the sweet 16:
(5) deee-lite, "groove is in the heart"
(8) chumbawamba, "tubthumping"

Read the essays, watch the videos, listen to the songs, feel free to argue below in the comments or tweet at us, and consider. Winner is the aggregate of the poll below and the @marchfadness twitter poll. Polls close @ 9am Arizona time on March 22.

Which song is the best?
(5) Deee-Lite, "Groove is in the Heart"
(8) Chumbawamba, "Tubthumping"
Poll Maker

analysis by zaza karaim

When I first heard the words “Tubthumping by Chumbawamba,” I had no idea what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised. My dad wrote the article for this song and played it about 300 times around the house and told me the whole Chumbawamba history (which I’ve forgotten). After those 300+ listens, I still enjoy the song, so that definitely says something good about it. Zaza’s rating: 7.5

"Groove is in the Heart": I had never heard this song before, but I’m a fan. It’s jazzy. Groovy, even. At certain moments, the vocals remind me of Hiatus Kaiyote, one of my favorite bands ever. I’m really enjoying listening to this song. It’s another one I’m going to keep in my music library even once Fadness is over. Zaza’s rating: 8

more analysis by kenneth caldwell

I abstain. I'm done casting ballots for these “hits,” done spoofing IPs in defense of the ones that barely pass muster. I’m finished trying to eke out their redeeming qualities. My scruples have been called into question just revisiting the lot of them.
     No more judiciously rating the music. I can’t be swayed with your pretty English: To mambo is to perish. Ever seen the drill scene in Pi? That’s me in ’98, trying to undo the synapses bridging “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” in my head. “Groove” is derivative bubble gum. Why repurpose antiestablishment imagery of the 60s? Semantically, it's senseless. No one is fooled, or perhaps everyone is a fool: It's the sex that sells it. For my part, I'm done supposing these songs might have some intrinsic value when recontextualized just so.
     Yet, this tournament still slays me. Lately, I’m punching in at work with nary a clue what’s happening in college basketball, but I’m boned up on some Arizonan’s 20-year-old mistake and emotional tumult. Not every Michigander can say that. So, to hell with it: I’m voting strictly on essay now. Your mechanics, your diction. Your research chops and oddball endearment. The painfully raw video essays and whispered podcasts. I'm listening to metal again, and I’m voting for your essays. Here’s how I figure this round:

If this were, I’d have ample chili peppers for Karen Pojmann and her sister, Wendy. Extra spice for black tights on the beach. Wondering if they were fishnets (har-har) helped me to overlook the pun on “Deee-Liteful” and anything that was said about RHCP. But barbecues with James Iha? Ms. Pojmann, you are a university communications goddess. Sentences after my heart include: “We eschewed the mainstream” and “Emerging music was edgy and loud and dark.” Thank you for the richness and imagery, the “dusty thrift shops and dark night clubs.”
     Reed Karaim: I’m enlightened by your research and unearthing of deeper meaning. I’ll cheers a pint to the mate who penned the phrase “tiresome demagoguery.” And more blogs should have footnotes, especially ones that cite Megadeth. I'm still struggling with the Jane Austen stuff—maybe said reappraisal will come in 20 years, but for now I think those stuffy novels remain partly why I dropped a few undergrad lit classes. What a relief no English professors will read this!
     Scrolling on, though, this is sounding like an empathy play for Chumbawamba. Am I reading this wrong? Is denying Nike considered heroic in the UK? Because if I'd been prompted to write about this song, say at gunpoint, I'd have begged for the end before discovering anything about British politics. That's what it’s like to be the sad guitar in this song, tongue-in-cheek or not. Chomsky and the “anarchist-punk collective” are tempting, but no: “Tubthumping” is wasted decibels.
    March Fadness songs are dead—long live March Fadness writers.


