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Michael's Number Ones: "Hit That" by The Offspring



DATE

WEEKS

February 7, 2004

2

In 2006, the conservative magazine The National Review published a tongue-in-cheek list of its top 50 rock songs, and predictably, the list made the rounds on the internet. The idea was that the themes of the songs aligned with conservative politics at the time. Some of the songs make sense in context: "Taxman" by The Beatles and "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Others, such as "Gloria" by U2 or "Bodies" by The Sex Pistols feel like they're in there to trigger liberals. The funniest entry in the list is "Get Over It" by The Eagles, which takes a stance against grievance culture; the current Republican candidate for president is about nothing but grievance and revenge.


The Offspring actually make an appearance on that list with their 1999 song "Why Don't You Get a Job?". It's not one of the band's better songs, but I can see how a Republican might want to co-opt it to fit the stereotype of Americans as lazy bums who want to live on the government dole as opposed to working themselves to death. Also on the list was "Stay Together for the Kids" by Blink-182, a much better song lamenting the dissolution of a family. ("Stay Together for the Kids" peaked at #4 on my top 40 in 2001. Blink-182 will soon appear in this column.)


As far as I know, the members of The Offspring are not social conservatives. There are some realities that just cut across political lines. One of them is that actions have consequences and you can't run away from them.



Bryan "Dexter" Holland was born in 1965 in Garden Grove, California, in Orange County. Holland was an excellent student and graduated high school as valedictorian, which earned him the nickname Dexter. He studied molecular biology at the University of Southern Carolina, eventually earning a Bachelor's Degree, Master's Degree, and, in 2017, a Doctorate. When I say that nerds have the last laugh, I mean it. Dexter Holland is a man after my own heart.


While he was at USC, Holland formed the band that would become The Offspring in 1983 with Gregory Kriesel. Southern California had a vibrant punk rock scene in the 1980s, with bands like Social Distortion, Circle Jerks, and TSOL dominating the region. (Social Distortion's biggest hit on my top 40, 2004's "Reach for the Sky", peaked at #4.). It helped that KROQ, one of the first alternative rock stations in the United States, was based in Los Angeles.


Holland recruited drummer James Lilja and guitarist Kevin "Noodles" Wasserman and began calling themselves The Offspring around 1986. Lilja left the band the next year to study oncology and brought in Ron Welty to replace him. The band signed with indie label Nemesis Records and worked with veteran punk rock producer Thom Wilson to record their self-titled debut, releasing it in 1989.


Eventually the band signed with Epitaph Records, and recorded 1992's Ignition with Wilson producing. Neither of the band's first two albums made much mainstream impact, but their third album, Smash, saw a major breakthrough. The first single from the record, "Come Out and Play", shot to #1 on the Modern Rock chart, and even got some attention at pop radio, peaking at #38 on the Hot 100 Airplay chart. (As was the case with a lot of alternative artists in the mid-90s, they didn't release commercial singles and were ineligible to chart on the Hot 100.)



Grunge had made punk rock palatable to mainstream audiences by this point, so The Offspring were well-positioned to take advantage. When I eventually discovered alternative rock, songs like "Self Esteem", "Gotta Get Away", and "Gone Away" were constantly on the airwaves. Smash would go on to sell over six million copies, and while their next album, Ixnay on the Hombre, was a relative disappointment by comparison, their fifth album would push them to new mainstream success.


Americana reached #2 on the Billboard albums chart, and saw their biggest global hit in "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)". It only got to #53 on the Hot 100, and #3 on the alternative chart, but it topped charts in the United Kingdom, Austria, Sweden, and the Netherlands.


The song is fun as hell, but it feels like a weird artifact of late 90s culture. The person who comes to my mind when I think about white dudes appropriating Black fashion is Seth Green's character in the 1998 film Can't Hardly Wait. Now, I lived in a pretty diverse neighborhood in Queens at the time, and I remember kids making fun of me because my jeans weren't baggy enough. But if I showed up to school looking like the guy in the "Pretty Fly" video? Well, I might not have made it to even write this column.



The Offspring came close to another alternative #1 with 2000's "Original Prankster", off their album Conspiracy of One, but I barely remember hearing it at the time. I don't know if that was just because it didn't stand out on the radio, or what. I was starting to pay attention to alternative radio at the time, so it just feels weird that the song doesn't really register.


For Splinter, The Offspring's seventh studio album, the band worked with veteran producer Brendan O'Brien, whose work has already been in this column with Train's "Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me)". Holland fired Ron Welty shortly before the sessions began, and recruited Josh Freese to play drums on short notice. Holland considered naming the album Chinese Democracy, after the long awaited, but never released, Guns 'n Roses album. That would've been hilarious if they went forward with it, but instead they took Splinter from how the album explores different genres and themes. (Members of Guns 'n Roses will appear in this column soon.)


