Was there ever a more unlikely band and hit than Chumbawamba and “Tubthumping”? Influenced by UK acts like the Sex Pistols and the Clash, Chumbawamba was an anarchist band that resisted society’s capitalist rules both in and out the recording studio. As part of the punk movement, they played benefit shows at UK miners’ strikes, picket lines, and anti-war events. Their debut album Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records was released in 1986, which was a response to the “spectacle” of 1985’s Live Aid fundraiser concert.
But Chumbawamba’s turning point occurred in 1997 with their eighth album Tubthumper. Marking their major-label debut after signing with EMI, it scored the band mainstream recognition overseas via lead single “Tubthumping.”
A cheeky blend of smooth pop-inspired verses, funky horns, ripping guitars, and an anthemic chorus (“I get knocked down, but I get up again/You’re never gonna keep me down!”), “Tubthumping” had all the elements for an earworm hit. Its title derives from British slang for aggressive political protesting. It was inspired by a night when guitarist Boff Whalley and his wife watched their drunken next-door neighbor singing “Danny Boy” while stumbling to open his front door. Eventually, he found his way inside the house. Thus, the song became about perseverance.
“The song changed everything. Before ‘Tubthumping’ I felt we were in a mess. We had become directionless and disparate,” frontman Dunstan Bruce told The Guardian in 2016. “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.”
“Tubthumping” became Chumbawamba’s biggest hit, reaching No. 2 in the UK and No. 2 in the U.S. Due to its success, Tubthumper hit No. 3 on Billboard’s albums chart and was certified 3x Platinum. The band carried the song’s raucous spirit to the 1998 BRIT Awards: drummer Danbert Nobacon poured a bucket of water over UK Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott’s head in solidarity with the Liverpool Dockworkers’ Strike.
Chumbawamba went on to release six more albums, including 2010’s fourteenth and final LP ABCDEFG. Two years later, they officially announced their disbandment after 30 years together.
Despite being classified as a one-hit-wonder, the band still appreciates what “Tubthumping” did for their careers. In May, Bruce revealed he “finished a documentary about Chumbawamba. It has taken five years to make and that film will answer a lot of questions.” The frontman left the band in 2004 and started his own film and video production company, Dandy Films.
“To 99 percent of people we just had that one song, but there is always the 1 percent who listen to the rest of the album and like it enough to listen to more,” guitarist Whalley told The Guardian. “I still really like ‘Tubthumping.’ I don’t feel embarrassed by it at all. I know some bands who hate their songs being popular, but I just think, ‘Get off your high horse!’ The whole point of art is to have an audience.”
Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping” appeared on NOW’s digital deluxe NOW ‘90s Deluxe album, alongside other 90s classics like Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love to You” and Hanson’s “MMMBop.” Looking for more stories behind music’s biggest hits? Check out the Now! That’s What I Call Music page.