The story of The Offspring in 10 songs

Dexter Holland and Noodles guide us through The Offspring’s musical history – from mainstream mega-hits to all-out punk ragers.

The story of The Offspring in 10 songs
Ian Winwood
Originally published:

With a good-natured laugh, Dexter Holland recalls that “so many people come up to me and say, ‘Oh, I thought your band’s music was really happy – until I read the lyrics.’” Sometimes maligned, often misunderstood, for 40 years The Offspring have been a standard-bearer for the kind of American punk rock that cracked the U.S. mainstream in the middle years of the ’90s. In this, the group from Orange County played as pivotal a role as any; released in 1994, to this day their third LP, Smash, remains the highest-selling independent rock release of all time.

Its success took everyone by surprise. As his band became staples of the airwaves, guitarist Noodles was still working as a janitor at a local junior school. Raking leaves, each morning the pupils at an adjoining high school would tell him that they’d just seen him on MTV. As Smash went gold, and then platinum, and then more, he finally handed in notice. He hasn’t looked back.

Here, we join Dexter and Noodles in a review of the highlights of the past, and the promises of the present…

I’ll Be Waiting(The Offspring, 1989)

Originally released in 1986, The Offspring’s first single was re-recorded on their self-titled 1989 album

Noodles: “It kind of set the template for who we became; there were plenty of down-strokes, but there was also some solos and some stringy bits on that. It was melodic, too. And it focused on song structure; there was definitely more than three chords at work there.”

Dexter: “Because that song was our first single, obviously it really does go way back. I think what I remember about that was that I felt comfortable singing. We’d done demos before, and all first demos are pretty bad. But there I felt good singing like that. But that might have been because I sounded like Jack [Grisham, from fellow Californian band T.S.O.L]. But, whatever, I’ll take it.”

Dirty Magic(Ignition, 1992)

Another track the band recorded twice, Dirty Magic first appears on 1992’s Ignition album

Noodles: “We’ve always loved that song, but I do remember friends of ours giving us a hard time for putting that out on Ignition. Because it wasn’t punk. It didn’t have a heavy bass, drums and guitar style; it was slowed down, but we thought it was a great song. We thought that it was the kind of thing that you didn’t hear every day. I still love that song, and the reason that we re-recorded it was because we never felt that it got its due notice.”

Dexter: “It was important because on Ignition it was different from the other punk stuff. It showed that we didn’t want to get stuck in this mould where we could only do a certain kind of song.”

Come Out And Play(Smash, 1994)

The song that brought The Offspring to the mainstream

Noodles: “I have to say that I’m horrified at the thought of us never having done that song. To me, that world [in which it was never recorded] is a place of the Upside Down in Stranger Things. Because if we didn’t do that song would we have got people to listen to [other songs from parent album Smash] Gotta Get Away and Self Esteem? Would anyone have taken notice of those songs? I honestly don’t know. But that song got people to give our other songs a chance.”

Dexter: “Definitely. You can tell it’s a punk band, but it doesn’t necessarily sound like a punk song. Certainly not how we thought of it. I guess MTV thought it was very punk. But I think it stood out because we were trying to put in as many hooks as possible.”

Gone Away(Ixnay On The Hombre, 1997)

The second single from The Offspring’s major-label debut

Noodles: “It was a song that just seemed to grab people more than any song we’ve ever done, I think, so much so that we’ve taken to stripping it down and doing a piano version that just starts off with Dexter and the piano [as part of the band’s live show]. It purifies the spirit of the song, I think, to the extent that fans have been telling us for years to record a piano version in the studio. And we did it on this new record [Let The Bad Times Roll].”

Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)(Americana, 1998)

Some people think it’s a novelty hit, the lead single from Americana is anything but…

Noodles: “Let’s call it a gateway song, shall we? Because I don’t think that a lot of people would have heard of our band were it not for a song like Pretty Fly (For A White Guy). We’ve heard the story so many times: people like the song, they buy the album it comes from, and then they end up hating the song that brought them to it in the first place. We’ve heard that said so many times.”

