Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport (R Harris) – Rolf Harris 1960
The Boy from Bassendean (Perth, WA) was an Australian entertainment institution who had charmed the world with his music, art and wobble-board playing since 1960. In that year his most recognizable song, Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport, was Harris’s lyrical conversion of the song “Hold ‘Em Joe” a composition performed by Harry Belafonte in the Broadway show “John Murray Anderson’s Almanac”. Harris scored an international hit, charting nationally #1, #3 in the US and top 10 in the UK.
The debt owed by Harris to the original calypso-influenced song was one of the reasons that the early working title for the song was Kangalypso, he had wrestled with the original lyrics which were about a donkey “don’t tie me donkey down there/ let ‘im bray, let ‘im bray …” which became “tie me kangaroo down, sport.”
Throughout the song Harris gives his final instructions to those gathered around him as to how they should deal with his personal effects – his wallabies, his cockatoos, his koalas, his platypus “duck”, even his hide etc. – as he gasps his last, and shamelessly overacts as his ultimate demise draws near. In the first two verses Harris included references to two famous Australian comic strip characters of the time – Bluey and Curly.
A racist slur in the original song “let me abos go loose Bruce/they’re of no further use…” was deleted in future versions, but Harris’s uncensored version of this song would become the 8th best-selling record of 1960.
Racist humor was common at this time, one year after the success of Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport, UK comedian Charlie Drake would take his “blackface” send-up of indigenous customs and culture in My Boomerang Won’t Come Back to #1. This song included such lyrics as “practised till I was black in the face”, depicted indigenous Aborigines singing in a Cockney accent and sitting down to have a North American-style “pow-wow”. The record was produced by the venerable George Martin who would move onto more illustrious projects in the future with an emerging beat group from Liverpool.
Harris followed this breakthrough with a succession of hits including Sun Arise (’61), Court of King Caractacus (’64), Jake The Peg (’66), Two Little Boys (’70) and most surprisingly his reggae-tinged wobble board-propelled version of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven which climbed to #7 in the UK in February 1993. In 2008 Harris was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame along with Dragon, Russell Morris, Max Merritt and the Triffids, only to be delisted in 2014.
Fifty years after his breakthrough hit Rolf Harris would be found guilty in the UK courts of sexually abusing young girls and women throughout his career and incarcerated for five years, recently released, he is now a discredited figure and has been stripped of his imperial and national honors.