“Nervous in the Alley:‰” Why Pre “All Star‰” Smash Mouth is the best Smash Mouth

Jonathan Skufca

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If you haven‰’t somehow heard the 1999 massive hit “All Star,‰” off of Smash Mouth‰’s sophomore record, Astro Lounge, please show me the rock you called out from under so I can use it to escape from distractions while I‰’m studying. All joking aside, the song has been everywhere, from movie soundtracks, to countless memes on the internet. And while it is a GREAT song, all memes and jokes aside, it is far from Smash Mouth‰’s best output. In my opinion, that is their their first record, Fush Yu Mangåü which was released in 1997, at the height of the third wave of ska‰’s popularity.

I‰’ve written before about how much I love ska, so we don‰’t need to tread much around it. But I had never really delved much into Smash Mouth‰’s back catalog, just being familiar with their big hits, such as the aforementioned “All Star,‰” “Can‰’t Get Enough of You Baby,‰” and “Pacific Coast Party.‰Û I also very much liked “Walkin‰’ on the Sun,‰Û which was their first single off of Astro Lounge, and first hit. But the first time I heard a non-single track from the album, I almost didn‰’t believe it was Smash Mouth and had to verify it was truly them. The track in question was “Nervous in the Alley,‰” and I heard it, oddly enough in the background of a YouTube video. It is so far removed from anything they ever did, even “Walkin‰’ on the Sun,‰Û on the same album. It has a stereotypical ska-punk sound, and doesn‰’t even feature any horns!

The differences don‰’t stop there either. The subject matter is much more serious compared to their later big hits. But looking at the opening stanza, a bleak scene we‰’ve heard all too often before is set:

She‰’s fifteen and she‰’s leaving home
Living on the streets where she don‰’t feel alone
Daddy‰’s always gone and Mommy‰’s on the sauce
Living in a mansion it‰’s easy to get lost
She‰’s going to a place where they understand
Baby on the way, her womb‰’s a garbage can

A privileged 15-year-old with an absent father and alcoholic father is clamoring for attention so she runs away. It almost sounds cliched, but that doesn‰’t make the issue any less important. The first pre-chorus then goes on to provide her thoughts on her privileged, “good‰” life and evokes a clamor for excitement and adventure:

Who said anything about a good life?
This one‰’s bad, bad, bad, bad

Before the narrator chimes in with the chorus—the only consistent words in the song, showing that they are about the only constant things in her life. And they‰’re not good constants

Gonzo again ‰ÛÒ just another entry to a never ending story
Wasted again — I think you need a new best friend

The second verse fast forwards to the subject living a life on the street. It‰’s devolved into a life of drugs and prostitution to fulfill her addiction.

Nervous in the alley off the boulevard
Shaking all over and the panic starts
You see, she needs to get her prescription filled
And she knows exactly how she‰’ll be billed
Nervous in the alley waiting on a fix
She ain‰’t got no money, just a couple of tricks

It‰’s also noteworthy that they chose lyrics from this verse as the title of the song. They very easily could have used a phrase from the chorus as the title, (perhaps “A New Best Friend?‰Û) but they chose “Nervous in the Alley‰” instead. The phrase does repeat twice in the verse, but otherwise is just one scene in this girl‰’s life. But in choosing that as the title, they elevate it to importance and highlight that being “Nervous in the alley‰” is a common occurrence for the main character of the song. This verse isn‰’t strange—it is typical. It‰’s just an ordinary Tuesday for her—having withdrawal symptoms in an alley while she sells herself for the drugs she has become so dependent upon. It‰’s sad, and an all too-common norm in communities all across the United States. It was just as much a problem twenty years ago as it is today—it‰’s probably gotten worse as a matter of fact.

Moving forward into the final verse, it shows just how much addiction, without any kind of private treatment or assistance, has ruined this girl‰’s life. Her drug dealer/pimp is clearly doing much better than she is, and it‰’s a sad comment on drug dealers compared to addicts:

Dying in the alley waiting for her man
Carrying her child and a sleeping bag
“Shoulda woulda coulda‰” never crossed her mind
So she passes on to the other side
Here he comes: suit, shades, car, and a beeper
Sugar daddy, pimp, pushing, fucking Grim Reaper

Who said anything about a fair life?
This one‰’s mad, mad, mad, mad

Gonzo again ‰ÛÒ just another entry to a never ending story
Wasted again ‰ÛÒ I think you need a new friend

—She‰’s got herself a new best friend

While some may interpret the closing line as hopeful, showing she finally got the “new best friend‰” she needed to get her life together, I disagree. I‰’ve interpreted the constant “need for a new best friend‰” as changing from verse to verse. In the first verse, she needed a new best friend to escape the boredom that was her overly privileged life. The second verse, she needed a steady source of income and found her “new best friend‰” in a pimp. Which clearly didn‰’t help as she still needed a “new best friend.‰” In closing with saying she found one, likely means that the cycle of addiction is likely to continue. It‰’s a spiral downwards, and the main character is going to keep cycling through people she thinks is her best friend, until she either finds the help she needs, or ultimately succumbs to addiction.

Not exactly the song you expected from the guys that did “All Star,‰” huh?