Colin Hay of Men At Work has released a newly recorded version of Australian classic, ‘Down Under’ in time to celebrate the London 2012 Olympics.
According to The Age the reworked version of the song is being released to coincide with the opening of the Olympics, and to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the song’s release, and subsequent success, as a worldwide single.
The forthcoming Down Under 2012 EP will be released exclusively on iTunes and will include three new versions of the song that essentially rework the controversial flute riff that supposedly plagiarised the old campfire tune, ‘Kookaburra Sitting In The Old Gum Tree’.
The new version of the song still contains a distinctive flute part, but it has been significantly altered from the original single, taken from 1982’s Business As Usual that went one to become a worldwide hit for the group, reaching #1 in the US, the UK and here in Australia.
Speaking to The Age about the new version of ‘Down Under’, band frontman Colin Hay believed that the reworked recording will “highlight the power and strength of the song, [which] lies in its original words and music. It speaks for itself.”
The new version of the song was recorded after Telstra approached Hay about using the hit in a commercial campaign to be aired during the period for the Olympics. “I was happy to help,” says Hay, “…and along with my friend Dorian West, created a suitable version of the song, featuring footballers, pubgoers, sailors on the Thames, school kids in Sydney, and, well you get the idea,” says the singer.
The re-release of the song also acts as a reminder of the terrible controversy and tragic ending that surrounded the original lawsuit about the 1982 original.
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The distinctive flute part, played by Men At Work’s Greg Ham, was deemed by a Federal Court judge in 2009 to be a copy of “Kookaburra…’ and ordered the band pay 5% of the song’s royalties to Larrakin Music, the publishers of the classic children’s song; after the publisher discovered similarities between the two after they were the subject of a joke on a 2007 episode of the ABC music quiz program Spicks and Specks.
Speaking about the timing of the release of the song, Hay is far more sombre: “People kept mentioning to me, that it’s the 30-year anniversary of the release of Business As Usual, and ‘Down Under’ as a single around the world. I didn’t much feel like celebrating, because when I ponder 30 years ago, Greg [Ham]was alive and well, more than well, was thriving.”
Ham, a co-founder of Men At Work who met Hay at high school and co-wrote the song, was found dead in his home in April earlier this year. The 58-year-old’s body was discovered by friends at his home-come-studio in Melbourne’s north, a modest house Ham moved into after he was was forced to sell his larger property bought at the height of Men At Work’s success.
His death brought a close to a sad chapter in Ham’s life, which spiralled out of control following the Larrikan Music lawsuit. Shortly after the judge ruled that the iconic Australian band had plagiarised the distinctive flute from their hit song ‘Down Under’, Ham separated from his wife and according to friends turned to heroin and alcohol.
“At the end of the day, I’ll end up selling my house,” Ham told The Age at the time, lamenting at the time that the royalties he had been living off would soon be ceasing as a result of the lawsuit.“We’ll face massive legal costs… I’ll never see another cent out of [Down Under] again.”
Ham also told press that he was ‘haunted’ by the controversy surrounding the song and its plagiarism charges, “it will be the way the song is remembered, and I hate that… I’m terribly disappointed that it’s the way I’m going to be remembered – for copying something,” says Ham.
Remembering his departed friend on the release of the reworked ‘Down Under’, Hay reflects on Ham’s life, “if I were to celebrate with anyone, it would have been with him, and he has gone. I wish he was still here.”
Hay also found a celebratory tone to the impending recording of the Australian classic, “I am also proud of Greg Ham, he was my friend, and in the end, that’s all that really matters,” adding that “the song is ultimately about celebration, what you feel inside, what has a ring of truth to it. I am proud to have co-written this song, happy that people still like singing along to it, and that they will continue to, long after I’m gone.”