‘Walkin’ on the Sun’ Was Tossed in a Closet


Who would guess that one of the cheeriest pop-rock songs on the radio these days was inspired by a tragedy?

Smash Mouth’s ubiquitous “Walkin’ on the Sun,” a wry ode to ‘60s idealism, was written nearly six years ago in San Jose by guitarist-songwriter Greg Camp--as the riots raged some 400 miles to the south in Los Angeles.

“There was a lot of racial tension everywhere because of the riots,” Camp says, “and as I was riding my bicycle through a neighborhood one night, I was kind of afraid--where normally I wouldn’t be afraid.


“I looked around and said, ‘Why does it have to be like this? It’s time to write a protest--a ‘90s let’s-all-get-along type of song.’ And so I kind of wrote it while I was riding my bike.”

Smash Mouth hadn’t yet formed at that point, and when Camp played the song for his then-bandmates, “they hated it,” the songwriter says. “The singer didn’t want to sing it, so that was that.”

Camp tossed a tape of the rejected song into his closet.

Fast-forward a few years. Camp and bassist Paul De Lisle had joined drummer Kevin Coleman and singer Steve Harwell, forming Smash Mouth. They’d taken their name from an expression used by coaches to describe hard-nosed, grind-it-out--or smash mouth--football.

Discouraged by the lukewarm reaction to “Walkin’ on the Sun” the first time around, Camp wasn’t about to present it to his new band. Even after Coleman found it and started pushing it on the others, Camp was reluctant.

“Nobody else in the band was really that stoked about it,” Camp says. “It wasn’t hard enough, and they didn’t want to get all socially political. But Kevin was adamant. He kind of had to force us into actually learning how to play it, and then when our producer heard it, he said, ‘That’s the one.’ ”

Interscope Records executives agreed, signing Smash Mouth last June after hearing the band’s already-recorded album, “Fush Yu Mang,” which included “Walkin’ on the Sun.” At the group’s insistence, the label rush-released “Walkin’ ” as a single only two weeks later. Another two weeks later, the album was in stores.


“In simplest terms,” says Interscope President Tom Whalley, explaining the label’s interest, “the band walked into the door with a finished record that sounded like it had hits on it.”

Radio loved the single, a peppy slice of energetic, Doors-like blues-rock, and began saturating the airwaves with it. Its popularity has held strong as the album climbs the charts. “Fush Yu Mang” has sold more than 1.2 million copies and sits at No. 20 this week as Interscope begins pushing a second single, a remake of the 1975 War smash, “Why Can’t We Be Friends?”

“Everybody’s really blown away by how fast this came about and how just one song can take off and go crazy,” Camp says. “We get blown away every week when our record company calls and tells us how many records we’ve sold. It’s really cool.”

The sudden success has given Camp a reason to spend more time with his tax advisor.

“We used to laugh about people who paid more in taxes than we would ever make in our whole lives,” Camp says of his accountant, who is also a boyhood friend. “Now we’re laughing at me.”

But it might never have happened if Coleman hadn’t been so persistent.

“He laughs about it now,” Camp says. “Everybody else is like, ‘Wow, what were we thinking?’ ”

* Smash Mouth co-headlines with Third Eye Blind on Feb. 1 at the Student Recreation Center at UC Riverside, 7:30 p.m. $16.50. (909) 787-2772.