A Song About Drugs or Alcohol

30-Day Song Challenge, Day 8: A Song About Drugs or Alcohol

The English band Chumbawumba first formed in 1982, but didn’t achieve mainstream recognition until the 1997 release of “Tubthumping,” which would become their biggest hit. Here in the US, it spent a total of 31 weeks in the Billboard Top 100, two of which were spent at slot number 6, the song’s highest point of success. All through the fall of that year, it was well-nigh inescapable.

Even so, it’s admittedly kind of a stupid song. There’s only a single verse and the chorus, repeated over and over. You can’t say it’s making any deep observations about the human condition. But it is weirdly evocative in its stripped-down simplicity. It so wonderfully captures a time and a place: a sweaty crowded pub, or in my case, since I didn’t get out to pubs all that often, house parties filled with horny twentysomethings trying to relax and to connect, the hormonal imperative to meet somebody and be with somebody just strong enough to overcome the insecurity, perhaps with a little help from the Jello shots. I hear this song and I think of candles flickering down deep into canyons of melted wax as the clock spins on into the wee hours and the living room grows quieter and the conversation gets weirder, the ashtrays overflowing and all the sticky-sweet mixer is gone so you’re just drinking the straight stuff now, and your free hand is around the shoulder of someone you want to take home, and someone is expounding on a book they read in college, so long ago, and someone else is staring sadly at the ember glowing at the end of their cigarette. I was 28 in the fall of 1997. Emotionally, I was probably closer to 20 than to 30, but I thought myself such a sophisticate, or at least I told myself I was. I fancied myself a Byronic hero, beaten up by the world, and yet somehow standing upright in the gale. “Tubthumping” evokes that, too… it’s not only a drinking song, it’s optimistic and encouraging, with its assertion that you’re going to get up again no matter what life throws at you.

And it’s catchy as hell.


3 comments on “A Song About Drugs or Alcohol

  1. Melissa


    Space Oddity. I never thought much about what this song was really about, Bowie’s lyrics always seemed just obscure enough that they could be about anything. I always thought it was just about feeling odd or separate from everyone else. I read very recently that this was (maybe) about overdosing. It added a layer for me. Major Tom made a choice he can’t come back from and he’s just settling into it like a warm bath while everyone else panics.

  2. jason

    That’s interesting, I’d never heard that interpretation. I guess I didn’t think too much about this one either. Silly me, I thought it was about a lost astronaut. 😀

    That’s a pretty fascinating clip, by the way. I tend to associate music videos with the MTV era, obviously, but I’ve learned that there were things that could be called “videos” as far back as the 1930s…

    1. Melissa

      I think that maybe that interpretation comes from the lyric in Ashes to Ashes, “We know Major Tom’s a junkie”.

      Also, if that video tells us anything, it’s “even David Bowie looks terrible without eyebrows”.