Tubthumping by krin.jpg

Date Aired
November 28th, 2012
Running Time
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Todd plays the intro on the piano...

A one-hit wonder retrospective

and rocks out to...

Video for "Tubthumping"
Chumbawamba: I get knocked down
But I get up again
You're never gonna keep me down
I get knocked down
But I get up again
You're never gonna keep me down

Todd: Welcome back to One Hit Wonderland, where we take a look back at the full careers of artists who are known for only one song, and we're tackling one of the big ones today, baby. [Clips of news anchors mentioning Chumbawamba] Chumbawamba! Yes! Are you ready?!

Boff Whalley: He drinks a whiskey drink...

Todd (VO): For me and everyone else who came of age in the late 90s, Chumbawamba is probably the definitive one-hit wonder of our generation—the band who came out of nowhere with one monstrously catchy hit, then just as quickly receded into obscurity.

Clip of Tub Thumping Gorilla, singing the chorus

Todd: But what do we know about them?

Todd (VO): For pretty much everyone, Chumbawamba is that band who did the "I get knocked down" song and had one of the all-time stupidest band names. Those of you a little more in the know know that Chumbawamba were some kind of [picture of band wearing protest shirts] radical left-wing collective who just happened to have one fluke hit. There's always been a certain level of fascination about them—the bizarre band with Rage Against the Machine-level politics and a Jock Jam-level popular song.

Todd: But even if you do know more about them than just "Tubthumping", unless you're a hardcore fan, you're probably fairly ignorant of the full scope of Chumbawamba's career, [cover of History Luddite Live Demo 1984] which began 15 years before "Tubthumping" [more recent clip of band] and lasted another 15 years after. Yes, 30 goddamn years of Chumbawamba.

Todd (VO): 30 years of radical shifts in genre, popularity and influences.

Todd: And I'm gonna try and fit it all in a 12-minute video. God help me.

Chumbawamba: I get knocked down

Before the fame

Todd: Our story begins in the early-mid-80s in merry old England.

Montage of Duran Duran, Rolling Stone cover featuring Boy George, A Flock of Seagulls - "I Ran (So Far Away)", and the Eurythmics - "Sweet Dreams". Music playing is "Hungry Like the Wolf"

Todd (VO): The second British Invasion is in full swing, New Wave rules the airwaves, the kids are going wild for Duran Duran and Wham!, but we're going far, far away from the new romantics and androgynes of the time, and instead settling in a filthy squad up north in Leeds, where a struggling band named Chumbawamba have settled. [Clip of live performance in Liverpool from 1987] Chumbawamba are part of the growing anarcho-punk movement, which includes such bands as Crass and Subhumans. And when I say they were anarchists, I mean they were real anarchists, not the [picture of...] guy you knew in high school that wore Dead Kennedys shirts and carved the anarchy symbol in his desk. I mean like V in V for Vendetta-style anarchists. [Quickly covering, with cover of...] And I mean the comic book version, not the...not the movie version.

Todd: So what is anarchism? [Picture of anarchy symbol] Well, I'm not exactly a political scholar or anything, but as far as I can tell, [picture of pro-anarchy protest] anarchism is basically just socialism or communism, but without any government. [beat] Good luck with that.

Another early performance

Todd (VO): Like, I'm not...I'm not gonna sit here and try to explain their political positions 'cause I'm certain I would get it wrong. I'm a little behind on my [cover of...] Bakunin. Rest assured that they were pretty far to the left. Like, enough to make [pictures of...] Chairman Mao look like he would be a [...and Sean Hannity] Fox News anchor, kinda left.

Todd: And what about the name? Well, the explanation they've given for the name is that it's [cover of Get On With It] part of an African chant that some of their members heard some street musicians singing in Paris. So there you go. But you...

Todd (VO): ...should also know that they've also given many other explanations, and they've admitted that each and every single one of them is complete bullshit.

Todd: What the name actually means is exactly what you think it means—complete nothing. Just absolutely nothing.

Todd (VO): They just liked the idea of coming up with a nonsense word rather than giving themselves some lame, cliche punk rock name like Pustule or the Anti-Conformity Collective or whatever else you're supposed to name your anarchist punk band.

Todd: The anarcho-punk scene was, of course, [single cover of Crass - "You're Already Dead"] all a reaction to the Thatcher era of UK politics.

Todd (VO): Chumbawamba fit in with these guys at first, but after a while, the differences showed between them and their peers. For one, they liked football [to clarify, image of soccer ball next to x-ed out American football, reading "This...Not This."], they liked drinking, they had a sense of humor, which most bands of their genre didn't.

Todd: Also, they...[how does he say it...] they didn't... Okay, they didn't suck. [Brief clip of punk band] I'm sorry. I tried to listen to the stuff; most of it sucks.

