elite 8:
(8) chumbawamba, "tubthumping" defeats (3) jane child, "don't wanna fall in love" 254-221 AND JOINS THE FINAL FOUR

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 Saturday, March 25.

Which song is the best?
(3) Jane Child, "Don't Wanna Fall in Love"
(8) Chumbawamba, "Tubthumping"
Poll Maker

analysis by the march fadness selection committee

Pardon us for asking how either of these songs made it to the Elite 8. You can tell by Muñoz's essay on Jane Child that he didn't even pick it over Monie freaking Love in its first-round game (that song, by the way, is a classic, and you all should have recognized it as such). How "Breakfast at Tiffany's" got by "Bitch" to be defeated by Child in the Sweet 16 we could imagine. We think that Meredith Brooks would have taken out Jane Child by now, but Deep Blue Something couldn't. So it's been a wild ride for her thus far. That's how the brackets go and why it's so hard to get them right. A low turnout for an early game has ripples all the way up the ladder.

"Tubthumping," ably repped by Reed Karaim, got through a difficult first round game against an excellent Us3, and Digital Underground failed to upset Right Said Fred, making RSF more vulnerable to Chumbawamba than we think "Humpty Dance" would have been, and then somehow via anarchist- or bro-magic it snuck by "Groove is in the Heart" to make it here. In our view the better song with the better story is Chumbawamba's "Tubthumping," but it's also the more annoying song. "Don't Wanna Fall in Love" is aided by being both very early 90s (a 1990 release) and probably not being as memorable (or memorably irritating, if you prefer). We picked consistently against Jane Child in almost every game so far so we have no business picking against her here. (Though we do wonder how much of her victory over Deep Blue Something was hate-voting down "Breakfast at Tiffany's," which seems to have aroused more ire than most of these songs thus far, still: a win's a win.)

So we have no idea how to pick this game. We can't imagine voting against either of them, yet you'll have to. At least both are legit one-hit wonders without much if any apparent social media presence. Jane Child had a Twitter account, last updated in 2009. Chumbawamba obviously does not. Neither appears to have much push from the authors in question (perhaps at first a negative, now perhaps as the tourney has dragged on, it's a positive: we're not sure). Either would be a big surprise in the final four and, who knows, have as good a shot as any other song here. Without "Baby Got Back" or its man-killing clam enemy "Life is a Highway" in the tourney, the spot in the final game could be anyone's. Which is why we freaking play the game.

As for this, (3) seed Jane Child is the highest remaining seed in the tournament, indicating something wacky about our seeding (which, while based exclusively on highest US Top 40 chart position, allowed for some play-in songs who were often much stronger than expected or better warmed-up from that first test) OR it suggests an inverse relationship between the ubiquity of the truly ubiquitous (1) and (2) seeds that worked against them: see also Macarena, I'm Too Sexy, Baby Got Back, Return of the Mack, Here Comes the Hotstepper, Whoomp! (There it is) etc. It's anyone's game here, so you decide.


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: http://www.complex.com/sports/2013/10/greatest-stadium-anthems-all-time/.

[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: http://www.chumba.com/

[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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X79emCApQX4.)

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.


Am I the only one who needs to be forgiven for confusing Jane Child for Taylor Dayne? “Don’t Wanna Fall in Love,” at least to my young ears at the time, was cut from the same dance/pop-with-heavy-synth formula as “Tell It to My Heart.” When I first heard the song on the radio, I thought Taylor had made a welcome return from the adult-contemporary side of the dial, where she was learning a thing or two from Anita Baker about the money to be raked in from the kind of music played over white wine and maybe a bear-skin rug if you played your cards right.
     Back then, I also listened to music through constant flipping among the MTV-VH1-BET axis and it caught me by genuine surprise when I finally ran across the Jane Child video. To paraphrase Blanche Devereaux, I knew it couldn’t be a Taylor Dayne video because there were no boy dancers. If Taylor Dayne knew the value of a well-staged and well-packaged (as it were) dance number, Jane Child went the other way with a largely gritty, sometimes black-and-white, sometimes color depiction of her walk to a New York studio to lay down this track. Whether strolling along in some cool-ass boots or hailing a cab or taking the N train to (or from?) Queens, she’s always alone, and as exuberantly fine with that as the song suggests she would be. “Ain’t no personal thing, boy,” she warns in the opening line, “but you have got to stay away.” The chaos of the video’s editing makes the most it can out of a formidable persona being brutally honest about what love with her might mean. Like any opening of Saturday Night Live, just about every variation on the possibilities of city nightlife gets trotted out, only to overshadow the performer it is meant to highlight.
     I’m really torn about this song for all sorts of reasons. I’ll be honest here and admit that I cringed when I saw that this song was up against Monie Love, a performer who I think is going to benefit most from (re)discovery in these brackets, and who brings back fond memories of one of my high-school friends endlessly playing her cassette single (her cassette single!) on our drives around town. I’m secretly (or not so secretly) rooting for Monie, even as I acknowledge that the great bluster in Jane Child’s lyrics were part of the draw. I appreciate how the song posits that her kind of love won’t be for wimps and the relish she takes in that. But that can get lost amid its dance appeal and, to be fair, Jane Child’s delivery. The acidic possibilities of those lyrics get a bit muddled and the 90’s-synth comes on thicker (and more dated) in this song than in others within the bracket. 
     Ultimately, I wonder what “Don’t Wanna Fall in Love” means in defining the one-hit wonder for this era, and am left pondering Jane Child’s presence: her ankle-length braids and the nose chain and the long black coat remind me of just how inimitable she was. By that, I mean that emulating the look and the posture (as was our wont when I was growing up) took a hell of a lot more effort than copying Taylor Dayne’s bangs from her “Tell It to My Heart” video. There’s a lot to be said for creating a formula that allows for just enough emulation but not complete derivation, uniqueness but not idiosyncrasy. Taylor Dayne herself knew exactly how to package her power ballads—as neat, elegant, well-lensed studio performances, going black-and-white where Anita Baker had gone sepia. Jane Child struck all the right notes in blending a flashy dance track with a satisfyingly dark undercurrent in her lyrics, but it might be the kind of strike a performer can make just once. You’ll have to forgive me if I remember “Don’t Wanna Fall in Love” as two hot guys dancing against a white backdrop, jean jackets and no shirts, and a final, infuriatingly sexy turnaway from the camera. The one in the yellow socks, especially, with the deliberate hitch in his step: every time, it calls my name.

Manuel Muñoz is the author of a novel, What You See in the Dark, and two short-story collections. He’s midway through a third, with recent work in American Short Fiction and forthcoming from Southwest Review.

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