Harris wrote this song about an Australian stockman on his deathbed in 1957. He was inspired by the Harry Belafonte calypso craze, which was big at the time, and he wrote this as an Australian calypso. Harris recalled in The Wacky Top 40 by Bruce Nash and Allan Zullo: "I was trying to come up with new songs that had a simple chorus that everybody in the club could join in with. I liked (Harry Belafonte's) 'Hold 'Em Joe.' There was a line that went, 'Don't tie me donkey down there, let him bray, let him bray.' And I thought, 'That's good. I can change that and make it an Australian calypso. Instead of a donkey, I'll have a kangaroo in there somewhere.' "Eventually, I came up with 'Tie me kangaroo down, sport.' And the tune seemed to come from midair. It was just handed to me on a plate." Harris proceeded to write as many verses as he could think of regarding Australian themes. It was his brother Bruce that came up with the idea of tying all the verses together into a story about a dying rancher.
When it was released in 1960, the song went to #1 in Australia for four weeks and reached #3 in the UK. That same year, it was released in America on 20th Century Fox, but went nowhere. Three years later it was released in the US after an Aborigine-inspired song called "Sun Arise" made it to #61 there. Harris recalled: "A disc jockey in Denver played 'Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport' for a laugh. He told his audience, 'I don't understand the lyrics and I don't know what a didgeridoo is.' He got such a reaction to the song that he played it almost every hour. So Epic Records put it out as a single and it became a hit."
The American version was produced by George Martin, who went on to fame producing The Beatles.
The whoop-whoop-whoop sound in the background came from a wobbleboard, which is basically a sheet of masonite. Originally Harris used the wobble board for his painting before he discovered its musical properties by chance. This happened when he shook one to cool it down after it had been propped up by a paraffin heater and he discovered when he did this it produced an interesting sound.
When Harris wrote this song, many Aborigines were treated as no better than slaves, and the original words that Harris wrote for the song included a verse referring to Aboriginal workers in those terms. Some territories picked up on it and the song was banned in Singapore. Harris has since admitted that those lines were racist and apologized for using such language. The Australian singer-songwriter later dropped the verse when re-recording the hit for the American market. He explained in an interview with Radio Scotland in 2006: "I was 27 or something when I wrote that. But since 1960, I have never sung that verse."
In May 1963, Pat Boone released a cover of this song as a single, which competed with the re-release of Harris' version in America. Boone's cover didn't dent the charts, as Harris stayed in the Top 40 for nine weeks that summer.
Rolf Harris recalled to The NME: "Pat Boone was in Australia when it was a hit in 1960. He wanted to do an American version but his record company said, 'It doesn't make any sense.' Three years later I had a #3 in America. Pat Boone went back and said, 'See.'"
Harris performed this song with The Beatles for BBC radio in 1963. His adapted lyrics included; "Don't ill-treat me pet dingo, Ringo/ Don't ill-treat me pet dingo/ He can't understand your lingo, Ringo, So don't ill-treat me pet dingo, Ringo."
When a sprightly eighty year old Rolf Harris appeared on the BBC Breakfast programme on Friday, June 18, 2010 to promote his latest book and art exhibition, he was asked by one of the presenters how he got into music. Harris moved to London from his native Australia in 1952 to study art; his ambition was to become a portrait painter, but as he told Charlie Stayt and Susanna Reid: "Well I was broke, I ran out of money..." which led to him entertaining, playing piano accordion in the Down Under club, which was patronised by Australians and New Zealanders. He wrote the song for them.
Suggestion credit: Alexander Baron - London, England
In America, Harris released spin-off songs called "Tie Me Hunting Dog Down, Jed" and "Tie Me Surfing Board Down Sport."
Eddie from Braselton, GeorgiaI remembered a lyric not shown here and did some research. Let me Abos go loose, Lou Let me Abos go loose: They're of no further use, Lou So let me Abos go loose. Turns out Abos is short for Aboriginals and many took it as racist, so it has been removed in later versions.
Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn June 2nd 1963, "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" by Rolf Harris entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #88; and on July 7th it peaked at #3 (for 1 week) and spent 11 weeks on the Top 100 (and for 5 of those 11 weeks it was on the Top 10)... The week it was at #3, the #1 record was "Easier Said Than Done" by the Essex and #2 was "Surf City" by Jan and Dean... And three years earlier on June 11th, 1960 it reached #1 (for 3 weeks) on the Australian Kent Music Report chart... He had two other records make the Top 100 chart; "Sun Arise" (peaked at #61 in 1963) and "Nick Teen and Al K. Hall" (it reached #95 in its one week on the chart)... Mr. Harris celebrated his 84th birthday three months ago on March 30th, 2014.
Jas from Clifton, TxI try not to overthink this song or songs like it, if there's anything in the world like this one, too much. I once had a conversation with a guy who spent two hours explaining to me how this was really a hugely symbolic, deep, intense song that most of us normal people weren't complex enough to understand. He wasn't from Australia and he had never been to Australia, he was from New Jersey. Then when I was in the Special Forces I had the opportunity to spend a great deal of time in Australia. I went to a charity event in Canberra, ACT, and Mr. Harris was in attendance, so I asked. He's really a very pleasant guy, not at all what I expected out of a man with his credentials. We talked more about his art than the song because I figured it was way past the time where he was tired of answering questions about something he did in 1960. But, he did offer me this bit of information on his song, I'll never forget because he kept calling me "Guy," not "mate," not some other cool Australian sounding name (dingo, I wanted to be called dingo!). Mr. Harris was talking about the way people perceive things and read into them and on this song he said, "You know guy, they take that silly bit about kangaroos and run amuck with it. Blows my mind really. It's about an old cattle man, that would be all. They do that with paintings too, guy. You paint a flower and they muck it up and they want to know what the flower is thinking. I say to them guy, I dunno, it's just being a flower I guess." I don't know if I can get in trouble for quoting somebody like that or not, so there you have it. But when the man himself says its just a song about a guy who evidently owns cows and other pets who happens to be dying, I guess that means that it's just a funny little song about a guy who owns cows and other pets who happens to be dying. Bob, I can't really tell if you're being serious or if you said that as a joke, but he said it's just a simple song about a guy who owns cows and other pets. He threw in a bunch of Australian references that people from outside Australia would be able to identify and put them in a pattern that sounded fun. That's just it. We spend so much time trying to figure out what the flower is thinking that we never actually consider that it might just be a flower and nothing else. But, I guess he would appreciate the attention to his art.
Bob from Matamata, New ZealandThis song is massive, if you read between the lines you can really see where Rolf is coming from. Deep, dark, brooding almost foreboding.....I only wish Metallica would do a cover, could you imagine a distorted electric wobble board patched through a wah wah peddal.... heavy man very heavy.
Mark from Lancaster, OhSo _that's_ where that sound came from. My life is fulfilled at last.