Dexter: “I’ve heard it said too. But then we play these festivals in Europe, and it goes off when we play that song.”

One Fine Day(Conspiracy Of One, 2000)

Because when The Offspring want to punk it up, they really do

Dexter: “That song was not the album’s first single, that’s for sure. In a way the song is a look at a certain kind of meathead male, but rather than concentrating on Americans, the people I had in mind were British football fans. That was the culture I was writing about.”

Noodles: “And it has a great sing-along chorus, too, which is kind of like a football chant. We were thinking about the British soccer fan there. But I love that it’s such a fast song. There’s something about the energy of playing fast that gets you going. And the drums and hard bass kind of hits you in the chest and gets you going.”

Spare Me The Details(Splinter, 2003)

In which The Offspring tell the story of one of their friends losing their gal

Dexter: “That really was a story about a friend of mine. A lot of time when we write songs, the stories are composites of things that happened to different people. But this was one story of something that happened to one guy where his girlfriend cheated on him at a party and he had to find out about it from his friend. But his friend wouldn’t stop going on about it. The guy had got the message and knew that he was going to have to break up with her, but his friend was, like, ‘Yeah, but there’s more!’ And he started going on and on. So I thought, yeah, ‘Spare me the details’… there’s an idea for a song there.”

Noodles: “It’s funny, but the only places we play that song are Australia, New Zealand and Denver. Its appeal is geographical, but I don’t know why! I guess there’s a lot of cheating going on in those places…”

Fix You(Rise And Fall, Rage And Grace, 2006)

The Offspring’s slowest burning number, and one of their best, too

Dexter: “That song is right on the edge of what we’re able to do. I almost shouldn’t have gone there, maybe. But that’s what’s so great about [producer] Bob [Rock]. He’s just so supportive and encouraging. You’ve got to be able to pull the song off in a musical way; had I just tried to do it in a simple way, I don’t think it would have worked. But the song is about co-dependency; it’s not [just] ‘I wish I could fix you’, it’s ‘I wish you could fix me’, too. That’s an interesting dynamic. It’s kind of poetic and metaphorical, I guess… Also, Bob came up in the punk scene, so he really does know how to put together a punk song.”

Noodles: “People either love that song, or they couldn’t care less. But we do get a lot of people who love that song. They get it. But I think we only did it live once.”

Slim Pickens Does The Right Thing And Rides The Bomb To Hell(Days Go By, 2012)

On the final track from Days Go By, The Offspring channel their inner Stanley Kubrick

Noodles: “That’s probably the [deep cut] from that record that we get asked to play the most. It’s definitely an Offspring song from the get-go. The soul’s kind of surf-y middle-eastern, which we definitely have a lot of in our oeuvre, plus it’s got the sing-along choruses. It’s basically no-holds-barred vintage Offspring.”

Dexter: “[Slim Pickens…] is actually paired together with [preceding track] Dividing By Zero. I thought it would be cool to put two short songs together, even though they might not actually belong together. They were the last two songs recorded for the record, too, so I was pleased by how it came together.”

Let The Bad Times Roll(Let The Bad Times Roll, 2021)

The title-track from the band’s latest album, after nine years – and not before time – The Offspring have returned

Noodles: “We’d always intended putting out a record, and although we’d put stuff together we just hadn’t gotten round to recording one. For Let The Bad Times Roll, lyrically that was written in the last year or so and is about what we see happening in the world. So you have these heavy verses that are dark and dismal, heavy guitars and stuff, and then you go into, ‘Well, might as well let the bad times roll…’ and the dance style chorus. Oppressive in the verses, hopeful in the chorus. In the lyrics we wanted to address all of the things that are going on in the world. Since we did Stuff Is Messed Up [in 2008] unfortunately things don’t seem to have gotten any better. In a lot of ways, they’ve gotten worse. And then you can add a pandemic on top of that.”

Dexter: “Yup, he nailed it.”

Noodles: “I’m definitely earning my money today!”

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