Earlier this month (September 2023), we lost two great singers over Labor Day weekend: Jimmy Buffett and Smash Mouth's Steve Harwell. We paid our respects to Buffett last week with a Top 10 list of the tropical troubador's greatest hits. This week, it's Harwell's turn.
While the band is still around today, the rockin' Smash Mouth experienced its peak between the late 90s and early 2000s. They formed in San Jose, California, and were originally comprised of Harwell, Kevin Coleman (drums), Greg Camp (guitar), and Paul De Lisle (bass). Today, De Lisle is the only original member.
Many love Smash Mouth for their boldly cheerful rock tunes and happy-go-lucky covers of classic hits. But only true fans know just how meaningful their songs could be, and how much they impacted the musical landscape around Y2K.
Ready to get your game on and go play some Smash Mouth tunes out loud? Keep reading to view our picks for the band's 10 best songs!
10. "Your Man"
Typically you think of Steve Harwell's brash vocals and upbeat guitar melodies when you picture Smash Mouth tunes. But "Your Man" is a more subdued track in the rock band's catalogue. This mellow love song from their 2001 self-titled album has some delicate palm-muted power chords and a story about a guy who has major self-esteem issues, but still loves his girl.
Harwell sings about the happy perplexity that comes with being with a woman he feels he doesn’t deserve. It's sincere, personal, and easy on the eardrums. The music video, on the other hand, isn't as happy-go-lucky with its sad, ambiguous ending.
9. "Pacific Coast Party"
Call it generic, but we feel "Pacific Coast Party" is a perfect little snapshot of early 2000s west coast party songs. It may not be the best celebration song ever written in history, but it's cute and easy to bob your head to. It also somehow made it onto the soundtracks of Not Another Teen Movie and Disney's Extreme Skate Adventure.
Featuring Smash Mouth's trademark rhythm and groove, "Pacific Coast Party" makes use of a funky opening beat, clean guitar chords, and a classical string arrangement that miraculously compliments the rest of the production. It's the third track on Smash Mouth’s self-titled album, and was one of the few songs written by the band’s bassist Paul DeLisle. We'll fight whoever thinks the line "If you got to work today, get yourself a new voca-tion" is cheesy. Also, like everyone else in the music video, we'd love to chill with Smash Mouth on a floating stage in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Smash Mouth goes emo in this song and we're totally here for it! Astro Lounge (1999) is arguably the band's best album, and we're kicking off our picks from that LP with "Waste." It was released as the album’s fourth single and served as a slow acoustic number to change the band’s pace of upbeat rocking singles.
The track is a heartfelt reflection of the painful end of a loving relationship. The narrator grapples with all the regret that comes with losing his love. Written by guitarist Greg Camp about his marriage troubles while traveling, “Waste” is a great track to sink your teeth into if you're only familiar with Smash Mouth's radio station hits. It's a sensitive, edgy piece that shows off the band's range quite nicely. The music video is also quite good, and we love the homage to The Shining with the shot of Harwell pressed up against the freezer door (à la Jack Nicholson).
7. "Come On, Come On"
Now that we've got the more emotional stuff out of the way, let's bring on all the songs with that classic Smash Mouth sound! At #7 is "Come On, Come On", also from Astro Lounge. With a galloping drum beat and buzzing guitar bits, it's extremely catchy and has some flying keyboard action to boot.
Surprisingly, this song was never released as a single despite its notable appearances in the media. (Duece Bigalow, Dude Where's My Car? and even an episode of Kim Possible used it!) Despite the bright and sunny music production, the lyrics of this song are a bit more stressful. "Come On, Come On" is about the anxious narrator not understanding his place in the world. He's in a rush for something more, but struggles with procrastination and doesn't know how to relax. The hard, cliffhanging "STOP!" at the track's end suggests that all he needs to do is let go and feel the present moment.
6. "Then the Morning Comes"
Twisty and cool, "Then the Morning Comes" is yet another Astro Lounge bop that cracked into the Billboard Hot 100. Guitarist Greg Camp was inspired by the movie Groundhog Day and the repetitive lifestyle of being on tour, so he composed this song about the recurring cycle of performing and partying. He also sneaks cheeky Shakespeare and US Marines references into the lyrics.
We love the use of mysterious minor chords within the verse melodies, which disappear once we get to every optimistic chorus. And THAT BRIDGE. THAT PERFECTLY-TIMED, UNSUSPECTING BRIDGE. It keeps us on our toes more than the sight of the model in Steve Harwell's bed at the end of the music video.
5. "Why Can't We Be Friends?"
