Today's Subject: "Tubthumping" by Chumbawamba
Let it be noted that I, like many others, did not know Chumbawamba were still around until they disbanded earlier this year. It was afterward that I could not escape this ode to drinking whiskey, lager and cider drinks while singing songs that remind people of the best times. It was like 1997 revisited in the sense that I found myself singing along to this strange little pop song and equally being disappointed in myself for doing so.
"Tubthumping" is a peculiar song. It, for all purposes, is a song about the working class and a night out after the weekly grind. Perhaps, it is a song that one can take at face value and say that is nothing more than a song about drinking one's problems away. Given that it is a massively poppy song from an anarchist punk band, both of these are probably right. There might even be a sense of twisted humor in this particular band recording this particular song and then using their Top 40 success as a means of promoting their agendas through fashion and song on late night television. I guess they were singing while they were winning.
Easily, this is one of the few one hit wonders covered so far that is the most memorable lyrically. This is due to a lack of lyrics beyond the numerous alcoholic drinks (whiskey, cider and lager) consumed in the bar that special night and a bridge referencing a traditional Irish folk song in which the pipes were not calling for Danny Boy but a bar, several drinks and getting knocked down were. Then, of course, there is that all too familiar chorus which causes the true confusion of the song's meaning. "I get knocked down but I get up again. You're never going to keep me down." Again, given the band's heavy political leanings, this could be a song for the have-nots, an anthem even. On the other hand, the song takes place in a bar with a drunk guy singing songs from his past. Clearly, our protagonist has fallen off his stool, intoxicated on past glories and cheap whiskey, only to get up and order more spirits until he falls again to repeat the cycle. Even if he was singing while winning, it is he probably won't remember it in the morning.
Less simplistic (but leaning toward heavily generic) is the track's musical backing. Really, not much separates this song from the majority of mid 90's radio standards. It is the almost the equivalent of Third Eye Blind desperately trying to sound like pop-heavy, radio-friendly version of James and failing miserably. Then again, when you think about some of the hit songs of the mid to late 90's ("Semi-Charmed Life," "All-Star," "Breakfast at Tiffany's"), they all were these kind of upbeat, annoyingly catchy songs with very generic instrumentation. Sorry for getting away from the point which is to say this song, musically, is like "Semi-Charmed Life but with horns and none of the doo-doo-doo-doo-da-doo-doo parts to explain its somewhat addictive nature. The best description of it would be musical cardboard which is further illustrated in the clip for the track in which none of the member, other than the lead singer, actually seem interested in playing the song.
The fame this track provided came in the form of licensing and various late night appearances in which the band would either alter lyrics in the song to support a cause or wear slogans on their uniforms. One in particular I remember involved them labeling themselves as one hit wonders while performing the number. if nothing else, you have to respect their self-awareness and ability to mock their success. If an anarchist punk band with dance beats is not able to laugh at the their sudden success from making an overtly pop song, who can? Still, a Top 10 hit is deserving of awards and acclaim and this song does not have any other than the distinction of appearing on many annoying songs of whatever (year, decade and ever) lists. While "Tubthumping" has not held up well in the years since its release, it is hardly more annoying than "Blue," "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm" or "Cotton Eye Joe," Rolling Stone magazine. I should know as I have performed it on Lips with no shame (and, more importantly, with no one within earshot of me singing it)
Easy, memorable lyrics with an easy memorable chorus
Top 10 hit in several countries
Pop hit from a political punk band
Covered by They Might be Giants on A.V. Undercover
Still receives radio airplay and has been licensed for several TV programs, films and games
Cheesy 90's pop song
Weird Al Yankovic covered it
Simplistic, almost inane, lyrics about nightlife or dreaming after a hard week...still unclear
Bland background music
Pop hit from a political punk band
Listed on Rolling Stone's 20 Most Annoying Songs Ever list
Has been licensed for several TV programs, films and games which counters band's views
Annoyingly cheesy 90's pop song written by anyone other than Smash Mouth or Third Eye Blind
Phish and Alvin and the Chipmunks covered it
Hmm...this one is a blunder based solely on the musical portion and the fact that everything about the song screams "we need a hit and we need one now." I can deal with simplistic lyrics as long as the music is interesting or rocks which this does neither. The only other Chumbawamba songs I know are "Amnesia" and "Mary Mary" and if either of those songs had broken the band big in the U.S., this whole entry would be different. Rest in peace, Chumbawamba and know that your one hit song will never die in vain. There is always a karaoke bar and several shots of cheap booze with "Tubthumping" written all over it.