Men At Work

This evening’s musings, suggested by Judith: Why I hate Men At Work’s Down Under so very very much. Let’s start with a reproduction of the lyrics, copyright whoever first wrote them (disclaimer: they ripped off the tune, so I’m leaving nothing to chance….)

Traveling in a fried-out combie
On a hippie trail, head full of zombie
I met a strange lady, she made me nervous
She took me in and gave me breakfast
And she said,

“Do you come from a land down under?
Where women glow and men plunder?
Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover.”

Buying bread from a man in Brussels
He was six-foot-four and full of muscles
I said, “Do you speak-a my language?”
He just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich
And he said,

“I come from a land down under
Where beer does flow and men chunder
Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover.”

Lyin’ in a den in Bombay
With a slack jaw, and not much to say
I said to the man, “Are you trying to tempt me
Because I come from the land of plenty?”
And he said,

“Do you come from a land down under?
Where women glow and men plunder?
Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover.”
Yeah!

Living in a land down under
Where women glow and men plunder
Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover!

Living in a land down under
Where women glow and men plunder
Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover!

There you have it. I’ll allow you a moment to pause and regain your strength, before I expound my theories on the pitiful words you’ve just read…. right, that’s all done.  So OK – here’s the plot. Let’s start with verse 1:

The male lead is…. somewhere unspecified, but he’s driving down a road in a clapped out VW Type 2 van, and he’s out of his skull on skunk (which would explain why he has forgotten which country he’s in, I guess). Suddenly, some weird woman appears, and rather than report him for driving under the influence, or running, she offers him a fry-up. Then she starts on about sweaty girls and criminals, so you KNOW she’s talking about Australia. She finishes off with a quick weather report before telling him, a little too politely, to bugger off….

So verse 2, and our hero pops over to Belgium, and (like true non-stereotypical Aussie blokes) buys bread. Not beer, which would be easier, more readily available, and in character, but bread. And from a baker built like Dolph Lundgren in Rocky 4. Personally, I’ve always believed that Brussels would offer a different kind of muscles, but possibly his experience with the weird female fry-cook has influenced him strangely….. Anyway, this big butch baker turns out to be a more typical Aussie bloke, interested mainly in lager and vomiting. But still interested in the weather forecast, for some reason….

Finally, in verse 3, we end up in India. Actually in Mumbai – which would cause them problems with rhyming the next line these days – in some kind of den (probably something like The Snug from Corrie’s Rovers Return). With something called a Slack Jaw. Urban Dictionary describes a ‘slack jaw’ as an extremely ignorant, possibly inbred, person usually of rural heritage. So strange women, burly breadmakers, and redneck idiots. These days, we’d probably just say “Big Brother” and leave it at that…. Anyway, someone tries to tempt our man (presumably with half a pint of Mild and a pickled egg) only to be reminded that there is lots of beer and some impressively large eggs back home. Then we hear again about the sweaty girls, the criminals, the weather, etc. etc.

OK – here’s the tune.

Think ‘Kookaburra Sits In The Old Gum Tree’. That’s the tune. Apparently, when the song was written (or shortly after at a rehearsal, when they were all high as… well, as Kookaburras) they just started playing this tune. And in the THIRTY YEARS that follows, nobody in the band thought to say “that’s not the tune we wrote, that’s that other song”. It’s a bit like Status Quo suddenly stopping and realising that they’ve been singing the words to Rocking All Over The World, but the tune to Captain Pugwash. Cue repayment of much wrongly-earned royalties.

But I want to gloss over these points. Yes the lyrics are dire, and the tune was plagiarised. But that’s not the main point. The main point is that it’s a dire, dreary dirge of a song, with meaningless, pointless, soul-less lyrics, which was clearly released to cash in on the UK’s inexplicable mid-80s mania for all things Aussie brought on by Neighbours, Crocodile Dundee, and the Ernest movies.  If you’re unfamiliar with Ernest, think of a cross between Joe Pasquale and Albert Steptoe, then remove all the intellect and machismo.

This song reminds me of all that was bad about the decade I love. It’s a flickering neon sign highlighting that the 1980s wasn’t an unqualified success story style-wise. And it remains the only song I’ve ever interrupted by lifting the record from the turntable and snapping it in half. A thing I’d gladly do again, if asked.

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2 thoughts on “Why I hate ‘Down Under’ by Men At Work

  1. DavidC says:

    Blimey, how do you find the time to do all that?

    Just a quick correction concerning ‘Down Under’: if the whole song had been a total rip-off of ‘Kookaburra Sits on an Old Gum (not Oak, if I remember my ‘Singing Together’ sessions back in 1968 correctly) Tree” if would have a lot better. I think it was just the flute, er, ‘solo’, part of which filched the eponymous line. But dire, it most certainly was.

    {Edit : I’ll allow the lyric correction, but the riff is so prevalent, I’d argue that the majority of the song (and their subsequent ‘success’ is due to copying a more famous tune. Maybe we should do that??}
    OK, here’s one for you: is your average concert orchestra just a covers band with a large salary bill?

    DC

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