Holland wrote "Hit That" as a commentary on what he viewed as families dissolving due to no one taking responsibility. Holland said, "Joe Blow has got three different kids by three different girls and vice versa, and it's happening more and more. And ultimately the kids are the ones who suffer from that. But when you get down to it, people are gonna hook up, so there's nothing you can do about it." Holland isn't wrong about the basic premise. But I would argue education about contraception, combined with more resources to help children born in unstable situations, might go a lot farther than trying to shame people out of having sex in the first place.


Holland's narrator in "Hit That" tries to look at it from both a male and female perspective, but he seems to have a lot less sympathy for the guy in the song. "She had a kid now, but much too young. That baby's daddy's out having fun. He's saying I'm on a roll with all the girls I know."


While he blames men for leaving women to hold the bag when a child comes along, Holland also seems to criticize the women in the song for looking for easy sex. "She's sayin' 'I'm on a run, I'm chasing guys for fun, I know you want to hit that.'" Now I've known women who seem to not care about raising a child, or children, after having them. But there's an equivalency here that doesn't sit easy with me.


I don't think it helps that Holland's narrator seems to throw his hands in the air about what to do about the situation. "Take a chance, everything's a game. And it don't stop hooking up, nothing's gonna change." Nah, fuck that. Of course, people will want to have sex, but the consequences aren't set in stone the minute a child is conceived, or even before then.


Still, I can't deny how much I enjoy the song, either then or now. The keyboards are rollicking, hooking you into the lyrics of the song, for better or worse. Holland's vocals play into the instruments very well. It's easy to have this song on in the background and bop your head to it, even if the lyrics haven't held up as well twenty years later.


For the video, directors John Williams and David Lea chose not to depict the lyrics literally. Instead, they substituted an animated dog wreaking havoc on a neighborhood, until its owner catches up to him and has him neutered. Now, if the dog is really a metaphor for the male protagonist in the song, then that's, well, kinda fucked up. It almost feels like an overcorrection for the political correctness of the actual lyrics. But I like the boxy animation on the dog and his owner.


"Hit That" became The Offspring's first number one on the alternative chart in ten years, and got to #64 on the Hot 100. Splinter wound up being a relative flop for the band, peaking at #30 on the album chart and only getting to gold certification. The other single from the album, "(Can't Get My) Head Around You", was a real banger, and it got to #3 on my chart later in the year. On the alternative chart, it peaked at #6.



The Offspring worked with big deal producer Bob Rock on 2008's Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace. I can't really remember why, but the singles from that album didn't register as much with me at the time. Lead single "Hammerhead" got to #14 on my top 40, and follow-up "You're Gonna Go Far, Kid" only reached #36. Still the album had an audience on alternative radio, and "You're Gonna Go Far, Kid" wound up being the band's third and most recent #1 on the alternative chart.


The Offspring did manage one more top 10 hit on my chart. The title track from 2012's Days Go By peaked at #8. It spent 21 weeks on my top 40, but I couldn't recall a single thing about the song before listening to it while writing this column.



After Days Go By, The Offspring spent the following years doing a 20th anniversary tour for Smash and playing festivals with other veteran punk bands like Bad Religion and The Vandals. They recorded the song "Sharknado" for the soundtrack to Sharknado: The 4th Awakens. I don't know what I find stranger: that there are at least four Sharknado movies in the world, or that the blog editor I'm writing this on doesn't flag "Sharknado" as a misspelled word.


Eventually, the band released Let the Bad Times Roll in 2021, and the title track was their most recent top 10 hit on the alternative chart. I thought I heard it enough that it would've spent at least a couple weeks on my top 40, but I guess I missed that one.


According to Holland, we'll be getting a new Offspring album later in 2024, so I guess I can't say with certainty they won't be back in this column again, but I wouldn't bet on it. If there's one thing I know about alternative radio, they love their legacy artists, and The Offspring fall into that category. And they certainly won't be the only legacy artist that gets written up in this column.


EXTRAS

Not a whole lot to go on for this song. So instead, I'll share this video of Ed Sheeran joining The Offspring on stage at BottleRock in Napa Valley over the weekend. Sheeran was a big Offspring fan growing up, and apparently the band reached out to him when they found out they were both going to be at the festival. I mean, who the fuck knows? Anyway, here it is:



(Ed Sheeran's biggest hit on my top 40, 2012's "The A Team", peaked at #17.)


BELOW THE TOP

Big Boi's first single from his half of Outkast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, the slinky jam "The Way You Move", peaked at #5 behind "Hit That". It's tapping right into my memory banks.



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