Toad the Wet Sprocket had “the most audacious” idea when they were asked to participate in a collection of Kiss cover songs. “We knew we were not going to out-rock anybody,” recalls singer Glen Phillips on Billboard’s Behind the Setlist podcast. “And so the idea was to just make fun of ourselves and do it as if it were like a young life campfire song. Turn it into a waltz. Just make it, like, distressingly Toad-sounding.”
Rising to prominence in the days of college radio in the early ‘90s, Toad the Wet Sprocket defied the musical trend of the day — the grunge movement that spawned Nirvana, Alice In Chains and Soundgarden — to score a pair of platinum albums, Fear and Dulcinea, filled with hooky songs featuring with melodic counterplay. The Santa Barbara, Calif.-based band had more in common with the acoustic-driven music they’ve covered live — Crowded House and Indigo Girls — than the heavy, raw rock music that dominated rock radio and rose high on the Billboard 200 album chart.
Lending its distinctive sound to a classic rock standard was a stroke of genius, though. Toad the Wet Sprocket’s version of “Rock and Roll All Nite” for the 1994 compilation Kiss My Ass: Classic Kiss Regrooved is arguably the most memorable recording on a collection that features such luminaries as Garth Brooks (“Hard Luck Woman”), Lenny Kravitz and Stevie Wonder (“Deuce”), Anthrax (“She”) and Gin Blossoms (“Christine Sixteen”).
“He has gone on the record as saying it’s not only his favorite song on that album, but it’s one of his top 10 favorite recordings ever,” adds bassist Dean Dinning.
“Rock and Roll All Nite” has never been in heavy rotation on the band’s set lists — one performance at The Metro in Chicago in 1994 can be found on YouTube — but one performance stands out in the band members’ minds. “Jon Bon Jovi actually came on stage with us at a big radio show in New York at Madison Square Garden and sang that with us,” recalls Phillips.
Even for a band that had just put two songs — “Walk on the Ocean” and “All I Want” — into the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, sharing the stage with the “Living on a Prayer” singer was surreal. “It was so strange to be out there,” says Phillips. “On the one hand, I feel like, man, we’re playing Madison Square Garden. This is cool. We’re winning! We’re doing all right here! And he walked on stage and it was, like, goosebumps.” Phillips recreates the roar of the crowd like a burst of white noise or, as Dinning describes it, a jet engine. “It was like, Oh, that’s how it feels to be a real rockstar,” Phillips says.
As for the performance of the 1975 Kiss classic, Dinning thinks it was well received. “It’s not really fair to judge because Jon Bon Jovi was on stage with us, but it seemed like the crowd reaction was good,” he jokes.
After an eight-year break from recording, Toad the Wet Sprocket released a new studio album, Starting Now, in 2021, followed by a bonus version of the greatest hits collection All You Want. The 19-track compilation includes an unreleased version of the track “Best of Me” from Starting Now that originally featured the legendary Michael McDonald on backing vocals. The 2023 version of “Best of Me” is the original, McDonald-less version.
“This is the band version of the song that almost went on the record,” says Dinning. “It’s nice to bring the song back to the sound of just of just the band without the guest. It was it was a track that we hadn’t released yet and it’s a great song and the version is great. And so we made it the single off this new All You Want project.”