I talk a lot about '90s punk and pop punk in my In Defense of the Genre column, which I partially started to have an outlet to write seriously about punk eras, subgenres, and bands that weren't always taken seriously, and the punk bands who hit it big in the '90s very much fit that description, despite so many of them being formative influences on several of today's most critically acclaimed rock bands. The first album to really bring pop punk to the masses was Green Day's 1994 major label debut Dookie, and the second album to do so was The Offspring's Smash, which came out just two months later.
Dookie's fame was aided by it coming out on a major label, but Smash got just (about) as big on an independent label: Bad Religion co-founder Brett Gurewitz's Epitaph Records. It remains the highest-selling album on an independent label today. It also didn't have a huge budget and it wasn't made with a big-name producer; it was made with Thom Wilson, the same producer who worked on The Offspring's previous two albums, and who previously worked on '80s punk and hardcore underground classics like the Adolescents' self-titled debut LP, TSOL's Dance With Me, Dead Kennedys' Plastic Surgery Disasters, The Vandals' Peace Thru Vandalism, and Social Distortion's Mommy's Little Monster -- all albums that probably influenced The Offspring and their peers. The band has repeatedly expressed being surprised by the album's fame, and unlike on their later albums, there's nothing on Smash that sounds geared towards a mainstream audience. They had the good sense to branch out from their usual double-time punk on the eternal "Self Esteem," which took notes from the loud-quiet-loud dynamics and mid-tempo approach of many of Nirvana's biggest songs, but it was good songwriting that drove the record above all else, not industry savvy or pop crossover attempts.
Smash scored three top 40 hits ("Self Esteem," "Come Out and Play," and "Gotta Get Away") and that led to a deal with Columbia that lasted all the way through 2012's Days Go By (which is still their most recent album, though they've been saying a new one is finished), and they went on to crack the charts several other times, with "Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)," "All I Want," "Gone Away," "The Kids Aren't Alright," "She's Got Issues," "Why Don't You Get A Job?," "Original Prankster," "Want You Bad," "Hit That," "(Can't Get My) Head Around You," and more. By 2005, they had enough songs for a 14-track greatest hits.
Smash remains The Offspring's best front-to-back album -- a nearly flawless display of tuneful aggression that has barely an ounce of filler -- but The Offspring released plenty of great music before and after Smash, and many of their best songs weren't hits. And in fact, it's often their hits that find them at their most frivolous. For these reasons, I've put together a list of 14 of their best deep cuts -- ranked in order of greatness -- that rival their biggest hits. To qualify as a deep cut, it had to not be a charting single in the US or appear on the greatest hits (and it can't be "Bad Habit," despite that iconic fan fave not actually charting), and I kept it to just four songs from Smash to allow for a little more variety.
Read on for the list and let us know your favorite Offspring deep cuts in the comments...
14. "We Are One" (from 1992's Ignition)
Smash was a huge leap in songcraft from anything The Offspring had done before it, but you can hear flashes of its brilliance on The Offspring's first two albums. Their 1989 self-titled debut album (released on the short-lived Nemesis Records) was still very much rooted in the Orange County hardcore scene that paved the way for The Offspring and their peers, but their 1992 Epitaph debut Ignition found them starting to work in brighter melodies and harmony-laden hooks, as heard on the album's irresistible second track "We Are One." The rawer recording holds it back from sounding truly radio-friendly, but the songwriting style that would inform many of The Offspring's best-known songs is all there. Their trademark palm-muted chugs fuel the more subdued verses, and after a suspenseful "stop!", they come roaring in with an explosive chorus.
13. "Amazed" (from 1997's Ixnay on the Hombre)
I'm actually (cough) amazed that this song wasn't a hit. It's the penultimate track on their 1997 major label debut Ixnay on the Hombre and it sounds just as built for radio as the album's Mainstream Rock chart-topping, Tears For Fears-sounding "Gone Away." Following the grunge-adjacent formula even more so than "Self Esteem" did, "Amazed" finds The Offspring in much slower territory than their usual punk songs, and it very much utilizes the quiet-LOUD formula that Nirvana popularized. It's also built around an earworm melody (which, in Nirvana and Weezer fashion, is replicated by both guitar and vocals), and by the time you're halfway through the song, it's already stuck in your head.
