Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Men at Work Sued Over 'Down Under,' Grammys Change Best New Artist Criteria

Posted By on Wed, Jul 7, 2010 at 4:52 PM

Some hot music-business news from The Land Down Under: Larrikin Music, the Australian publishing company that holds the rights to the old campfire favorite “Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree,” just successfully won five percent of Men at Work’s royalties for the song “Down Under.” Larrikin alleges that the flute part in Men at Work’s international hit and de facto Australian pop anthem too closely mimics “Kookaburra,” which was written by a now-deceased schoolteacher over 70 years ago. From WKRN:

On Tuesday, Jacobson ordered Men at Work's recording company, EMI Songs Australia, and "Down Under" songwriters Colin Hay and Ron Strykert, to pay 5 percent of royalties earned from the song since 2002 and from its future earnings. A statute of limitations restricted Larrikin from seeking royalties earned before 2002. The court didn't specify what the 5 percent penalty translates to in dollars.

Larrikin initially sought 60 percent of royalties, but the judge seemed to agree with EMI’s claim that that was a bit steep. EMI is, of course, filing an appeal. Here’s a video posted by an indignant “Kookaburra” supporter singing the original melody over Men at Work’s instrumentation. Mildly funnier is this unnecessarily censored version of Barney and friends singing the Australian jam. Now, follow me as I make a nuanced segue from one international music news story to another, won’t you?

Colin Hay of Men at Work is now signed as a solo artist to Compass Records, which is based here in Nashville. That has nothing to do with where I’m going, but it’s the best I can do as far as the local angle is concerned, so we’re all just going to have to deal with it. Moving on. Remember how Men at Work won the Grammy for Best New Artist back in ’83? I sure as hell don’t! Anyhow, they did, and they swiftly fell victim to that “Best New Artist Curse” folks have been talking about for decades. You know, the whole dropping-off-the-face-of-the-earth thing, a la Starland Vocal Band, Christopher Cross, Lauryn Hill, Paula Cole, Milli Vanilli, on and on and on.

So, in addition to the theory that the Best New Artist award is a kiss of death of sorts, and in addition to the fact that artists who aren’t really new at all are frequently nominated (Zac Brown Band and Silversun Pickups this year, for instance), there’s been some controversy about the nomination stipulations over the past year. You see, Lady Gaga’s song “Just Dance” was nominated, appropriately enough, in 2009’s Best Dance Recording field, making her ineligible for Best New Artist in 2010 — even though, as we all know, 2009-2010 has been the Year of Gaga. Because of the uproar, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences has reconsidered their strictness regarding prior nominations and the Best New Artist category. The LA Times has that story, so rather than going on and on, I think I’ll just leave you with my favorite Lady Gaga quote, taken from her recent Rolling Stone cover story:

When I wake up in the morning, I feel just like any other insecure 24-year-old girl. Then I say, ‘Bitch, you’re Lady Gaga, you get up and walk the walk today.’

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