Cracked's 'One Hit Blunders': 5 Strange Things About 'All Star' And Smash Mouth's Rise And Fall
"All Star" by Smash Mouth has one of the weirdest roller coaster rides in all of modern music. The song spent nine weeks at the top of the charts back in 1999, but that wasn’t even the height of the song’s popularity. A certain green ogre with a Scottish accent shot the song to infamy two years later, and the internet later turned the song into a punchline.
The band behind the song? Well, let’s just say that not all that glitters is gold, and not all shooting stars break the mo-o-ooold. SORRY! We were wanting to get through this piece without using any more of the lyrics than we had to. We just had to get that out of our system. Moving on…
Ironically, "All Star" was Smash Mouth’s Attempt to Avoid Being a One-Hit Wonder
It is unfair to label Smash Mouth as a one-hit wonder, as they have had a handful of hits over the years. Their first hit came in 1997 with "Walkin’ on the Sun," a terminally catchy little earworm that made it to #1 on both the US Billboard Modern Rock and Adult Top 40 charts, #2 on Hot 100 Airplay chart, and was named Song of the Year by Tribal Tattoo Aficionado Magazine.
"Walkin’ on the Sun" was actually a pretty damn good song back in the day … the first five times you heard it. The problem the song suffered from is that every modern rock station in America made sure you heard the damn thing 15 times a day, every day for months, whether you wanted to or not. Plus, the song fits right in with that brief pop/punk/ska fusion era of the mid-to-late-'90s where bands like No Doubt and Mighty Mighty Bosstones dominated the airwaves right before everyone got really into swing music for some God-forsaken reason.
This song was one of only two singles off the band’s debut album Fush Yu Mang (ugh) to make the charts. The other being a pretty by-the-numbers cover of War’s "Why Can’t We Be Friends," which only managed to reach #28 on the Alternative Airplay charts. With the rest of the songs on the album sounding nothing like either of these two singles, the success of "Walkin’ on the Sun" was the template the band followed to develop the signature sound for their follow-up album, Astro Lounge.
The band teamed up with producer Eric Valentine to put together 13 new songs for Astro Lounge, steering away from the band’s punk and ska influences for a more commercially viable pop sound. They presented the album to Interscope Records, only to be told that the label didn’t really think any of the songs had hit single potential. So, the band’s manager Robert Hayes and their head songwriter/guitarist Greg Camp started analyzing the most popular songs at the time, trying to figure out which elements made them work, and within a few days, they had cranked out what would become the album’s two biggest singles: "Then the Morning Comes" and "All Star."
Here’s the song in case you’ve been trapped in a Cold War-era bunker for decades and only escaped this morning:
If Smash Mouth was hoping not to be remembered as the "Walkin’ on the Sun" guys, “All Star” granted them that wish. The song made it to #1 in just 10 weeks and stayed there for three times longer than their breakthrough hit did two years prior. "Then the Morning Comes" even made it to #2. But what really set "All Star" apart was that it would end up being a hit twice more over the next couple of decades for reasons the band would never see coming.
Then Came Shrek
Movie soundtrack albums have become pretty few and far between in recent years, but back in the ‘80s and ’90s, they were considered a crucial marketing tie-in. Hollywood would enlist the hottest musical acts of the day to either write an original song for the film, repackage one of their existing hits, or use one of their discarded tracks as album filler. Sometimes both the movie and the soundtrack would be massive hits (Top Gun, The Bodyguard, Dirty Dancing, Friday, etc.). Other times, the results were … mixed. Judgment Night? Great soundtrack, horrible movie. Ghostbusters II? Fun movie, but hearing hip-hop legends Run-DMC rap about the Ghostbusters just felt weird and wrong.
By the time “All Star” was ready for release, Smash Mouth had already had experience with the movie soundtrack game. Their music had been in the background of such films as An American Werewolf in Paris, Half Baked, Wild Things, and BASEketball. They also recorded a cover of the Four Seasons’ "Can’t Get Enough of You Baby" for the soundtrack to the 1998 teen comedy Can’t Hardly Wait, which also made it onto Astro Lounge.
Today, it’s almost impossible to hear “All Star" and not think of the first Shrek movie, but by the time that movie came out (a full two years after the single’s release), the song had already been featured in a half dozen movies and TV shows. Hollywood had already once tried to make it the lead single off a soundtrack album with the 1999 superhero spoof Mystery Men. If you’ve never seen the movie, don’t worry. When it came out, no one else did either. We only brought it up in case you were wondering why the music video opens with Ben Stiller and William H. Macy giving Dane Cook a job interview.
"All Star" wasn’t originally supposed to be used in Shrek. The animators started out using “All Star” as a temp track for the opening credits sequence, intending to replace it later with something that had the same feel and tempo. But Dreamworks head Jeffrey Katzenberg liked the test footage so much he suggested getting Smash Mouth to allow them to use the song for the sequence.
The band initially said no, stating that they didn’t really want their music to be a part of a kid's movie. That’s understandable … but where exactly was that attitude earlier when the song was shoehorned into Digimon: The Movie or when Disney used it in Inspector Gadget? Only after Dreamworks invited the band to attend an early screening of Shrek did the band come around. They not only signed off on having the song included in the movie’s opening but also agreed to record a cover of The Monkees’ I’m a Believer for the film's closing scene.
Which, since being a contrived publicity stunt, actually manages to capture the essence of The Monkees pretty well:
Shrek ended up grossing nearly a half billion dollars worldwide and gave Dreamworks Animation their first huge (and much needed) hit. The soundtrack album sold nearly 2.5 million copies and allowed Smash Mouth to gain not just a following among Millennials who grew up on the Shrek franchise but also the migraine-induced hatred of every parent of those kids who wanted to hear those songs over and over again.
