Song Analysis – “All Star” –Smash Mouth

Those of you who have been following me since my Xanga days (www.xanga.com/asad123) know that from time to time I like to apply my literary analysis skills to contemporary music. Today I’d like to analyze Smash Mouth’s “All Star” from 1999. No particular reason why, I just heard it on the radio today and thought it would make a good entry. The lyrics, courtesy of lyrics.astraweb.com, follow and my comments are in parentheses.

 

 

Artist:

Smash Mouth

Album:

All Star Smash Hits

Title:

All Star

 

Somebody once told me the world is gonna roll me
I ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed
She was looking kind of dumb with her finger and her thumb
In the shape of an “L” on her forehead
(When he says that world is going to “roll” him, I think he means that the world is going to run him over, like a steamroller. The phrase, “not the sharpest tool in the shed,” like “not the ripest banana in the bunch,” implies that the singer is no genius. And it is his lack of mental prowess that makes him fear the world will chew him up and spit him out. The same person who says the world will roll him also makes a gesture to him indicating that he is a loser. Those of us who grew up in the 90’s remember people doing this all the time, particularly after the movie Clueless came out.)

 

Well the years start coming and they don’t stop coming
Fed to the rules and I hit the ground running
Didn’t make sense not to live for fun
Your brain gets smart but your head gets dumb
So much to do so much to see
So what’s wrong with taking the back streets
You’ll never know if you don’t go
You’ll never shine if you don’t glow
(I don’t understand what it means to be “fed to the rules.” An alternate version of the lyrics says, “fed you the rules” which makes a little more sense to me. But it’s quite vague and I don’t know what rules he’s talking about, maybe some general wisdom for life. He’s advocating a hedonistic way of life when he says it “didn’t make sense not to live for fun.” While I’m not opposed to people having fun, I don’t think one should live for fun alone. People who work hard in school may become smarter, but they may not get street smarts, which seem to be what he means when he says, “your head gets dumb.” In life, there are many things to do and see. Here “taking the back streets” strikes me as a metaphor for having a different perspective on life than the common man. But one will never get a fresh perspective, if one does not get out, travel, and have significant experiences.)

 

Chorus:

Hey now you’re an All Star get your game on, go play
Hey now you’re a Rock Star get the show on get paid
And all that glitters is gold
Only shooting stars break the mold
(An All Star in sports is an outstanding athlete. I think the singer here is trying to boost the self-esteem of his audience by telling everyone that they can all excel in their own way. He’s telling them to find something they’re good at it and give it their all. By calling people “Rock Stars,” I think he is saying that everyone can be creative or artistic. When he says, “all that glitters is gold,” he’s intentionally misquoting Shakespeare who said in The Merchant of Venice, “all that glitters is not gold.” Shakespeare was trying to say that appearances can be deceiving. But Smash Mouth is claiming that now, image is everything. He’s saying if something looks valuable, it is valuable. So if one puts on a confident face, one will eventually acquire self-confidence. The last line of the chorus is quite intriguing to me. Shooting star is the common name for what scientists call a meteor, a descending piece of space dust. Shooting stars all eventually fall to Earth. He’s saying that to be an individual, to “break the mold,” one has to risk failure. People who don’t risk failure lead boring, unproductive lives.)

 

It’s a cool place and they say it gets colder
You’re bundled up now but wait ’til you get older
But the meteor men beg to differ
Judging by the hole in the satellite picture
The ice we skate is getting pretty thin
The waters getting warm so you might as well swim
My world’s on fire how about yours
That’s the way I like it and I never get bored
Chorus
Chorus
(He seems to be talking about climate change, but instead of global warming, he’s suggesting a coming Ice Age. It is possible that the phenomenon called “global warming” would actually lead to colder temps in some places, but that’s a discussion for another day. The “meteor men” are probably meteorologists, or weathermen. The hole in the satellite picture might be the hole in the ozone layer. Now the singer does a 180 and instead of cooling temperatures, things are getting warmer. When he says, “the waters getting warm,” he may be talking about El Nino, the global weather phenomenon that starts as a warming of the South Pacific. The El Nino of 1997-1998 was especially strong, and for many of us, it was the first time we heard about it. But I could be reading too much into these lyrics. I’m not sure how all this talk about climate fits it with the rest of the lyrics. If I were to venture a guess, I would say the singer is saying that one might as well have as much fun as one can now, because the future looks bleak.)

 

 

Somebody once asked could you spare some change for gas
I need to get myself away from this place
I said yep what a concept
I could use a little fuel myself
And we could all use a little change

(People thought gas was getting expensive in 1999 and then it was only $2 a gallon http://www.pensitoreview.com/2008/03/08/in-2000-gop-trashed-dems-over-gas-prices/. Many of us have been approached by a needy person, asking for help with gas. I like his response which has an almost Zen quality. He says “we could all use a little change.”  There’s an obvious double meaning here as “change” in English can refer both to loose coins and reform. Yes, we could all use a little more money, but what’s more we could all benefit from a better world. This is essentially the end of the song as the rest is just a refrain. And it’s a nice note to leave on. Indeed, we could all use a little change.)

 

Well the years start coming and they don’t stop coming
Fed to the rules and I hit the ground running
Didn’t make sense not to live for fun
Your brain gets smart but your head gets dumb
So much to do so much to see
So what’s wrong with taking the back streets
You’ll never know if you don’t go
You’ll never shine if you don’t glow
Chorus

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  1. #1 by AmericanMuslimaWriter on April 13, 2008 - 12:37 am

    Very good insights. I can’t beleive i have this all memorized since i was a kid and it came out rockin. Each word and verse I read just now has the song stuck in my head now [thanks a lot for that ;p]
    I have a request to do Bare Naked Ladies’ ONE WEEK. That would really have to stretch your skills with all their vague concepts of the song. 😉 challenge for you. New to your blog and the first post made me wanan keep reading 🙂
    Thanks for the comment you left on mine.

