Released on May 4, 1999 — 20 years ago today — Smash Mouth’s song “All Star” never reached higher than No. 4 on the Billboard charts, as Entertainment Weekly recounts. But two decades later, the upbeat tune by the band founded five years earlier in San Jose, California, sounds as familiar as when it debuted — thanks not only to its irresistibly anthemic chorus, but its frequent use in films and television, as well as in YouTube videos, internet memes, and of course, at sports events.
Smash Mouth had already scored a No. 1 hit with their 1997 single, “Walkin’ on the Sun,” but as a history of “All Star” published by The Ringer told the tale, when the band completed their second album, Astro Lounge, and turned it in to the executives at Interscope Records, they received some disappointing feedback. The execs did not hear any of songs on the album as big hits, worthy to follow “Walkin’ on the Sun.”
Tom Whalley, the head of A&R at Interscope, told the band to go home and come back with a hit song to add to the album — knowing he’d given the group a near-impossible task.
“It’s not something that’s easy to do,” Whalley told The Ringer. “They’re very rarely done on demand.”
But the band’s guitarist and main songwriter, Greg Camp, took the task to heart. Though his background was primarily in punk rock, as Allmusic noted, Camp studied the Billboard charts and listened to numerous then-current hits, carefully dissecting how each song was put together, and the elements that made it popular.
His influence for the lyrics came from the band’s own fans. Many would write letters to the group detailing the struggles in their adolescent lives. So Camp decided to aim his hoped-for hit at “a kid who just needs a pep talk,” he told EW. It worked. The song not only climbed the charts, but even more importantly, was licensed to appear in several films, including the superhero parody Mystery Men, staring Ben Stiller and William H. Macy, who also appeared in the Smash Mouth video for “All Star,” as seen below.
The song also appeared in the instantly iconic 2001 Dreamworks Animation hit movie Shrek. Several years later, when the YouTube era overwhelmed the internet, “All Star” became one of most parodied and “memed” songs in homemade videos posted online — a phenomenon that the band, which is still touring 20 years after “All Star,” has embraced.
“It’s very weird, but we always feel honored when someone takes their personal time to create anything Smash Mouth-related,” lead singer Steve Harwell said in 2017.