Get In Touch,
Publishing Inquiries

Random Jukebox: When Smash Mouth were Walkin’ On The Sun

Steve Harwell, lead singer of West Coast rockers Smash Mouth, has died age 56 in Boise, Idaho. You’ll probably know their most famous song. 

Ska-punk rockers Smash Mouth burst into the spotlight in the nineties with the catchy slab of Doors-ish psychedelic soul that is Walkin’ On The Sun. It’s a steaming casserole of shapeshifting musical styles that presaged later curiosities like JXL’s remix of Elvis’ A Little Less Conversation. 

In fact, coming to it via its use in a British television commercial, I initially mistook the band’s 1997 debut for a legitimate sixties rock song, which I guess is high praise indeed. 

The musical detailing suits its decades-spanning subject matter. Take it from me: Walkin’ On The Sun is a sneeringly half-rapped song by a spiky-haired, 30-something dude in oversized board shorts about (among other things) the death of the hippie dream and the burgeoning crack epidemic, could really send a thrill through a middle-school gymnasium. 

That dude, Steve Harwell, co-founded Smash Mouth in 1994, yet the San Jose band never quite returned to the glory of that first 45, but it’s certainly one of the most alluring tracks of the year, if not the decade. 

Walkin’ On The Sun is about the apocalypse, but more so nothing at all. It’s a wonderland of post-Odelay word salad that would make even the Cake guy blush, and every gesture in it is unforgettable. The track reached No. 1 on Billboard’s alternative radio chart and then crossed over to climb all the way to #2 at mainstream pop radio and the top of the adult pop radio chart, as well as pole position on the RPM Top singles chart in Canada (It also peaked at #3 in Italy, #5 in Spain and #7 in Australia).–Kjn0z8

The success of the song helped the group’s debut LP Fush Yu Mang squirrel its way into the top 20 on the album chart and be certified double platinum. The band’s sophomore album Astro Lounge (1999) went triple platinum, while both its second single All Star and a cover of The Monkees’ I’m A Believer were featured prominently in the first Shrek film, but then “down the dumper”, in Smash Hits parlance, beckoned.

I always held the opinion that if Smash Mouth seemed cooler they would have gotten more respect. They had a visceral sense of humour, and their musical arrangements were cohesively layered and well produced even if they relied heavily on the retro motifs.

Alas to some more belligerent rockinists, the ear wormy pop chops were always there: some missed them as a novelty act (pointing out Harwell’s often excessively mannered Shemp-like vocals to the point where it threatened to make the band its own cliché), and perhaps some of the more serous music aficionados weren’t ready for a frontman who looked like Kurt Russell and Frank Black crossed with Curly Howard of The Three Stooges.

Yet with Steve’s death I feel like their catalogue will be respected and ripe for reappraisal as time goes on and the desire for posturing as cool dissipates.

Harwell retired from Smash Mouth in October 2021 due to health issues. He was replaced by Zach Goode.

Steve Pafford

Liked it? Take a second to support Steve Pafford on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!

We use cookies to give you the best experience. Cookie Policy