When it comes to cover songs, Smash Mouth know how to deliver some quality ones. We've got three of their covers on this list. The first is "Why Can't We Be Friends," which appeared on Fush Mu Yang. Originally released by the funk band War, Smash Mouth's rendition speeds up the tempo and adds in some guitar distortion around the two minute mark.
However, their version also manages to stay true to the original by featuring a horn section, beat reminiscent of reggae, and political message of harmonious equality. This ska-punk banger is all about not holding grudges, and we love how Smash Mouth turned the classic tune into something all their own.
4. "I'm a Believer"
Shrek fans: here's your first nod! Another fantastic cover song from Smash Mouth, "I'm a Believer" is a Y2K reimagining of the Monkees' beloved 1966 work. (And let's not forget Neil Diamond did it before all of them!) The band adds their signature combo of electric keyboards, surfy West Coast guitar riffs, and Harwell's gruff vocals to create a bonafide hit that sounds like it's right out of a fairytale.
Due to its inclusion at the end of Shrek, "I'm a Believer" climbed international charts in New Zealand, Spain, and Australia, and time seems to have only grown its popularity. This love-at-first-sight tune became a huge commercial success for Smash Mouth, and remains one of the band's biggest songs.
3. "Can't Get Enough of You Baby"
"Can't Get Enough of You Baby" was released as Astro Lounge's lead single back in the late 90s. The song is so revered in Smash Mouth's discography that many people don't know this is yet another cover. "Can't Get Enough of You Baby" was originally written by Denny Randell and Sandy Linzer and first recorded by the Four Seasons. Then, garage band ? & the Mysterians created their own rendition of it in 1967.
The swanky keys and swinging guitr bits on this track still hold up today. "Can't Get Enough of You Baby" experienced a surge in popularity after being featured on the soundtrack to the motion picture Can’t Hardly Wait. We think this song would be Smash Mouth's greatest track...if it weren't for the next two monster hits below.
2. "All Star"
You knew it was coming. You just didn't think it would be at #2, did you? (We'll explain in a bit.)
Some know the glittering gold "All Star" from the radio. Others know it from the iconic opening of Shrek. Love or hate this tour de force of a track, it was a pop culture phenomenon when it was first released as part of Astro Lounge in 1999. With a music video reference to 1999’s Mystery Men, "All Star" is about a foolish-but-happy narrator who has every reason to look down upon life. But he doesn't. Instead, he explains that being an all star is not a destination or career milestone, but a state of mind.
Undeniably, "All Star" is the band's biggest commercial success. On playing the song, Steve Harwell told Vice in 2014, "It’s weird, people ask me, 'Do you get bored of playing these songs?' I’m like, 'Why would I get bored of playing them? This is what puts bread and butter on my table.' You know, there’s always somebody in the crowd who hasn’t heard it. Or hasn’t seen it live. When I go out onstage, I look at it that way. Once that classic song starts, people just go bananas. Has 'Free Bird' ever got old?"
1. "Walkin' on the Sun"
Okay, so it's not as big as "All Star." But with its jazzy production, Steve Harwell's suave vocals, and that incredible keyboard solo after the second chorus, this is by far the most musically-sophisticated bop Smash Mouth has ever released. Some people get annoyed of "All Star" after listening to it a few times. But "Walkin' on the Sun"? It doesn't get stale.
Even more impressive? "Walkin' on the Sun" was the band’s debut single that wound up hitting #1 on both the US Billboard Adult Contemporary charts and Alternative AirPlay charts. This original song immediately put them in the mainstream, and if it weren't for that achievement, "All Star" would not have become the big hit it became. In other words: "Walkin' on the Sun" walked so "All Star" could run.
Putting the "All Star" comparisons aside, we adore "Walkin' on the Sun" for its crisp and well-thought-out rhyme schemes. Our favorite is "So don't delay, act now, supplies are running out / Allow, if you're still alive, six to eight years to arrive!" Many people don't realize this 1997 Fush Mu Yang single was actually inspired by the Rodney King riots and how Greg Camp felt about the state of the world during the late 90s. It unironically captures the spirit of that era.
The term "Walkin' on the Sun" has a double meaning here: having a sunny time prancing through the lackadaisical, fad-friendly, commercialized 90s, while simultaneously burning up in flames because the U.S. had failed to deliver on the social and racial progress fought for in the 60s and 70s. You didn't realize Smash Mouth could get that deep, did you?
Anyway, RIP Steve Harwell! We hope you're having a great time "Walkin' on the Sun."
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Article Image: Late vocalist Steve Harwell and band member Paul De Lisle sing during a 2009 Smash Mouth concert. (Spc. Eric Liesse [Available through Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons.)