The first time I heard “Tubthumping” on the radio, I thought: Cool! Drunken British soccer hooligans have a catchy new party anthem! I pictured lots of shaved-headed guys in greasy working-class pubs sloshing pints as they raised them in the air to the triumphant chorus: “I get knocked down, I get back up again. Nothing’s going to keep me down!” Yeah, go Chelsea! Or Liverpool, or other semi-obscure British town that would eventually vote to leave Europe!
     The song, which felt like one of those anthems meant to be shouted hoarsely after your team has scored, or you have crushed a beer can against your head just for the hell of it, seemed a natural for the U.S., too. After all, we have sports teams we’re insane about, we almost certainly lead the world in smashing beer cans against our heads, and, more than any other country, we specialize in a kind of boastful defiance against the deeply buried insecurity that we’re not quite as great as we think. USA! USA! Nothing’s going to keep us down!
     I had hopes “Tubthumping” might supplant “We Will Rock You" by Queen as the song Americans stomped in rhythm to on football bleachers across America. “We Will Rock You” is a truly great song, but it’s 40 years old. [1] After all, if we’re really going to make America great again, shouldn’t we start by stealing a newer British song as our mindless party/sports anthem?
     Alas, that never happened, for several reasons. First, “Tubthumping” came out in 1997, before we had been informed we needed to make America great again. Second, the beat is a little too fast to stomp your feet to and, unfortunately, you have to be able to sing, at least a bit, to pull off the chorus. But the most significant reason the song never quite made it into the pantheon, and that Chumbawamba, the band that released it, were one-hit wonders in the United States, is that it was never the song we—or at least I—thought it was.
     Let’s start with the band. Chumbawamba sounds like: A. The name of a Star Wars character (probably a Wookie); B. A cute little Australian mammal distantly related to the koala bear; or C. Something a British soccer hooligan mumbles just before he falls off his stool. But what it actually was, was an anarchist-punk collective band that was a lot more interesting than any of those things.
     Chumbawamba (the name remains purposefully obscure. The band gave multiple explanations of how they came up with it, and freely confessed that all of them were lies) burned with a kind of anti-capitalist, anti-power-structure, leftist working-class ire that is largely unknown in the U.S., where working-class ire most often takes a Fox News inspired rightward turn. The band had a caustic sense of humor, but they were the real-deal when it came to their politics. They reportedly turned down $1.5 million from Nike to license “Tubthumping” for an ad campaign during a World Cup. They did accept $100,000 from General Motors for use of the song “Pass It along,” but gave the money to the activist group CorpWatch and the Independent Media Center, which used it for an environmentally-based campaign against GM.
     TubThumper, the album that included “Tubthumping” is considered their most user-friendly, mainstream work, even a bit of a sell-out among the take-no-prisoners part of their fan base, but it includes songs that address the Liverpool dock worker’s strike, homelessness and consumerism, all from a leftist, anarchist viewpoint that could easily tip over into tiresome demagoguery if they weren’t redeemed by their tunefulness and Chumbawamba’s always present sense of irreverence. They seem to be having fun, even when raising a middle finger toward everything from Tony Blair to the status obsessed British middle class (perhaps the same thing, I admit). Still, these lads and lasses were serious enough about their politics that they even did an album with Noam Chomsky for God’s sake, which, since it means surrendering any chance anyone will actually listen to your album, has to count as taking a genuine stand for your principles. [2]