Todd (VO): Chumbawamba were wittier than most of them. For example, they absolutely hated charity singles and they despised Live Aid. [Clip of USA for Africa - "We Are the World"] They thought they were transparent exercises in self-promotion that only addressed the superficial aspects of world hunger while ignoring their root causes. I would argue also that charity singles were mostly terrible.

Todd: But anyway, they would try to trick people into buying parody charity singles. [Clip of Ferry Aid performing...] Like when everybody got together to record a charity version of "Let It Be", Chumbawamba gave us this.

Clip of Chumbawamba (a.k.a. Scab Aid) - "Let It Be"
Jude Abbott: This manufactured sympathy, drowning in hypocrisy
Smiles to clinch the deals to boost the sales

Todd: Now, with few exceptions, any decent punk band would get bored with played just punk rock real quick, and Chumbawamba were not one of those exceptions.

Clip of "Timebomb"

Todd (VO): In the late 80s, they started getting interested in the rave dance scene that was getting popular in the UK, and...

Todd looks through his notes

Todd: Oh, God, we're not anywhere near "Tubthumping". Okay, I'm getting there, I promise.

Video for "Homophobia"

Todd (VO): Anyway, their stuff started getting more complex and they started introducing dance stuff in there and a trumpet, but they were still pretty punk rock in their attitude, all right? Their biggest pre-breakthrough album was called Anarchy, and its album cover is [censored album cover] a very graphic photo of an infant being born that I can't show you, so here's a picture of a silly puppy. Look at the puppy. Ooh, look at the silly puppy.

[Clip of "Ugh! You're Ugly Houses"]

And after that, their next record...actually, you know what?

Todd: I'm gonna have to skip ahead or we're gonna be here all day. Okay, okay, 1997.

Live performance from 1997

Todd (VO): Then they start recording a more pop-oriented album, and their little indie label didn't want to release it because, you know, they're a punk band, they shouldn't be releasing all this pop stuff and nobody's gonna want it. But one company swooped in to snatch them up.

Todd: The monolithic megalabel [logo for...] EMI. Yeah, the same label [clip of performance of "EMI" by...] that the Sex Pistols railed against; the label that Chumbawamba itself had protested against by being [album cover of Fuck EMI] on a compilation album dedicated to blasting it. But they signed a contract anyway. I mean, the reasoning was partly that they could, you know, subvert the system from the inside-out. But you know, it was also, "hey, why front? I mean, we could find another small label to be on, but that's not any more or less capitalist than a big label. I mean, it still wants to make money, so you know, why...whatever. If EMI was stupid enough to sign up a band like Chumbawamba, why the hell not?"

Todd: I can respect that kind of logic, honestly.

The big hit

Interview with Jude Abbott
Jude: Yeah, it just come up with the...it wasn't that we sort of written a song that we thought, oh, let's try and get in the charts. We thought we just did what we always did.
Video for "Tubthumping"

Todd (VO): "Tubthumping"—the ultimate song of working-class perseverance, or a deeply annoying, sellout novelty track.

Todd: You decide.

Chumbawamba: I get knocked down
But I get up again
You're never gonna keep me down

Todd (VO): "Tubthumping" came out of nowhere and became the ultimate Euro-wonder of the late 90s. Now, most people didn't know anything about Chumbawamba's backstory, but those who did had to have had some serious whiplash 'cause this was about as bizarre as if [clips of "Fight the Power" by...] Public Enemy had recorded "Gettin' Jiggy wit It".

Jude: Pissing the night away
Pissing the night away

Todd (VO): I've seen people try and figure out where "Tubthumping" fits in with Chumbawamba's far-left politics or try and ascribe some political motive to it. I've seen theories that it's a parody of working-class joes sitting around getting drunk all the time instead of doing something useful like protesting the man. I mean, the name itself kind of seems to be ironic 'cause tubthumping is...is, you know, it's another word for political campaigning or protesting.

Todd: But you know what? I don't think any of those theories are accurate.

Boff Whalley: He drinks a whiskey drink...

Todd (VO): "Tubthumping" kind of resists analysis. It's a song about drinking and singing drinking songs, no more, no less. If Chumbawamba ever gave a motive for writing "Tubthumping" besides the fact that they like drinking and singing, I...I couldn't find it.

Todd: I mean, I feel like a rank hypocrite saying this, but [stretches out arms] let's try not to overanalyze this.

Todd (VO): And why shouldn't they write some big, populist, singalong anthem? Look at Rage Against the Machine. [Clip of "Killing in the Name"] They recorded nothing but fiery political polemics, and they burnt out after making just three albums of original material. Chumbawamba lasted for 30 goddamn years. Maybe if Rage Against the Machine had recorded a party song every once in a while, they wouldn't have sat out the entire Bush administration.

Todd: [scoffs] Useless.

