Steve Harwell: How Smash Mouth’s ‘All Star’ Got a Second Wind From Memes

Long before it became a soundtrack nugget and an internet meme, it was just a rock band’s attempt to land a radio hit.

But the long path to evergreen status for “All Star,” the 1999 track by the California alternative band Smash Mouth, whose founding lead singer, Steve Harwell, died on Monday at age 56, is an illustration of how social media and fan-made content have transformed the music industry.

The song took shape while the group was working on its second album, “Astro Lounge,” after its first taste of success with the song “Walkin’ on the Sun” (1997). The group submitted a batch of songs to its record company and was told: “You’re not done. We don’t hear a single, so keep working,” Robert Hayes, the band’s manager, told Rolling Stone in 2019.

Greg Camp, Smash Mouth’s guitarist and primary songwriter, said the song’s lovable-loser theme (“I ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed”) emerged from fan mail. “About 85 to 90 percent of the mail was from these kids who were being bullied” for being Smash Mouth fans, he told the website Songfacts. “So we were like, ‘We should write a song for fans.’”

“All Star” was quickly placed on film soundtracks, including “Inspector Gadget” and “Mystery Men,” in 1999. (The original music video had clips from “Mystery Men,” a superhero sendup starring Ben Stiller and Janeane Garofalo, among others.)

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