  2. #2 by Nassir on April 13, 2008 - 8:30 pm

    Assalaamu alaikum

    You added me as well! JazakAllah khair. I teach at MEC in Morton Grove.

    • #3 by Misty on May 27, 2009 - 9:59 pm

      What he means by saying

      It’s a cool place and they say it gets colder
      You’re bundled up now but wait ’til you get older
      But the meteor men beg to differ
      Judging by the hole in the satellite picture

      us that scientifically yes the world is getting hotter from the ozone layer being torn, but mentally we humans are getting colder.

  3. #4 by TheAngryMuslimah on April 17, 2008 - 6:24 pm

    Salaam,

    I love smashmouth. Barenaked Ladies rule……….. 🙂
    don’t tell anyone I would have to hate to hear about how haram it is….lol

    • #5 by dan on July 14, 2011 - 3:09 pm

      i dont know how to leave you a direct comment but your analysis sucks.

      im not going to bother arguing with you.

  4. #6 by Homework Achiever on April 24, 2008 - 12:52 am

    I had to do and environmental project were we had to pick a song regarding the earth. I would have never picked the song All Star until reading your interpretation. It helped me a lot, just wanted to say thanks!

  5. #7 by kab162 on April 30, 2008 - 2:41 am

    Wow, thanks this was really cool!!

  6. #8 by Arthur on May 31, 2008 - 6:07 pm

    Hi, I think alot of this is spot on.
    I was thinking about the “It’s a cool place and they say it gets colder/ You’re bundled up now but wait ’til you get older” line and an alternative interpretation could be hes referring to people, as in giving each other “the cold shoulder,” becoming less caring or it could mean most people go through their lives uninspired and following the rules. Thus, when we’re kids we may have an idealistic view of the world, i.e. everything will go as we wish, and then as we get older, we realise achieving our dreams are harder than we thought. He uses the imagery of global warming to bring humor into it, and then “My world’s on fire how about yours
    That’s the way I like it and I never get bored” could refer to having inner resilience and motivation against the conformity and settling for half most people fall into.

    Anyway, excellent analysis. Kudos!

  7. #9 by sunny on February 2, 2009 - 4:03 pm

    dude i love you i am doing a report on all star and you saved my life thank you;-)

  8. #10 by Lulu on May 25, 2009 - 8:34 pm

    Analize “We Like To Party” by Vegnaboys and “Kung Foo Fighting” by Foo Fighters. A lillte challenge for you.

  9. #11 by Niels on September 3, 2009 - 4:59 pm

    nice view on the song,

    the line you don’t have i believe are like this;

    The ice we skate is getting pretty thin
    The waters getting warm so you might as well swim
    My world’s on fire how about yours
    That’s the way I like it and I never get bored

    that part i believe is:
    The ice we skate is getting pretty thin= the way we are going is getting dangerous
    The waters getting warm so you might as well swim= take a look from another side, change your perspective
    My world’s on fire how about yours= refering to the climat change and his life.
    and the last 1 speaks for itsself

  10. #12 by sannypie on June 2, 2010 - 7:12 pm

    i think the line that says, “All that glitters is gold” is saying that if something looks good than it is good so if we change our lives to look good then life will be good. IKD mabey im barking up the wrong tree but thats just my idea. anybody else have an idea bout this line?

  11. #13 by Alex C on June 20, 2010 - 11:02 pm

    Very intriguing. I agree with many of your analases; some can be taken even farther than what you have discussed. In the second stanza, I think that the writer is discussing smoking marijuana. “Fed to the rules” may imply that the writer began smoking at an early age.This is further emphasized by the line “your brain gets smart but your head gets dumb.” These lines could also be describing any sort of drug or sitmulant that the writer once used. “Taking the backstreets” is what many young kids like to do when smoking marijuana cigars. I feel a strong connection between substance use and the writer in this song.

  12. #14 by random on August 31, 2010 - 8:14 am

    last night as i lay in bed, this song was playing through my mind.i was having trouble interpreting ”all that glitters is gold” and then i thought that the song writer was thinking when he wrote this part was that”anything in your life time that you think was special, or that should be remembered, that is a good memory, should be like gold to you”cause those are the moments that make life great.

  13. #15 by Saad on December 18, 2010 - 1:19 pm

    Wow, this is really interesting Asad. Especially, your analysis on the second to last set of versus. I never paid close enough attention to the song to even consider that the artist might be trying to deliver a message on something as serious as climate change or global warming. Thank you for the insight and I look forward to reading your other posts.

  14. #16 by Matthew on June 20, 2011 - 10:37 pm

    You’re analysis sucks! this song is way deeper than you would believe and must be analyzed like a poem by john donne. There are a lot of drug influences to these lyrics as well.

  15. #17 by Stuart Simon on September 26, 2011 - 2:27 am

    I believe that in the second verse he is talking about actual and mental global warming. But he does not refer to El Nino at all. There are actually at least two holes in the ozone layer (“the hole in the satellite picture”), and the two main holes are almost directly over the poles. The poles are also the locations where “the ice we skate is getting pretty thin” and “the water’s getting warm, so you (polar bears, for example) might as well swim.” This is the most often illustrated fact about global warming.

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