Chumbawamba: I get knocked down
But I get up again

Todd (VO): Now "Tubthumping" is firmly in the tradition of pub singalongs. It even starts with a soccer hooligan chant. I think it's kind of admirable that a band as high-minded and out there as Chumbawamba had that streak of populism in them. As far as I can tell, they all thought it was really cool that people were singing their song. Their hometown soccer team even started using "Tubthumping" as their theme song, and the band was just thrilled.

Alice Nutter: I just thought, great, that's it, we're popular culture. It's the best thing that's ever happened to us.

Todd (VO): People who make hacky "worst song ever" lists on the Internet seem to pick "Tubthumping" a lot. You know, I...I can't agree with that. If you can resist "Tubthumping", you're a better man than I. And for all the talk of selling out, Chumbawamba has never seemed to have any regrets whatsoever. Selling out was an entirely fun experiment for them.

Todd: It was also one they had no interest in repeating.

The failed follow-up

Todd: You could say "failed"; I think a better word for it would be "deliberately tanked."

Video for "Amnesia"

Todd (VO): Well, Chumbawamba's time in the spotlight persisted for a little while longer. In the UK, they scored another Top 10 hit with "Amnesia".

Chumbawamba: Do you suffer from long-term memory loss?
Jude: I don't remember

Todd (VO): [a little chuckle] This song didn't chart in America, but I swear I must've heard this song somewhere because it's very familiar to me. I think they use it in VH1 promos or something. Honestly, I think I like this even more than "Tubthumping". But their mainstream success was always going to be hampered by the fact that they were very much unwilling to play the game. In America, they went on Bill Maher's show encouraging their listeners to shoplift their CD. [Clip from 1998 Brit Awards] In the UK, some Deputy Prime Minster tried to be cool by appearing on some music award show, and Chumbawamba responded by dumping a bucket of water on him.

Video for "Top of the World (Olé, Olé, Olé)"
Boff: I'm a pop singer, I'm a winner

Todd (VO): But I doubt they were ever gonna be huge even if they had been cooperative. I think people just didn't want more than one "Tubthumping". Ask anyone who's around, [album cover of Tubthumper] there were a lot of copies of that album in the used CD bins, which was a shame 'cause it was pretty solid.

Chumbawamba: Top of the world
I'm on top of the world

Todd: And when it came time for their next album, they mixed it up some.

Video for "She's Got All the Friends That Money Can Buy"
Chumbawamba: She's got all the friends that money can buy

Todd (VO): That album was called What You See Is What You Get, and it was a complete 22 song satire of vapid media culture. [Album cover] And look at the cover of it, this one actually is a puppy. Aww, look at the cute puppy. But open it up...[full cover, showing...] oh, it's having sex. Oh, you rascals, Chumbawamba.

After the album failed to have a hit, EMI finally got tired of Chumbawamba dicking them around and being uncooperative and decided to drop them from the label.

Todd: Chumbawamba never signed to a major label again.

So what happened to them?

Todd: Uh, they just kept on truckin'.

Clip of live performance

Todd (VO): True to their biggest song, they refused to be kept down. They went back to the indie scene and continued to just keep putting out records. In 2008, they set the record for the longest album title ever, with [album cover of...] The Boy Bands Have Won...[expanded title] etc., etc. etc. [Clip of performance of "Buy Nothing Day"] A lot of the stuff started gravitating towards acoustic folk music 'cause...well, because they were punks that got old...and it happens.

Todd: Chumbawamba got knocked down for the last time in July of this year and decided to not get back up again.

Todd (VO): They announced their breakup on their website after three decades of making music.

Todd: [scoffs] Quitters.

Did they deserve better?

Todd: Deserve to be known for more than one song? Yeah. Yeah. Hell to the yeah.

Chumbawamba: I get knocked down
But I get up again

Todd (VO): Yeah, Chumbawamba are probably the most interesting band that will ever be featured on One Hit Wonderland. I'll honestly be a little sad when I have to do the next episode, I'm gonna be covering something stupid like "Pac-Man Fever" or whatever.

Chumbawamba: I get knocked down
But I get up again

Todd (VO): When they broke up, the website Stereogum wrote that Chumbawamba was one of the few bands who could honestly claim they did everything they could as a band, and that basically about sums it up. So even if I'm not a card-carrying anarchist myself, I have nothing but admiration for the band, their dozens of members, and their many, many accomplishments.

Todd: They are a singular, unique entity in pop culture, and they have my eternal respect. Go, Chumbawamba, vive the revolution.

Chumbawamba: I get knocked down
But I get up again
You're never gonna keep me down
I get knocked down
But I get up again
You're never gonna keep me down

Closing tag song: They Might Be Giants feat. the AV Club Choir - "Tubthumping"

"Tubthumping" is owned by EMI, the ratbastards
This video is owned by me

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