12. "Blackball" (from 1989's The Offspring)
Before Ignition began The Offspring's path towards anthemic hooks, their darker, harder debut found them mining similar territory as their OC punk forebears like Adolescents, Agent Orange, Social Distortion, and D.I., and The Offspring were pretty damn good at it. "Blackball" was one of many Offspring songs to fuse punk with Middle Eastern-style melodies, as Agent Orange was also known to do (which caused some controversy when "Come Out and Play" got big), and even back in 1989 The Offspring had it down pat. "Blackball" is closer to hardcore than to pop punk, but Dexter Holland ever so slightly hints at a melodic side on the song's refrain. It's obviously a much more primitive version of The Offspring, but when the hits start to get a little too outplayed, "Blackball" still sounds refreshing.
11. "Kick Him When He's Down" (from 1992's Ignition)
Once Smash made The Offspring stars, they actually made "Kick Him When He's Down" a radio-only single and it did modestly well for a bit, but it never made a real dent, especially not compared to the hit machine The Offspring had turned into by the end of the decade. Still, it holds up better today than a lot of the songs that did dominate the radio and MTV. It's not my favorite song on Ignition (more on that one soon), but it's easy to see why they went with this one for radio. The verse is already catchy, and in the chorus Dexter introduces a sing-songy melody that wouldn't leave your brain even if you tried to force it out. It's still not "Self Esteem," but it's proof that Dexter had struck melodic gold before his big break.
10. "Dammit, I Changed Again" (from 2000's Conspiracy of One)
As big as Smash was, 1998's Americana (home to "Pretty Fly [for a White Guy]," "The Kids Aren't Alright," "She's Got Issues," and "Why Don't You Get A Job?") may have made the band even bigger, or at least it introduced them to more of a non-punk audience. To follow it, though, The Offspring got back to the faster, straight-up punk of Smash for 2000's Conspiracy of One, and they sounded very refreshed in the process. Outside of the "Pretty Fly"-esque rap-punk of its big single "Original Prankster," Conspiracy of One was a fired-up punk record and even the other hits ("Want You Bad," "Million Miles Away") had that classic Offspring feel. Some of its best deep cuts did too, like "Dammit, I Changed Again." The song would warrant inclusion on this list for its classic Offspring-style guitar riff alone, but its greatness doesn't stop there. It's a double-time punk rager that makes great use of the "bass/drums/vocals verse > guitar/bass/drums/vocals chorus" formula, and it finds Dexter offering up some of the catchiest hooks in his arsenal.
9. "It'll Be A Long Time" (from 1994's Smash)
A lot of Offspring songs start with a guitar riff or some other kind of introductory build-up, but this one stepped its foot on the gas before you even clicked play. It doesn't go from 0 to 100 so much as it drops you from the sky into the passenger's seat. It's The Offspring at their thrashiest, but even at its lightning speed, Dexter's voice soars. It's the perfect middle ground between pop songcraft and aggressive punk without sounding nearly as sugary as you expect from the phrase "pop punk."
8. "Beheaded" (from 1989's The Offspring)
The Offspring re-recorded this song in 1999 for the soundtrack to Idle Hands (which they also made a cameo in), and with the cleaner production of the re-recording, you could've easily assumed it was written in the late '90s too. But nope, it appeared on their 1989 debut album, and the songwriting was just so timeless that the song never got old. With its horror film lyricism, The Offspring were almost definitely taking some notes from the Misfits and their LA-area heroes T.S.O.L., but The Offspring made it their own. And as fun as it is to sing about how "mommy doesn't have a head anymore," it's even more fun when you hear how catchy The Offspring made it. It's the first song they released that made it seem like they were gonna be huge.
7. "Get It Right" (from 1992's Ignition)
"Kick Him When He's Down" wasn't a bad choice from Ignition to release as a single in Smash's wake, but they should've picked "Get It Right." The song originally appeared as the opening track to their 1991 EP Baghdad -- the record that apparently convinced Brett Gurewitz to sign The Offspring -- and it's not hard to hear what Brett saw in them after hearing this song. It sounds like the blueprint for Smash, with a furious rhythm section, their now-trademark hummable riff style, soaring whoah-ohs, an arena-sized chorus followed by another arena-sized chorus... it's unstoppable. Smash was a gigantic leap from anything The Offspring had released before it which you're always kinda reminded of when you're listening to pre-Smash Offspring, except with this song. Sometimes I have to remind myself it wasn't actually a hit.
