A Deep Dive Into The Video For All Star By Smash Mouth
All good things must come to an end, and this series of deep dives into music videos is one of them. It’s been a wild ride – one of laughter, tears, obsession, annoyance and overthinking. What could be a more fitting finale than the internet’s favourite song, an earworm of ridiculous proportions that combines questionable facial hair decisions, recycled footage, underwhelming special effects and the constant spectral presence of a swamp-dwelling, Scottish-accented ogre?
Ladies and gentlemen, All Star by Smash Mouth. You’re welcome.
This introduction comes from the 1999 has-its-moments superhero comedy Mystery Men. Left to right, that’s William H. Macy as The Shoveller, Hank Azaria as Blue Raja, Ben Stiller as Mr Furious, Paul Reubens as The Spleen and Kel Mitchell as The invisible Boy. However, when the characters later appear outside of recycled movie clips, they are pretty unconvincing body doubles seen only from behind.
That is a pre-fame Dane Cook – he went on to be a massively successful stand-up comedian. Fun fact: his current girlfriend wasn’t born at the time this video was filmed. Hang on, is that fun? That might not be fun at all.
See the guy playing Pencil Head? That’s Doug Jones, who went on to play the monster in The Shape Of Water. Hey, wasn’t it weird in that film when the lady told her friend she’d had sex with the sea monster and her friend was like, ‘Yeah, you go girl!’? Imagine, right now, telling your friend that you had sex with a sea monster. They wouldn’t offer up a high-five. They would ostracise you, and rightly so.
Oh, here he is, bouncing an Elvis impersonator out of frame. This is Steve Harwell – Smash Mouth frontman, former rapper, good pal of the internet’s favourite chef Guy Fieri, occasional reality TV star and guy that once ate 24 boiled eggs in one go to raise money for a children’s hospital. He’s an easy enough dude to make fun of – he’s pretty cheesy and dresses how a toddler thinks they’ll dress when they’re grown up – but he’s also lived through tragedy and subsequently tried to do his best to help others, so good on him really.
Mr Furious saying “I’d say there’s potential” doesn’t really make sense, as all Harwell has done is bounce a man away and shrug, but whatevs. You do what you can with recycled footage.
And the song begins. You basically only need to sing that first syllable and that’s it – whoever is in the room with you will sing the entirety of All Star by Smash Mouth. It’s sort of the vocal equivalent of those first few notes of Stairway To Heaven or the Smells Like Teen Spirit riff.
Really unusual beard decision. There’ll be a few of those in this video. Smash Mouth started out in ska-punk, and that field has always been rife with inadvisable soul patches.
The song says ‘she’, and that’s a boy, but whatevs. Director McG (who later made the Charlie’s Angels films and co-created teen soap The O.C., the first season of which is untouchable) probably knew what he was doing.
Bassist Paul DeLisle is one of the founding members of Smash Mouth and the only one other than Harwell who is still in the band. He wrote a book about them, Walkin’ On The Sun: The Official Smash Mouth Biography. It has 70 per cent five-star reviews on Amazon.
Drummer Michael Urbano, brought in for a recording session, had heard the song once when he played on it, and recorded his drums in two takes. A month later, he heard it on the radio and remarked to his wife, “I think that’s that song I played on”. He ended up joining the band, but left in 2006. He has played a few shows with them since, as well as playing with Fischerspooner and Cake.
The success of All Star created a surprising amount of tension within the band. Songwriter and guitarist Greg Camp felt was more about what he perceived as artistic integrity, while frontman Steve Harwell was all about going for it commercially. Their manager later described it: “Greg has always been a very anti-The Man, anti-corporate. He’s a true artist, so he doesn’t like those connotations. Steve is a performer. He’s an entertainer. He’s like, ‘See this face? Sell it. Put it on lunch pails.’ There was different point of view there.”
“Steve, the singer, wanted cars and girls and things like that in the videos, so that’s why all that sort of stuff happened,” Greg Camp told Songfacts.
If you think the greenscreening of the dog looks like shit, stick around! At this point you might be thinking, ‘Where’s the ogre?’ The thing is, this song came out in 1999, and Shrek didn’t come out until 2001. Dreamworks did something quite unusual for the time, and put together a soundtrack of mostly pre-existing songs. One of those was All Star, used in the intro to the movie and almost acting as a theme for it. While this gave the song an enormous second life, a lot of people assume it originated with the big green swamp monster that launched a thousand memes, which is something that doesn’t necessarily thrill the band. For a while, their Twitter presence consisted almost entirely of replying to people associating them with Shrek to point out that actually the song came out before the film, and they had already had a number one hit by that point. It wasn’t necessarily a great look for the band.
It’s very catchy, isn’t it? The band’s manager Robert Hayes told Rolling Stone how the song came together: “One night I sat Greg down, opened up a Billboard magazine, and said, ‘Dude, let’s just go through this. I want a little piece of each one of these songs.’ The Top 50, at this time, was Smash Mouth, Sugar Ray, Third Eye Blind, Vertical Horizon, Barenaked Ladies, Marcy Playground, Chumbawamba. He left, and two days later he walks into my office with a cassette tape. I popped it in and there was All Star on this cassette. I stopped, and I looked at him. He goes, ‘What? You don’t like it?’ I said, ‘Are you friggin’ kidding me? This is a smash!’”
Oh, that’s some shitty greenscreen.
That is, quite manifestly, not the actors we saw earlier. The guy on the left is meant to be Ben Stiller, for eff’s sake. The Spleen and Invisible Boy are nowhere to be seen (haha, invisible, nowhere to be seen, haha, thanks), replaced by someone standing in for The Bowler, played by Janeane Garofalo.
Obviously continuity is Priority Z in something like this, but look, these women get on the motortricycle and sit on the sides of it…
…But now they’re clearly one in front of the other. God damn it, McG. God damn it, Smash Mouth.
Smash Mouth beating Greta Thunberg by a few decades there, with the statement ‘My world’s on fire’.
That sample, saying “Go for the moon”, comes from a NASA recording of the Apollo 11 mission. It’s public domain, handily for the band.
This is all seamlessly-integrated movie footage. As well as Mystery Men and Shrek, this song is used in the 2001 comedy Rat Race, which is by all standards quite a crap film. Any film where the highlight is a semi-concussed Jon Lovitz sporting a Hitler moustache and yelling is not amazing. The band appear as themselves playing their big-ass hit at the end.
One of Smash Mouth’s biggest fans is a guy named Jon Sudano, who achieved viral fame in 2016 after posting a bunch of videos on YouTube in which he sings the All Star lyrics over different backing tracks. The band have differing opinions on him – Greg Camp is friends with him on Facebook and thinks he is “fabulous”, while Steve Harwell is less of a fan.
Camp wrote the song after reading fan mail from people who had enjoyed the band’s first album. “About 85 – 90 per cent of the mail was from these kids who were being bullied or their brothers or older siblings were giving them shit for liking Smash Mouth or liking whatever they’re doing or the way they dressed and stuff,” he said. “So we were like, ‘We should write a song for fans.’ It was sort of like a daily affirmation. It was designed to be an uplifting, self-confidence building song.”
The extra guy bouncing around and playing keys is producer Eric Valentine, who has produced a shitload of stuff, including Queens Of The Stone Age’s amazing Songs For The Deaf.
Well done, everybody, but FUCKING HELL THOSE STAND-INS ARE SHIT.
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