If you’re lucky, you don’t remember Chumbawumba. You’re probably not lucky.
On their IMDB listing, their music has been included on 48 soundtracks. Of those, 39 were the same song. There are few better examples of a one-hit wonder.
What song? It’s “Tubthumping”. If you don’t recognize the title, that’s because they don’t use the title anywhere in the amazingly repetitive song.
The band deserves credit for the amount of time they put into making music until they had that one hit. According to the lead guitarist, Boff Whalley, in the Guardian:
When Chumbawamba started in 1982 we were all squatting in a big, empty house, doing part-time jobs and sharing our money. We were an anarchist collective, influenced by the Sex Pistols and the Clash, but right from the start we wanted to sing harmonies and have singalong choruses.
“Anarchist collective” sounds a bit pretentious, but they certainly walked the walk. The avowed socialists made millions on their song, and gave much of it away. Of course, they kept enough to remain comfortable and they enforced the royalty charges for song usage… they’re the top tier of socialists, after all.
Admittedly, the song, although repetitive, has solid hooks and is catchy. So far, though, they’re little different than a particularly annoying version of Dexy’s Midnight Runners. What makes Chumbawumba stand out, really?
Answer: a title.
Not just any title, either. The band, having finally had a hit after more than fifteen years and then being forgotten for a decade, decided that they wanted to remind everyone they were rock stars by putting out an album with a ridiculously long title. The longest, whiniest, and possibly most pretentious title of any rock album:
The Boy Bands Have Won, and All the Copyists and the Tribute Bands and the TV Talent Show Producers Have Won, If We Allow Our Culture to Be Shaped by Mimicry, Whether From Lack of Ideas or From Exaggerated Respect. You Should Never Try to Freeze Culture. What You Can Do Is Recycle That Culture. Take Your Older Brother’s Hand-Me-Down Jacket and Re-Style It, Re-Fashion It to the Point Where It Becomes Your Own. But Don’t Just Regurgitate Creative History, or Hold Art and Music and Literature as Fixed, Untouchable and Kept Under Glass. The People Who Try to “Guard” Any Particular Form of Music Are, Like the Copyists and Manufactured Bands, Doing It the Worst Disservice, Because the Only Thing That You Can Do to Music That Will Damage It Is Not Change It, Not Make It Your Own, Because Then It Dies, Then It’s Over, Then It’s Done, and the Boy Bands Have Won.
It’s usually just shortened in music catalogs to “The Boy Bands Have Won.”
Remember, this isn’t Frank Sinatra or Paul McCartney making a statement about the music industry after decades of success and involvement at every level. This isn’t Laurie Anderson spouting off about art in a performance piece with Peter Gabriel outside her display in the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in NYC.
This is Chumbawumba, in 2008, a decade after their one hit.
Oh, and on Amazon? The album has eight customer reviews. Justin Timberlake, who was a member of “boy band” NSYNC at the time Chumbawumba had its hit, has 532 reviews on his 2006 album. So, um, yes. Although I’m far from a fan of either, it seems safe to say that up against Chumbawumba, the boy bands didn’t only win, they kicked pretentious repetitive band’s butt.
Question of the night: What’s an earworm song (a song that’s hard to get out of your head) that you actually like?