On this day in music history: January 15, 1983 - “Down Under” by Men At Work hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 4 weeks (non-consecutive). Written by Colin Hay and Ron Strykert, it is the second consecutive chart topping single for the pop/rock band from Melbourne, Australia. the song is about an Aussie native travelling the world and his encounters with people he meets along the way, with its chorus being a rebuke of greedy Australian land developers plundering the natural beauty of the continent by over development. Issued as the follow up to their US breakthrough hit “Who Can It Be Now?”, it quickly follows its predecessor to the top. Entering the Hot 100 at #79 on November 6, 1982, it climbs to the top of the chart ten weeks later. The single is Men At Work’s biggest hit on a worldwide basis, topping the charts in seven other countries including Australia. “Down Under” is also the subject of a lawsuit in 2009 when Larrikin Music, the copyright owners of the Aussie children’s song “Kookaburra” claim that the band plagiarized part of the song on “Down Under”. In spite of Hay and Strykert claiming in court that no plagiarism was intended, the court rules in favor of Larrikin Music receiving 5% of the publishing royalties for “Down Under” generated from 2002 to the present. “Down Under” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
I’m too young (and, yes, I love being able to say that, for a change) to have discovered Talking Heads when they were nerdy art school graduates mingling with the punk rock savages at CBGB’s.
By the time I started seeing videos from Little Creatures in high rotation on MTV, David Byrne and co. came across as cerebral new ave act (and keep in mind that it didn’t take much to look “cerebral” in ‘80s pop music), pretty much in the same vein as Peter Gabriel in his So era.
In other words, they were well beyond the the point of mastering their art, and busy mastering the art of commerce in art … if you catch my drift.
Anyway, in my historical naivety, I was mightily impressed by the hypnotic grooves, abstract lyrics, and semi-subliminal (or so I thought them) mysteries of “And She Was,” “Road to Nowhere” and especially “The Lady Don’t Mind” – to say nothing of their groundbreaking promo clips.
In fact, these three songs intrigued me enough to left-signal out of my heavy metal-dominated music consumption lane and buy Little Creatures in 1986; but I was only mildly captivated by deeper album cuts like “Creatures of Love” (nice steel guitar), “Stay Up Late,” and the love/hate proposition of “Television man.”
Then and now – plus, I’ve always found Byrne to be a pretty unlikable character, I don’t particularly get the Tom Tom Club, and I consistently bump into Jerry Harrison in music industry circles and he has a disturbingly gigantic head (like physically gigantic).