“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.”
Admit it, you just sang those lines to yourself, didn’t you? It’s OK. I did, too, when I jotted them down. Such is the power of “Tubthumping,” the 1997 smash by British one-hit wonder Chumbawamba that remains catchier than a virus 25 years after it was first released.
Chumbawamba, the band with the funny name, had been grinding it out since it formed in 1982 before hitting pay dirt with “Tubthumping,” the song with the equally funny name from the album “Tubthumper” that marked a turning point for the group at a time when it had to figure out how to move forward.
“I think what happened with that song in particular is that that song is sort of a brilliant representation of how we all felt as a group of people, that we sort of had to pull together,” frontperson Dunstan Bruce told TODAY in a Zoom interview.
Early on, it became clear that “Tubthumping” was the song from “Tubthumper” that was going to move the needle for Chumbawamba.
“We started doing that album live,” Bruce said. “We’d go on tour, and we were playing those songs live and people would come up to us and say, ‘That song, it’s brilliant. That one should be the single. If you’re going to release a single off this album, it should be that one.’”
The people at those shows clearly knew what they were talking about.
Released in August 1997, “Tubthumping” peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 on Nov. 29, 1997, spending two weeks in that spot. That same day, it began a nine-week stay atop the Radio Songs and Pop Airplay charts. The song’s success helped “Tubthumper” reach No. 3 on the Billboard 200, where it would remain for two weeks.
“Tubthumping” is still an easy song to love. It’s an earworm of the best kind, with a fun hook, all the while conveying the universal need to continue to fight in a manner that gets listeners pumped up. The lyrics are not complex and, well, you just feel happy when you hear them.
“It’s quite a simple message, but I think that’s why it works,” Bruce said. “And it applies across the board to different sort of situations. I don’t think we realized at the time how clever we were being or whether that was, in retrospect, we thought, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s like a really universal message and it works really well.’ Some people in the band would regard it as a happy accident, me included.”
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” is an old adage that proved applicable with Chumbawamba, who seized the moment when “Tubthumping” took off. The band was more than many people may have realized, though. Considering themselves anarchists looking to subvert the mainstream as they became part of it, Chumbawamba wasn’t focused on fame, and used the spotlight for its own agenda.
“That (fame) was never our intention. It was just something that happened,” he said. “But when it did happen, we thought, ‘Look, we’ve got to make the most of this. This doesn’t happen to everybody.’”
“We thought, ‘Look, we’ve got something to say. We’ve got something important to say in our music, in our lyrics and we want the world to hear that,’ because why would you not want to talk to as many people as possible?” he added.
“So once we were given that platform, we just decided that we would make the most of it and use it in the best way possible. And that was by talking about all the causes or issues that we believed in, or taking opportunities and interviews to talk about different things that weren’t just what was our favorite color or something like that.”
Causes? Issues? Yes, Chumbawamba was not content to sit on its laurels and soak in the adulation of fans who couldn’t get enough of “Tubthumping.” The band made the rounds in big concerts and TV appearances where it shined a light on matters it felt were relevant.
While performing “Tubthumping” on the “Late Show With David Letterman,” the band altered the lyrics to say, “Free Mumia Abu-Jamal,” a reference to the political activist who was convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1981. It was hardly the kind of move expected of a traditional pop outfit.
Music retailer Virgin moved copies of "Tubthumper" behind registers after band member Alice Nutter appeared on ABC's "Politically Incorrect" and other panelists accused her of supporting theft of the album. Suddenly, the band had a voice beyond lyrical content.
“We wanted to reach as many people as possible,” Bruce said. “And how often does an anarchist get that opportunity to speak to so many people around the world?”
Chumbawamba was not your run-of-the-mill band. It had depth, even if it is considered a one-hit wonder, a label that suits Bruce just fine.
“We never really thought of it as a slur and still don’t see it as a slur to this day,” he said. “That song enabled us to go around the world and talk about various issues, wherever we were. And it gave us the opportunity to give a lot of causes money and publicity in a way that we would never have been able to if we were still more of an underground band, which we had been for 15 years before we had that hit.”
“Tubthumping” has remained a staple in bars, at sporting events and playlists to this day. It made its way onto "The Simpsons" and "This Is Us." To some, it’s a feel-good callback to a different time. To others, it’s a way to get psyched up. Bruce said he still gets texts from people when they hear the song and he embraces it.
“I love the fact that that song has remained part of popular culture 25 years later and it’s still used all over the place and people still hear it and people still tell me that they’ve just heard it somewhere,” he said.
The band released a follow-up single, “Amnesia,” that went into the Top 10 in Britain, but failed to make much noise in the U.S., with “Tubthumping” becoming the song that would put the group on the map long after the lights dimmed on its popularity.
Bruce investigated the power of “Tubthumping” and his own experiences in his recent documentary, “I Get Knocked Down.” It offered a way to think about his own life as he’s aged, with the song’s lyrics serving as a reflection of who he is all these years later.
“It became my story about what do you do when you reach a certain age when you still want to change the world?” he said. “I know this is going to sound really, really cheesy, but the film really is about me getting knocked down and me getting back up again.”
The band no longer performs together, but Bruce said they all still get along. For a brief moment, Chumbawamba was hotter than the thermometer on a summer day, and while the members were happy to spread their message when they were famous, Bruce didn’t think they could ever sustain it, even if it was an exciting time.
“We didn’t want to be celebrities and we didn’t want to be mates with other pop stars and stuff like that. That just wasn’t our world,” he said.
“I almost encourage that idea that we were a one-hit wonder really because it just makes it sound more extraordinary,” he added.