The Meaning Behind “All I Wanna Do” by Sheryl Crow and the Poem that Impacted It

We now know Sheryl Crow as one of the top rock singer/songwriters of her era, a consistent deliverer of big hits and incredible songs. But like all major artists, she needed that one song to get her over the hump and cultivate a mass audience. In her case, it was the rambling, rollicking “All I Wanna Do” that did the trick.

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What is “All I Wanna Do” about? What poem helped push Crow in the right direction when writing the track? And how did the song reflect a changing attitude about what her debut album should sound like? Well, let’s find out all about it. And in case you’re wondering, this ain’t no disco.

Tuesday’s Child

Sheryl Crow gained attention from music executives for her work as a backup singer, most notably with Michael Jackson. When Crow scored a record deal, she was matched up with producer Hugh Padgham, famous for his work with The Police, Genesis, and many other leading lights in rock. But neither Crow nor her record company liked the finished product, and the album was shelved.

In the meantime, Crow and several other musicians/songwriters began getting together once a week to work on songs. Among the luminaries were David Baerwald and David Ricketts, known for their work as David + David in the ’80s; Crow’s then-boyfriend Kevin Gilbert, and Bill Bottrell, a highly regarded engineer who owned the studio where they would all congregate.

These songwriting and recording sessions begat Tuesday Night Music Club, Crow’s official debut album, which was produced by Bottrell. Although it received excellent reviews upon its release in 1993, the public was slow coming around. First single “Run, Baby, Run” fizzled, while second single “Leaving Las Vegas” made a little bit of a dent. It was the third single that did the trick, thanks to Crow innocently stumbling upon a book of poetry.

Fun Facts

Crow explained in a 1996 edition of Blender magazine (as reported by Songfacts) about the serendipitous act of finding a poem called “Fun” and its impact on “All I Wanna Do”:

“We were jamming in the studio, and I picked up this poem in a book—the first line was, ‘All I wanna do is have some fun.’ It encapsulated what was going on in LA, a real extreme feeling of apathy and defeat. It’s masked in this light pop ditty, but it’s about somebody down and out, sitting in a bar watching their life go by. I contacted the poet, Wyn Cooper, and he was really pleased. And the song was easy for me to sell because it was a character I could easily slip into. There was a lot of drinking going on in my life then, a lot of late-night bars.”

Cooper received a songwriting credit for “All I Wanna Do” because Crow lifts liberally from his poem for the song’s lyrics. Bottrell, Baerwald, and Gilbert were also listed as co-writers alongside Crow. The song took off, reaching No. 2 on the pop charts, which in turn ignited Tuesday Night Music Club on its way to over 4 million albums sold.

What is the Meaning of “All I Wanna Do”?

“All I Wanna Do” is a slice of life filled with details of a barroom encounter between the narrator and another patron. They talk to each other and make note of their surroundings. Simple as that, but, as Crow notes in the quote above, there’s so much subtext roiling in between the lines. These characters act as stand-ins for people who’ve reached a fork in the road. Instead of taking one path or the other, they simply retreat.

The narrator’s counterpart, Billy (or whatever he wants to call himself) is no Prince Charming: And he’s plain ugly to me / And I wonder if he’s ever had a day of fun in his whole life. And yet she feels a kinship with him, compared to the other folks outside the bar living their lives or the happy couple dangerously close to one another who enter: Well, they’re nothing like Billy and me.

The refrain is pure irony, since it seems like the two of them are doing anything but enjoying themselves. Crow suggests that they’re not alone in their ennui: I got a feeling I’m not the only one. “All I Wanna Do” may indeed be a tribute to lethargy, yet it propelled Sheryl Crow to the superstardom that she’s enjoyed ever since.

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Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

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