There are one hit wonders who really only have one hit – and then there are one hit wonders who we really only remember for one hit even though they’ve had quite a few others which we don’t remember too much about.

Take Chumbawamba (generally pronounced “wumba” because they are/were from the North).

They reached 56 and 59 with Enough Is Enough and Timebomb in the 1993 singles charts and 10 and 21 with Amnesia and Top of the World (Ole, Ole, Ole) in 1998. But it’s their global chanter Tubthumping (a solid number 2 in 1997) which saved and probably broke them.

It took them a while to “get there.” The song was from their eighth studio album, Tubthumper (1997) and also topped the charts in Australia, Canada, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand and hit number six on the US Billboard Hot 100 (although it topped the US Modern Rock and Mainstream Top 40 charts). At the 1998 Brit Awards, Tubthumping was nominated for the Brit Award for Best British Single. As of April 2017, the song had sold 880,000 copies in the UK alone.

Chumbawamba had formed in Burnley 1982 and they ended in 2012. The band constantly shifted in musical style, drawing on genres such as punk rock, pop, and folk. Far more anarchist than pop puppets the Sex Pistols their “libertarian socialist” stances on issues including animal rights and pacifism (early in their career) and later regarding class struggle, feminism, gay liberation, pop culture, and anti-fascism was always going to leave them isolated.

They weren’t messing about – and accusations that they’d sold out cut deep. Tubthumping had humble beginnings. The legendary Leeds pub the Fforde Grene (now an apartment block) served as the group’s inspiration for writing the song (they’d lived in a squat in nearby Armley in Leeds). Guitarist Boff Whaley told the Guardian that it was written about “the resilience of ordinary people.”

In the late 1990s, the band turned down $1.5 million from Nike to use the song in a World Cup commercial. According to the band, the decision took approximately “30 seconds” to make. In 2002, General Motors paid them somewhere between $70,000 to $100,000, to use the song Pass It Along for a Pontiac Vibe television advertisement. Chumbawamba gave the money to anti-corporate activist groups Indymedia and CorpWatch who used the money to launch an information and environmental campaign against GM.

But as they had predicted in 1993 with Enough Is Enough and in July 2012, they announced they were splitting up after 30 years. On its website the members stated “That’s it then, it’s the end. With neither a whimper, a bang, or a reunion.”

No golden greats tour, no cabaret circuit. The band was joined by former members and collaborators for three final shows between 31 October and 3 November 2012, one of which was filmed at Leeds City Varieties and released as a live DVD. And that was it.

As for Tubthumping, it could have been written by Charles Baudelaire, who concluded in 1866: “It is essential to be drunk all the time. That’s all: there’s no other problem. If you do not want to feel the appalling weight of Time which breaks your shoulders and bends you to the ground, get drunk, and drunk again. What with? Wine, poetry, or being good, please yourself. But get drunk. And if now and then, on the steps of a palace, on the green grass of a ditch, in the glum loneliness of your room, you come to, your drunken state abated or dissolved, ask the wind, ask the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, ask all that runs away, all that groans, all that wheels, all that sings, all that speaks, what time it is; and the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, will tell you: ‘It is time to get drunk!’ If you do not want to be the martyred slaves of Time, get drunk, always get drunk! With wine, with poetry or with being good. As you please.”

Or as the Chumbas put it: “We’ll be singin’ when we’re winnin’ – we’ll be singin’” before getting to the nitty gritty of:
“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
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”
Then finally one of the killer drinking verses of all time:

“Pissin’ the night away, pissin’ the night away
He drinks a Whiskey drink, he drinks a Vodka drink
He drinks a Lager drink, he drinks a Cider drink
He sings the songs that remind him of the good times
He sings the songs that remind him of the better times
Oh, Danny Boy, Danny Boy, Danny Boy.”
Like a lyrical Aunt Kelly Doll (or a drunkard’s pub monologue or an Irish rebel yell) it repeats its chorus/verses merging the two into a triumphant and seemingly endless chant:
“I get knocked down, (we’ll be singin’) but I get up again (pissin’ the night away)
You’re never gonna keep me down (when we’re winnin’)
I get knocked down, (we’ll be singin’) but I get up again (pissin’ the night away)
You’re never gonna keep me down (oh, oh)
I get knocked down, (we’ll be singin’) but I get up again (pissin’ the night away)
You’re never gonna keep me down (when we’re winnin’)
I get knocked down, (we’ll be singin’) but I get up again (pissin’ the night away)
You’re never gonna keep me down (oh, oh)
I get knocked down, (we’ll be singin’) but I get up again (pissin’ the night away)
You’re never gonna keep me down.”

Rather like what happened to The Strawbs’ 1973 near chart topper Part of the Union much of its meaning has been lost under decades of inebriated mob shouting and wobbly conga lines.

Vocalist Dunstan Bruce retrospectively observed that, before the group wrote it, they “were in a mess: we had become directionless and disparate”. He credited Tubthumping with changing that, telling the Guardian that “It’s not our most political or best song, but it brought us back together. The song is about us – as a class and as a band. The beauty of it was we had no idea how big it would be.”
It spent three consecutive weeks at number 2, held off the top spot by Will Smith’s Men In Black. The song spent a total of 11 consecutive weeks in the top 10, and 20 consecutive weeks on the top 100.

It was ranked as the year’s seventh most-popular single while it placed at number 3 on Australia’s top 100 songs of the year. The single also got in the top 20 of year-end charts in Sweden and Italy, and in the top 100 of 1997 in Belgium, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the USA the song placed at number 35 on the Billboard Hot 100’s year-end ranking for 1998.
Ironically it was also placed at number 12 in Rolling Stone’s list of the 20 Most Annoying Songs.

Despite fame and, some would say, fortune Chumbawamba gained additional notoriety over several controversial incidents, starting in August 1997 when vocalist and percussionist Alice Nutter was quoted in Melody Maker as saying, “Nothing can change the fact that we like it when cops get killed.”

The comment was met with outrage in Britain’s tabloid press and was condemned by the Police Federation of England and Wales. The band resisted pressure from EMI to issue an apology and Nutter only clarified her comment by stating, “If you’re working class they won’t protect you. When you hear about them, it’s in the context of them abusing people, y’know, miscarriages of justice. We don’t have a party when cops die, you know we don’t.”

In January 1998 Nutter appeared on the American political talk show Politically Incorrect and advised fans of their music who could not afford to buy their CDs to steal them from large chains such as HMV and Virgin, which prompted Virgin to remove the album from the shelves and start selling it from behind the counter.

A few weeks later, provoked by the Labour government’s refusal to support the Liverpool Dockworkers’ Strike, the band performed Tubthumping at the 1998 BRIT Awards with the lyric changed to include “New Labour sold out the dockers, just like they’ll sell out the rest of us”, and vocalist Danbert Nobacon later poured a jug of water over UK Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who was in the audience.

In September 2011, past and present band members protested when the UK Independence Party used Tubthumping at their annual conference.

WRITERS: Chumbawamba
PRODUCER: Chumbawamba
GENRE: Dance-rock
ARTIST: Chumbawamba
RELEASED 31 October 1975
COVERS The Flaming LIps