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TUBTHUMPING

An Analysis by Zachàr Laskewicz

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Chumbawumba is a well-known punk-influenced new-wave English rock band. They are considered to be ‘anarchists’, and their behaviour sometimes reflects this; one of their songs implicitly laments the way new labour has betrayed England, and one of them threw a bucket containing cold water and ice over the head of the English vice-premier! An anarchic punk band, however, they are not, even if they do subscribe to the philosophy. They consist of a relatively large group of musicians, generally settling around a group of eight musicians, although the Tupthumper album (from which the Tubthumping song is taken) uses many more. Their influences are varied, including Celtic music, punk, ska, reggae and other movements in new-wave rock. The songs on their albums vary in texture and style, and they have both male and female lead singers. Their album Uneasy Listening, which includes works from their early days during the Thatcher era in the eighties right up until work produced in 1998. The range of styles they’ve gone through are quite astounding. Politically they stand against the obsession of the music industry with money, and divide their earnings up equally between all people who may be working with them on a given evening, including roadies and sound technicians. It is with Tubthumping that the group gained international fame, and some of their fans are disappointed with their adoption of more accessible musical formats.

 

Tubthumping is an extremely well-known song. The title refers to the Anglo-Saxon habit of drinking, it has an onomatopoeic rhythmic sound which certainly evokes the drinking habits of the English. According to the band, the word is actually used to refer to a ‘pub crawl’ (drinking at pub after pub until you can drink no more). The text, in addition, involves the act of drinking, in fact of constantly getting drunk, or remaining in a constant state of drunkenness as a preferred ontology; ‘pissing the night away’ as the text exclaims. In the book which comes with the Tubthumper CD, a Phil is quoted as saying “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.”[1] The words to the song and the basic harmonic structure of the work which follows the dialogue are included below. The letters in square brackets (e.g [D]) refers to the key; capital letters refer to major chords and small letters to minor chords:

 

[D] We’ll be [G] singing, [D] when we’re [G] winning, [D] we’ll be [G] singing… [A]

 

I get knocked [D] down, but I get up [G] again, You’re [D] never going to keep me [G] down,

I get knocked [D] down, but I get up [G] again, You’re [A] never going to keep me down. X 2

 

[e/G] Pissing the [b] night [A] away, [e/G] Pissing the [b] night [A] away…

 

He drinks a [D] whisky drink, he drinks a [G] vodka drink.

He drinks a [D] lager drink, He drinks a [G] cider drink.

He sings the [D] songs that remind him of the [G] good times.

He sings the [A] songs that remind him of the better times.

 

[D] Oh [G] Danny [D] Boy, [G] Danny [D] Boy, [G] Danny [A] Boy…

 

I get knocked [D] down, but I get up [G] again, You’re [D] never going to keep me [G] down,

I get knocked [D] down, but I get up [G] again, You’re [A] never going to keep me down. X 2

 

[e/G] Pissing the [b] night [A] away, [e/G] Pissing the [b] night [A] away…

 

He drinks a [D] whisky drink, he drinks a [G] vodka drink.

He drinks a [D] lager drink, He drinks a [G] cider drink.

He sings the [D] songs that remind him of the [G] good times.

He sings the [A] songs that remind him of the better times.

 

[D] Don’t [G] cry for [D] me, [G] next door [D] neighbour…

 

I get knocked [D] down, but I get up [G] again, You’re [D] never going to keep me [G] down,

I get knocked [D] down, but I get up [G] again, You’re [A] never going to keep me down. X 2

 

The harmonic progressions used in the work are not particularly unusual, representing pretty standard guitar chord sequences which involve primarily movements of major chords starting in the tonic and then transposing up or down a fourth or a fifth. The work is, like most pop songs, in common time. What makes the song unique is the fact that it includes contrasting textures which have to do with both rhythm and orchestration. The winning sequence which made the song (and thereafter the group itself) such a success is the strongly rhythmic chorus centred around the “I get knocked down” text.