Embracing the Memes
Starting in the early 2000s, the internet started becoming a very silly place. Practically any song that became the slightest bit popular became instant fodder for all sorts of covers, mashups, parodies, and memes. “All Star” by Smash Mouth, given its inescapable ubiquity after the success of Shrek, practically became a one-stop meme machine.
Just the way the song opens is enough to trick people into walking right into the joke. There’s no opening hook… no intro… no warning. As soon as you hear Steve Harwell’s voice utter that first syllable of “Some--,” your brain freezes like the moment between seeing the other car coming at you at full speed, and the impact of “-BODY once told me …” And there’s nothing you can do to stop having to hear (every conceivable curse word in gerund form) "All Star" again. The music doesn’t even have to play for the joke to land. The written words still work the same way.
From 2016 to 2019, YouTuber Jon Sudano uploaded cover versions of famous songs, only to sing the lyrics from "All Star." There’s no mention of “All Star” in the titles or descriptions in order to trap as many unsuspecting search results as possible. Seriously, 57 videos like this. We salute your commitment to the bit, sir!
The members of Smash Mouth have embraced their meme status, and why wouldn’t they? It’s driving engagement and keeping their music popular. Besides, they know better than to take any of this stuff too seriously. So, when comedian Jon Hendren took to Twitter one night and challenged “the guy from Smash Mouth” to eat two dozen eggs in exchange for $20, the whole thing snowballed in a surprisingly wholesome way.
A promoter had reached out to the band about the challenge, he managed to convince them it was a good idea, and Smash Mouth decided to up the ante: If the internet could raise $10,000 for St. Jude’s Children's Research Hospital. It only took a few days for the money to be raised and the egg-eating challenge to be set up at the opening of Guy Fieri's Johnny Garlic's restaurant in Dublin, CA. Fieri himself even cooked the eggs for Steve Harwell, which was a fun way to play off the internet theory/joke that the two men might be the same person since they had never been photographed in the same room together.
Ultimately, Harwell only made it about 6-8 eggs in before tapping out and offering the eggs to other people. Kinda a boss move, really. It’s not like anyone was gonna rescind their donation to help sick kids just because the guy from Smash Mouth didn’t clean his plate.
Going Viral Again, But For All The Wrong Reasons
In August of 2020, Smash Mouth performed at the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota. This event raised alarm among health officials as soon as it was announced, as this would be the largest public gathering since the pandemic started. Early figures were projecting about 250,000 people would be in attendance, which in and of itself was already expected to become a worst-case-scenario superspreader event. Organizers did assure the public they would put up signs encouraging attendees to wear masks and practice social distancing. And if there’s one group you can trust to follow the rules, it’s hundreds of thousands of partying bikers.
Smash Mouth found themselves going viral for their performance at the rally, and in the worst way possible. Videos of Steve Harwell telling the unsurprisingly maskless crowd “F— that COVID shit!” quickly made the rounds on social media, sparking a ton of ridicule of the “imagine risking your life to see Smash Mouth” and “ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed” variety.
After the rally had concluded, it was discovered that the actual number of attendees at the rally was upwards of 460,000, and resulted in COVID infections. Many media reports couldn’t help but mention Smash Mouth and the now-infamous comments Harwell made at the show, which didn’t help the band’s already big enough PR problem. What’s sad is that Trapt also performed on the same stage that night, and they managed to escape the same kind of scrutiny despite their lead singer having far worse things to say about just about everything.
You’d think one would have to try really hard to outdo a fiasco than that, but Harwell somehow managed. In October 2021, while performing at the Big Sip beer festival in Bethel, NY, seemed to take the festival name a little too literally and took the stage way too drunk for a gig that started at 3:45 in the afternoon. In the viral video of the show, Harwell is shown slurring his words, flipping off the crowd, threatening to kill one audience member, and giving what many thought was a Nazi salute.
In the wake of this incident, Steve Harwell announced his retirement from the band in order to focus on his physical and mental health. For years, Harwell had been suffering from cardiomyopathy, which had led to a series of other ailments that have affected his motor functions, speech, and memory. His struggles with substance abuse had only made those problems worse.
Changes in the Lineup
Steve Harwell’s exit from the band was amicable, and in January of this year, it was announced that the band had found a new lead singer, Zach Goode. And a couple of months later, the band released their first post-Harwell single, a cover of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.” What better way for a band that embraced their meme status so well than to start their newest chapter with a cover of another meme.
However, this has not been the band’s first time losing a member of the group. Founding member, guitarist, and lead songwriter of their biggest original hits, Greg Camp left the band in 2008 to work on other projects. Their first drummer, Kevin Coleman, left the band shortly after the release of Astro Lounge due to back problems, and since then, the band has had about as much trouble holding onto a drummer as Spınal Tap. Too obscure of a reference for you young pups out there? Fine, let’s go with the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor at Hogwarts instead.
In fact, bassist Paul De Lisle is the only founding member of Smash Mouth still standing, and here’s hoping he sticks around to the very end of the band itself; a stalwart guardian of the Smash Mouth name. The last thing we want is for those past members to pull a Beach Boys and form 15 different versions of themselves and leave us wondering which one is the real one like some sort of musical Ship of Theseus paradox.
Dan Fritschie is a writer, comedian, and frequent over-thinker. He can be found on Twitter, and he thanks you for your time.
Top image: Interscope Records