6. "Come Out Swinging" (from 2000's Conspiracy of One)
If it ain't broke, don't fix it, and The Offspring had quite a few formulas that weren't broke. One of those formulas -- which began on Smash and continued on their next three albums -- was starting an album with a spoken word intro and then going into a whiplash-inducing punk song. You might say that they see the value in... coming out swinging. (Sorry.) But seriously, Conspiracy of One's opener is The Offspring at their fastest and it rivals anything from their pre-major label days. There's a good reason that Offspring songs are used in skate videos and Crazy Taxi -- when you want to go as fast as possible, you want to hear a song that sounds like the sonic equivalent of doing 100 in a 60, and "Come Out Swinging" does.
5. "Something to Believe In" (from 1994's Smash)
"Self Esteem," "Come Out and Play," and "Bad Habit" will always be Smash's three most iconic songs (even though "Gotta Get Away" is on the greatest hits and "Bad Habit" isn't), but it's one of those albums where it feels like they could've sent any song to the radio and MTV and it would've taken off. They're all so catchy and so exhilarating, and one that really sounds like it would've dominated the airwaves is "Something to Believe In." It finds them in thrashy, chugging territory, and when the whoooaaahhh-laden chorus hits, it turns to total pop bliss. Tons of bands wish they could write a song this effortlessly enjoyable; The Offspring barely play it live.
4. "Leave It Behind" (from 1997's Ixnay on the Hombre)
The Ixnay on the Hombre song most casual Offspring fans know is "All I Want" (the "ya ya ya ya ya!" one), and as great as that song is, they should know "Leave It Behind" too. It follows a similar formula to "All I Want" -- they're both under-two-minute ragers that are as fast as they are catchy, and they're both Smash-like but sound like a progression from Smash too. Unlike that classic album, The Offspring did have a big major label budget and big-name producer for Smash's 1997 followup Ixnay on the Hombre (it was produced by Dave Jerden, who did Jane's Addiction's Nothing's Shocking, Alice In Chains' Facelift, Anthrax's Sound of White Noise, and other big records), and the more spacious, larger-sounding production style really gave their music room to breathe. Songs like "Leave It Behind" made the best of it.
3. "Nitro (Youth Energy)" (from 1994's Smash)
It wasn't a hit, but it was a mission statement. Nitro became the name of the record label that Dexter Holland and Offspring bassist Greg K. founded the year Smash came out (which went on to sign such bands as The Vandals, Guttermouth, Jughead's Revenge, and a then-little-known hardcore band called AFI), and the "live like there's no tomorrow" hook could've become as much of a fist-raised teen anthem as the era's bigger alternative rock hits. It also opened Smash (following the tongue-in-cheek "Time to Relax" spoken word intro), and there isn't a song on the album that could've better introduced this new era of The Offspring. They were better, louder, and faster than ever on Smash, and this song solidified that right off the bat.
2. "Genocide" (from 1994's Smash)
Again, really any song on Smash could've been a hit. But of all the non-singles, "Genocide" most deserved airplay. It has some of their most overt thrash metal worship, one of the most distinctive lead guitar riffs in the band's discography, an extraordinary sense of melodicism, and the kind of bleak worldview that inspired so many of the most beloved '90s rock songs. If you find The Offspring a little too silly, "Genocide" may convince you otherwise.
1. "The Meaning of Life" (from 1997's Ixnay on the Hombre)
Again, The Offspring really knew how to open a record. Following Ixnay's characteristically sarcastic "Disclaimer" intro by original Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra ("if it offends you... just don't listen to it"), The Offspring's major label debut came roaring in with "The Meaning of Life." Like "Nitro (Youth Energy)," its fast pace is matched by its blunt punk message (which is basically "I'm not going to live your way"), and it's got some of the most life affirming "oh-yeaaaaaah"s in The Offspring's discography. This one was released as a single and it got the video treatment, but commercially speaking, it didn't come close to reaching the heights of their biggest songs. In a just world, it would have. It blows away over half of Greatest Hits.
Listen below or subscribe to a Spotify playlist of all 14 songs:
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