A dissection of The Offspring’s hits

I’ll never forget my first time hearing The Offspring. I was sitting on the old, rusted-red monkey bars at my elementary school playground when a friend started singing “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy).” I remember the song being catchy with its recognizable chorus “Give it to me baby. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. And all the girls say I’m pretty fly for a white guy.”

My friend and I would giggle and try to imitate the female’s teasing vocals with our out-of-tune attempts at singing. The video was even more hilarious when it would come on MTV. I would laugh at the male character trying to act like a hip-hop artist with his excessive bling jewelry, baggy pants, “pimped out” car, rejection from the ladies, and looks of shock and embarrassment from his fellow peers.

I never caught the name of the band until years later as an adult rediscovering 1990’s punk/alternative rock music. I recognized the song and started doing research on the band’s music, past, and present albums. I recognized some familiar hits, such as “Hammerhead,” “Self-Esteem,” “The Kids Aren’t Alright,” “Come Out and Play,” etc. from radio plays. I then questioned why I hadn’t purchased their albums years ago. My only explanation was that I wasn’t ready to appreciate their work as a kid. As an adult, I can admire and appreciate their punk rock-skate-ska-alternative-rock sound, musical influence, and their relatable lyrics.

The Offspring have been around for 30 years. The band was founded in Orange County, CA, in 1983 under its original name, Manic Subsidal. The name was later changed in 1986. Present band members are Bryan “Dexter” Holland, Greg K, Kevin ‘Noodles’ Wasserman, and Peter Parada. The band’s self-titled album, The Offspring, was released with Nemesis Records in 1989; the band later switched to another independent label, Epitaph Records, to record Baghdad (1991) and 1992’s Ignition. The Offspring didn’t reach mainstream success until 1994’s Smash. Over the years the band’s success grew, members changed as did record labels, and more albums were created.

If I were to ask anyone on the street if they had heard of The Offspring, a few favorite songs would immediately come to mind. Out of all of the hits from the past 30 years, the band is still well-known for these top eight classics:

1. Dirty Magic

Albums: Ignition (1992) and Days Go By (2012)

This track first appeared on 1992’s Ignition and was re mastered for 2012’s Days Go By.  The song has a simple, yet complex meaning: it’s about a loved one whom the narrator cannot help anymore. “I should know better than to think I’d reach inside her. It’s all a cloudy kind of daze. She’s not so sweet today; she mocks me, I’m no fighter. It all just seems like such a waste.” The female character is addressed as a self-mutilator, “pull the shades, razor blades, you’re so tragic. I hate you so, but love you more.” The male narrator feels guilty that he has put his time, concern, and energy into helping someone that isn’t ready for recovery. He is fed up with her issues and feels the need to let her go. “I’m so elastic, the things you say, games you play, dirty magic.” At the end, there is redundant emphasis on “it’s oversimplified” to indicate that the core to any self-mutilation disorder is more complex than it seems. The original track was a little bit more raw with distorted guitar chords; Dexter’s vocals distorted as well, causing the pronunciation of words to be unclear. With the re mastered track, the band keeps it’s mellow tone, but there’s no question that the track sounds clearer. The 2012 version is a hit or miss with fans; keep the original a thing of the past or revise it for today’s audience. In the end, both versions have their differences. If you like the old school, raw Offspring sound, than the 1992 version is for you. If you are into revisions, than listen to the updated track.

2. Gotta Get Away

Album: Smash (1994)

Gotta Get Away has a straight-to-the-point meaning: “I’ve got to get away from the demons in my head.” The narrator is experiencing anxiety and paranoia “I’m getting edgy all the time, there’s someone around me just a step behind. “It’s kinda scary, the shape I’m in, the walls are shakin’ and they’re closing in”. The track starts off with a drum solo followed by the bass. This helps set the paranoid mood for the song. The guitars come in; the melody lingers for a bit to create the feeling of suspense. The redundant chorus picks up to create emphasis on what’s going on in the narrator’s mind. “Sitting on the bed or lying wide awake. There’s demons in my head and it’s more than I can take. I think I’m on a roll but I think it’s kinda weak. Saying all I know is I gotta get away from me.” This is one of my favorite tracks and everyone can relate to their personal demons getting the best of them at times.

3. Come Out and Play

Album: Smash (1994)

“Come Out and Play” is the song that broke The Offspring into the mainstream light of success. The song’s straight-forward meaning tells the story of rival gangs and teen violence. “Like the latest fashion, like a spreading disease. The kids are strappin’ on their way to the classroom, getting weapons with the greatest of ease. The gangs stake their own campus locale and if they catch you slippin’ then it’s all over pal. If one guy’s colors and the other’s don’t mix, they’re gonna bash it up.  Hey man you talkin’ back to me? Take him out! You gotta keep ’em separated.”  This track is raw and doesn’t sugarcoat the reality of gang violence. “One goes to the morgue and the other to jail. One guy’s wasted and the other’s a waste.” With this in mind, it’s obvious that it still remains a concert favorite with fans of all ages.

