Aug 182023

Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.

Chumbawamba Tubthumping

It can be hard work being in a band for 30 years. Not everyone survives with their friendships and dignity intact. The Anarcho-Punk outfit Chumbawamba originated in the North of England in 1982, and survived as a band until 2012. A marvelous recent documentary showed that they still get on with each other, on the whole. In addition to the precarious living that is common in the early stages (and other) of being a musical combo outside the mainstream, they had principles that restricted their ability to grow and make money. They gave their time and music to a lot of unpaid causes. They encouraged their fans to record their concerts and circulate them as cassettes, even though they didn’t have as many people at their gigs, and buying merchandise, as the Grateful Dead. Each member of their fan club had an entirely individual interpretation of their mission and how to fulfil it, and were vocal with their opinions, and quick to boycott. And yet they thrived.

What does a One Hit Wonder add to that mix? Chumbawamba’s career is neatly divided around 1997: the period before they had one of the biggest singles in the world, and the period after. Having already alienated a section of their fanbase (as usual) by “selling out” by signing with a “Big” label, they then produced an overtly “pop” single, “Tubthumping,” and everything changed. They appeared in media throughout the world and played concerts across the globe. They generated a lot of cash from sales and licensing the hit, which they could direct to their causes if they wanted. They humiliated a bloviating politician in a way that they could not have before. If one of the band encouraged fans, on national television in the US, to steal their record if they cannot afford, what was it? Loose, unthinking talk? A dada-ist prank? Evidence of an excellent eye for PR? All three? Whatever the reason, it did not harm sales.
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