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Forget Smash Mouth - these are the unsung 'all stars' of Shrek’s iconic soundtrack

"All Star" was not always meant to open the film.

By Josh Weiss
Shrek (2001)

DreamWorks didn't have to go so hard as they did for the Shrek soundtrack, which sold over two million copies and garnered a Grammy nod for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album. As any Shrek acolyte will tell you, the bangin' collection of songs is famous for one track in particular — Smash Mouth's "All Star" — which opens the movie and has since been inextricably linked with the title, despite the fact that it was written by Greg Camp for Mystery Men two years earlier.

But we're not here to talk about "All Star" — at least not entirely. No, we want to shine a light on the underrated gems contained on the immortal Shrek soundtrack, mainly the two songs that play during the end credits — "Stay Home" by Self and "Best Years of Our Lives" by the Baha Men. Both deserve way more credit than they get, standing in the shadow of Smash Mouth.

Carrying forth the dance-worthy party vibes of Shrek and Fiona's wedding at the very end of film, "Best Years of Our Lives" was, interestingly, a cover of a Modern Romance song of the same name from the early 1980s. In addition to landing a coveted spot in the Oscar-winning DreamWorks feature, "Best Years" also made its way onto the Baha Men's 2002 album, Move It Like This (whose titular track played during the end credits of Big Fat Liar that same year).

"I can remember sitting in the Dreamwork Studios theater in Los Angeles to watch this movie for the first time before it was released," Baha Men frontman Rik Carey tells SYFY WIRE of his memorable Shrek experience. "It felt really great to be a part of this epic box office smash soundtrack! Bahamas to the World!!!"

"It's surprising to see how many [people] in the crowd sing along whenever we perform 'Best Years,'" adds co-frontman, Dyson Knight.

As for "Stay Home" — which kicks off the end credits and reflects the main character's desire for swampy solitude — you may be surprised to learn that it was originally written to replace "All Star" (yes, it began as a placeholder!) during the introductory sequence where viewers get a sense of Shrek's day-to-day existence.

But even the man who wrote and performed "Stay Home" — Self founder and lead singer Matt Mahaffey — admits to SYFY WIRE that "All Star" is "the perfect song for any movie. ... People are sick of it and people hate on it, but it is sonically gorgeous and sits perfectly in the mid-range of a sound system. Dialogue works over it, sound effects work over it, and it still holds its own. It’s got a great message. Smash Mouth…love ‘em or hate ‘em, that is a brilliant song and they deserve every dollar that they’ve made off of it."

To that end, "Stay Home" was written as "an homage to 'All Star.' It’s kind of like a bittersweet appreciation," explains Mahaffey, who had a deal with the now-defunct DreamWorks Records at the time. He later adds: "My directive was, 'You gotta beat 'All Star.' You have to beat this song that’s been in every summer blockbuster. Just go beat it!’ … Yeah, no problem. Piece of cake."

The musician says he came up with the melody and lyrics on the drive home from a rough cut screening of the movie. While the other attendees (a number of music industry titans who we'll keep anonymous) weren't too impressed by what they saw, Mahaffey was blown away. "I was just like, ‘Oh my God! I’m a huge Eddie Murphy fan and a huge Mike Myers fan.’ So I was just [like:] ‘Whatever you guys want me to do, I will pitch in.'"

Once DreamWorks signed off on the idea, it became a matter of "refining and lacquering that song" with the animators and "All Star" producer, Eric Valentine. "We were exhausted and it was over the course of a month," Mahaffey recalls, profoundly grateful for the lesson he learned on scoring the picture. "That’s the first time I was ever like, ‘I’ve gotta serve the scene,’ so all I gathered was that Shrek was a curmudgeon. 'Just leave me the hell alone,' and that was it. That’s the whole MO of the song."

Jeffrey Katzenberg, one of DreamWorks' three founders and original head of the fledgling studio's animation division, made the decision to turn "All Star"  into a permanent fixture. Mahaffey didn't learn of this development until he reached out to DreamWorks Records head honcho, Michael Austin, for an update. "I was like, ‘Hey, I’m just checking in, what’s going on with the Shrek song?’ And he’s like, ‘Oh, you didn’t hear? Yeah, Jeffrey wanted 'All Star,' so you’re the end credits song now.’ I was just crushed. But at the same time, if you put my song to picture, it works really well."

Disappointment aside, the blossoming Shrek franchise became "the gift that kept on giving" for Mahaffey, who was asked to compose music for a number of home video supplements (Shrek in the Swamp Karaoke Dance Party and Far Far Away Idol), as well as the now-closed Shrek 4-D ride at the Universal Studios theme parks in Orlando and Los Angeles. "It really changed my life," says Mahaffey, who credits Shrek with helping him find his professional calling as a composer for film and television. He now runs a composer collective with his wife, Leticia Wolfe, and recently finished scoring Netflix's Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie (premiering this summer).

"My whole universe exploded," he continues. "In doing all that work, people from Disney and Nickelodeon started being like, ‘Hey, would you wanna do episodic stuff?’ ... [Working on Shrek] was the first time that I ever had that opportunity to even know that about myself. It was a massive resonation with me ... I had no idea it would be a movie put into the zeitgeist of pop culture. It’s just really cool that it won Oscars and stuff. I love Shrek. I’m thankful for the whole universe."

The pinnacle of his great Shrek-sess (sorry!) would be to convince his children to watch the original movie. Ironic, wouldn't you say?

"I can’t get my kids to watch it. I can barely get them to watch movies," Mahaffey concludes. "It’s almost as if movies are passé. But that’s not true because my son is like... Jurassic World Dominion comes out [June 10]. My birthday’s June 9 and all he talks about is [June 10]. So maybe movies still have a place in our lives."

Shrek and Shrek 2 are currently available on Peacock.