4.  Self-Esteem

Album: Smash (1994)

Everyone knows a friend or two whose significant other takes advantage of. “Self-Esteem” is exactly what the title is about. The song tells the story of a guy who wants to permanently end his abusive relationship, but cannot cut the cord due to his self-esteem issues. He obviously feels that he cannot do any better and is afraid to leave his girlfriend, no matter how much misery she causes. “I wrote her off for the tenth time today and practice all the things I would say. But she came over, I lost my nerve. I took her back and made her dessert. Now I know I’m being used; that’s okay man cause I like the abuse. I know she’s playing with me. That’s okay cause I got no self-esteem”. The beginning vocals demonstrate this point using a mockery chanting of “la la la” repeated by the guitars throughout the piece to indicate the redundant abuse. This track is everyone’s theme song for a bad relationship.

5. Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)

Album: Americana (1998)

“Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)” is The Offspring’s comedic hit. The song starts off with female vocalists singing “Give it to me baby. Uh-huh. Uh-huh” for a few lines and repeats itself throughout the piece. This melody is one of the well-recognized choruses by The Offspring.  ”Give it to me baby. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Give it to me baby. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. And all the girls say I’m pretty fly for a white guy.” The song’s hilarious theme is about a guy who is convinced that he’s a gangster despite being seen as the town joke. “You know it’s kind of hard just to get along today. Our subject isn’t cool, but he fakes it anyway. He may not have a clue; and he may not have style. But everything he lacks, well he makes up in denial.” This song is great for all listeners and the music video is dead-on with capturing the hilarious wannabe gangster character. If listeners need something to bust a gut over, I would recommend downloading Americana and blasting this track.

6.  The Kids Aren’t Alright

Album: Americana (1998)

Suicide, depression, lost dreams, and not living up to expectations is the anthem for “The Kids Aren’t Alright”. Imagine your entire neighborhood block full of kids with high-potential goals suddenly crashing down into drug use, shattered dreams, chances at life blown, depression, and in worst cases, suicide. Exactly! Despite the song’s catchy guitar melodies and chorus, the track leaves listeners feeling sorry for its victims. The music video does an amazing job at capturing each character’s personal demons.  “When we were young the future was so bright. The old neighborhood was so alive and every kid on the whole damn street was gonna make it big and not be beat. Now the neighborhood’s cracked and torn. The kids are grown up but their lives are worn. How can one little street swallow so many lives? Chances thrown, nothing’s free. Longing for what used to be. Still it’s hard, hard to see. Fragile lives, shattered dreams.”

7. You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid

Album: Rise and Fall, Rage And Grace (2008)

“You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid” starts off with a soft crescendo of cymbals followed by Dexter and the rest of the band keeping a steady tempo. The song’s meaning can be interpreted as perfecting the art of deceiving. The track starts off as steady, metaphorically introducing the listener into the creation of a lie. “Show me how to lie, you’re getting better all the time and turning all against the one is an art that’s hard to teach. Another clever word sets off an unsuspecting herd and as you step back in the line, a mob jumps to their feet.” As the tempo increases, the art of lying is progressing. “Now dance, f*****, dance; man, he never had a chance.  And no one even knew it was really only you. And now you steal away, take him out today. Nice work you did, you’re gonna go far, kid. With a thousand lies and a good disguise, hit ’em right between the eyes, hit ’em right between the eyes. When you walk away, nothing more to say; see the lightning in your eyes, see ’em running for their lives.”

8.  Hammerhead

Album: Rise and Fall, Rage And Grace (2008)

According to lead singer, Dexter, “Hammerhead” is about a school shooting through the gunman’s perspective. The gunman believes that he is performing a greater good to the world when his vision is deluded. “I am the one, camouflage and guns, risk my life to keep my people from harm.” “Through this doorway, what’s on the other side, never knowing exactly what I’ll find.  Locked and loaded; voices screaming ‘let’s go!’ Come on do it! Here we go, take a life that other’s may live. Oh that’s just the way it goes.” “Smoke and dust, enemies are crushed, nothing left where a man once stood.”  The track starts off with the lead guitar playing steady triplets for a few measures. This helps get listeners into the mood for the climax. As the tempo increases, the storm hits. The key soon changes, followed by a bass solo for a few measures. After the bass solo, Dexter puts emphasis on lyrics, “Bang bang, it hammers in my head” to indicate the force that is driving the gunman to commit his crime. A Bible verse is put into the song to represent the terror and death before the shooting. “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me. Locked and loaded, gonna find my truth. Now I’m busting through, all hell breaks loose. And you can all hide behind your desks now and you can cry, ‘teacher come help me!’ Through you all, my aim is true.” “My aim is true” is repeated at the end to show that the gunman has no sympathy for his act of violence. This song is one of the most powerful singles from The Offspring and is a hit with all fans past and present.

Rating: I give the top hits a 5 out of 5 star rating for originality, expansion of relatable song topics and lyrics, musical and lyrical growth throughout the years, and earning the respect among rock artists in history. The Offspring are not going anywhere anytime soon. They will continue to play and create music for years to come.

Author: Savannah Marcha

Savannah is a 2012 graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz. She received her BA in Modern Literature and was the poetry editor for the Red Wheelbarrow Publications on campus. Savannah currently resides in Visalia, CA where she works as a reading tutor helping students K-12. Savannah is an inspiring writer and teacher, loves music, and enjoys dissecting lyrics from her favorite band, Green Day.

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