     They had another minor hit in the U.K. and released quite a few albums that evidently did all right. But “Tubthumping” was really Chumbawamba’s fifteen minutes of fame. When they finally gave up the ghost in 2012, they went out with one of the more charming farewell notes in pop/rock history: “That's it then, it's the end. With neither a whimper, a bang or a reunion. Thirty years of ideas and melodies, endless meetings and European tours, press releases, sing-along choruses and Dada sound poetry, finally at an end . . . Thirty years of being snotty, eclectic, funny, contrary and just plain weird. What a privilege, and what a good time we've had." [3] 
     Listened to in the context of the band’s expressed ideology and other work, “Tubthumping” becomes something more and less than it seems. The upbeat chorus, which could be taken as a simple chant of working class defiance, is balanced against a second gentler refrain, in which female band member Lou Watts sings about “pissing the night away.” The melancholy tone of the line, sung in a sweet pure soprano, undercuts the song’s bravado, as if to acknowledge that the rest could be just an empty boast. Yes, we talk about taking a stand, but at the end of the day, we’re just as likely to end up getting pissed in a pub as we are to actually do anything. There’s a kind of quiet understanding and acceptance of human nature in that single line that puts “Tubthumping” up there with “Born in the USA” as one of the more misinterpreted rock anthems of all time. [4] It also explains why Chumbawamba never followed it up with something in the same vein. They were always more complicated than their one big hit appears on the surface.
     I have no idea how “Tubthumping” was viewed in England, but in America it faced an uphill struggle to ever connect in a larger socio-political sense. Is it possible for an upbeat-sounding, tub-thumping song actually named “Tubthumping” to carry a political message in the ruthlessly commoditized market of American pop? Can most any pop song manage that feat without being almost instantly subverted by its own success in the marketplace? Yes, Beyoncé pulls off the balancing act, selling millions of records while releasing songs that combine the personal and political in a way (partly through their video presentation) that conveys an ideological message, which resonates with a large audience. Numerous Rap and Hip-hop artists have also managed the feat. But Beyoncé simply defies all the rules, and Rap and Hip-hop have protest written into their very American DNA. If they have crossed over into commercial success, they still carry those roots with them and will until America is a very different country.
     But most American pop goes pop! and is gone. If it has even a bit more substance or staying power, it’s quickly remade as just one more gear in the great consumerist machine. We live in a capitalist system that took the Beatles song “All You Need Is Love,” originally written for a special worldwide BBC broadcast to celebrate the unity of all humankind, and turned it into an advertisement for disposable diapers: “All You Need is Luvs.” [5]
     Even if “Tubthumping” had come with Cliff Notes explaining the band’s politics and the history of British working class struggle, along with an addendum on the context of the melancholy secondary refrain, I’m not sure it would have made any difference. There’s something self-aware about this pop anthem that seems more distinctly British than American. We may be pissing the night – and the day – away in America, but we’re too busy shouting loudly at everyone around us that it isn’t the case, or if it is, it’s the fault of urban elites, immigrants, or someone else, to acknowledge our own self-defeating instincts. There has never been much room for a secondary, introspective refrain in America, and there is even less today.
     On the album, “Tubthumping” begins with a brief snippet of dialogue from a British movie, Brassed Off, which dealt with the closing of coal mines in England through the lens of a company band at one mine. The line is spoken by the band director, who has been obsessed with the band above all else until near the end. He says, “I thought that music mattered. But does it? Bollocks! Not compared to how people matter.” I can’t remember ever hearing that snippet on American radio, but I wish I had. But then again, “Tubthumping” aside, Chumbawamba was never really our kind of band.