 

On closer analysis the song reveals itself to be far more complex than the impression the standard chord sequence may give. The song begins, for one, with the following spoken text which begins over a three chord sequence, each chord leading one tone upwards with a standard drum kit rhythm accompanying it. A single synthesizer plays the chord sequence. The opening text is as follows:

 

"The truth is I thought it mattered . I thought that music mattered . But does it [matter]? Not compared to how people matter.”

 

In my opinion, this text sounds like the sort of remark a drunken person may make about music, and seeing that the song chooses rather stereotyped song types (as we shall discuss), this seems to make sense. Perhaps it is saying something about the fact that the song isn’t really supposed to be taken seriously, that the pop music to come is rhythmic and sounds great, but that it is critical of the pop idiom. After this opening text the texture and the instrumentation change for the first time suddenly with the text “we’ll be singing, when we’re winning” (twice) which is accompanied by a small tempo change (small enough to be striking) with the accompaniment of electronics and the entrance of voices singing in a highly vocal style, amplified to exaggerate the contrasts. The real dynamism, however, happens in the following change which leads into the main rhythmic sequence. Here suddenly a number of voices in a raucous tone begin the “I get knocked down” chorus. It is vibrant, dynamic and exciting. It reeks of camaraderie, confidence and masculinity and it is strongly accompanied by loud guitars and keyboards and of course strong drum-kit percussion. The point of the text is undoubtedly to encourage the social aspect of raucous drinking culture. The message is, plainly, that if one does get knocked down, with the numbing effects of alcohol one doesn’t notice and gets up and keeps drinking. This is followed by the “pissing the night away” text which drives the message home, and it contrasts because it is sung by a female voice. This probably explains its ‘commentary’ function on what otherwise is happening in the song. To perform this text, the orchestration is reduced to synthesizer, voice and drum kit. This is followed by an almost spoken text involving a series of drinks: “he drinks a whisky drink, he drinks a vodka drink” etc. This ends with another piece of commentary on the fact that “he sings the songs that remind him of the good times” and then ‘the better times’. This demonstrates both the celebratory aspect of the work and the function of alcohol to make life more bearable. The following sequence returns to the female voice who sings in a similar tone the words to the well-known song “Danny-boy” even though the song itself is of little signification (i.e. any song would do). This leads back to the raucous “I get knocked down text” which is basically repeated in the same fashion, which is followed again by the “pissing the night away” and then the sequence which leads to the “he sings the songs that reminds him of the good times.” This is answered by the female voice in a similar fashion, but with the text “don’t cry for me, next door neighbour” which is probably a parody of Lloyd-Weber’s Don’t Cry For Me Argentina song from his pop opera Evita, and at the same time a commentary on the fact that it is often the neighbour who comments on one’s coming home hopelessly drunk and noisy. This means that the whole sequence has been repeated twice with a few variations in text rather than harmony or orchestration. After the ‘neighbour’ text, the rhythmic chorus is repeated for a third time in the same way, but this leads to a period with a trumpet playing the melody, which is accompanied by keyboard. Then the chorus returns, but this time with the “we’ll be singing” text in the background, a sort of simple two-part polyphony. After one repetition, the “pissing the night away” melody joins in to make it three-part polyphony. The chorus then, as is typical of the pop idiom, fades out after a couple of repetitions. This is an exciting composition, made dynamic by its sudden contrasts, and it is a song with a ‘message’, even if their standpoint on the issue of drunkenness remains rather ambiguous.

 

 



[1] Chumbawumba, Tubthumping, EMI Records, Castleford, 1997: 1.

 

 

 

 

May 2008 Nachtschimmen Music-Theatre-Language Night Shades, Ghent (Belgium)*
Send mail to zachar@nachtschimmen.eu with questions or comments about this website.


*LAST MODIFIED:
September 27 2013.

 

 

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