[1] If you doubt the persistence of “We Will Rock You,” here’s what is these days considered an unimpeachable source, a random page I found on the internet:

[2] No, I haven’t listened to it either, but the tracks on side one are all Chomsky and the first three have these titles: “Destroying American Industrial Unionism,” “Corporations: Unaccountable Private Tyrannies,” and “The Business Press Explains.” These do not seem like danceable tracks, although number six, “Tyranny is Pure Freedom,” does sound like it has possibilities as a heavy metal tune if turned over to Megadeth.

[3] That is only the start and finish of a longer goodbye note that manages to make the case for the band’s philosophy and approach without sounding either pretentious or somber. You can find it here:

[4] My once-upon-a-time punk younger brother refused to listen to Springsteen for decades because he mistakenly connected “Born in the USA” with Reagan-era celebrations of American military might and strutting stupidity. Now entering his 50s, he has come to a belated re-appraisal and appreciation. Pretty much the same thing happened to me with Jane Austen.

[5] Yes, this really happened. Here’s the link:

Reed Karaim is a writer and journalist living in Tucson. He is the author most recently, of the novel, The Winter in Anna, published by W. W. Norton & Co.


At the end of 1990, at a time when we imagined ourselves too independent for conventional family vacations, my sister, Wendy, and I traveled with our parents to San Diego. We wouldn’t have considered not going, of course; it was the coldest, grimmest, darkest part of winter, and we lived in the bleak American Midwest. Grasping a chance to visit sunny and progressive California was—to use a phrase that was then soaring in popularity and at which I already had begun to roll my eyes—a no-brainer.
     Opinions differed, though, regarding what constituted a fun vacation. At 17, I held vague notions of “adventure,” a thing I craved insatiably and sought directionlessly, informed only partly by actual experience. Wendy, 20, went to college in Chicago and had an elevated, though unarticulated, relationship with excitement. I was wildly envious.
     Our parents' idea of pleasurable travel, as far as we could discern, involved driving around in a large, comfortable rented vehicle and looking at stuff. Lovely scenery. Interesting architecture. The ocean. They did not share our interest in dusty thrift shops, dark night clubs or boys with mohawks. They did not want to linger in record stores or take in spoken-word performances. They chuckled at our appearance on the beach, in black tights and floppy hats, a Goths-in-Hot-Weather-blog scene materializing long before blogs were even a thing. Moreover, as a retired Army colonel and spouse, my parents were drawn to the perks and small luxuries officer status afforded them in various parts of America. So when traveling as a family, we found ourselves frequenting locales in polar opposition to the bastions of nonconformity we sought: military bases.
     On a base in San Diego, shopping at the post exchange, Wendy and I searched the music department for something to distract us from the suburbanity of the van. Pickings were slim. We settled on the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Mother’s Milk and, somehow, Deee-Lite's World Clique, both on cassette. Back in the van, we’d cycle through the Chili Peppers, our parents cringing and shifting the sound to the rear speakers, and then pop in Deee-Lite for the catchy "Groove is in the Heart."
     Every time the song ended and the first few notes of the subsequent track, “Who Was That?,” sneaked into the airwaves, Wendy would huff in annoyance, stop the tape, rewind back to the one-hit wonder of which she had inexplicably grown fond, and play it again. It was odd behavior. She was the sort to mock people who knew only a band’s greatest hits, nearly always, knowingly, deeming an obscure B-side superior. Yet here we were. “Groove is in the Heart.” Over and over. Not even on “repeat” because it was a tape. The ritual began to infuriate me. Eventually, I was all, “Really? We can’t even give the next song a chance? What if this is a good album?” But her resolve was firm. “Groove” only.
     The real question isn't why Wendy refused to hear World Clique in its entirety, to bask in its kitschy glory, but, rather, why we were listening to Deee-Lite at all. We were rebels. We eschewed the mainstream. And she, certainly, was not one to succumb to “catchy.” She ridiculed my bent toward alt-pop, my elevation of Morrissey over, say, Soundgarden. Moreover, at that particular moment at the start of a musically complicated decade, she stood on the precipice of definitive ‘90s musical innovation. She worked for Chicago’s Limited Potential Records and had become friends with the members of the band Smashing Pumpkins, among others. In fact, a scant five months from that day in the van, we would be in Chicago, on the eve of my high school graduation, bar-hopping with Billy Corgan and James Iha in the wee hours of a spring night/morning. Billy would be describing to me how he wanted their first music video to reflect “not so much the progression of the song as the intensity” and I’d be naively dismissive of yet another pretentious garage-band-guitarist friend of my sister’s. A mere two weeks from that moment, the album Gish would be released and the American indie music scene would be turned on its head. Or notably affected, at least. And this newly famous band’s members would find themselves grilling burgers on the tiny back deck of Wendy’s Wrigleyville apartment. This is the level of cool my sister had attained in the early 1990s. So why the Deee-Lite fixation? What was, if I may borrow another phrase from the decade, the deal?
     1990-91 was a time when grunge was evolving and “college rock” was enjoying a heyday. New sounds came in forms like Jane's Addiction and Nirvana. The original Lollapalooza was born. Emerging music was edgy and loud and dark. Often cathartic. But it was also a time when, conversely, people who had never experienced Flower Power firsthand suddenly became nostalgic for it. Claire's Boutique sold peace-symbol jewelry. College girls donned mini-skirts and braided headbands or combed secondhand shops for polyester bell bottoms. Volkswagens experienced a surge in popularity. In the absence of a Vietnam War or a draft, of real civil unrest or a civil rights movement, the colorfully Deee-Liteful trappings and adornments culled from the late '60s and early '70s offered solace. Balance. They provided an iridescent lightness to counteract grunge and rage rock. A groove. A happy place. Respite. We were not immune. In short, Deee-Lite’s funky tune had a good beat, and we could dance to it—though never in public.

Karen Pojmann is a university communications director and magazine editor in Columbia, Missouri. Her poetry has appeared in in Writers DigestThe Madison ReviewMom Egg Review and Interpretations. She co-directs a monthly arts and literature series in a local gallery.

Want to get email updates on all things March Fadness during February and March? Join the email list: