With our top ten Sublime songs we are looking at one of the most seminal bands of the nineties ska punk movement. They were formed in 1988 in Long Beach, California. Their line-up, which consisted of guitarist and vocalist Bradley Nowell, bassist Eric Wilson and drummer Bud Gaugh, remained unchanged throughout their career. They split up in 1996 after Nowel died of a heroin overdose.
They released their debut album in 1992 titled 40 oz To Freedom. It initially had a limited run and was only sold at the band’s shows but by the time of the band’s split four years later it had sold over 209,000 copies. After being signed to the Gasoline Alley label they released their second album in 1994 titled Robbin the Hood which was more experimental than the first album, mixing up a lot of different styles but it was a commercial failure. After performing on the 1995 Warped Tour, which they were taken off from due to their unruly behaviour, they were pressured into recording their third album.
Sublime began recording their third and final self-titled album in 1996 which they competed before Nowell’s death. The album was the band’s most commercially successful and contained several successful singles including “What I Got” which topped the Modern Rock Chart. When the album became a success many of the band’s fans were not even aware of the singer’s death. After he passed away, the band decided to split, feeling that he was irreplaceable.
Sublime were a band who were tragically short-lived with their career being over before it had even really began. However, over the years they have proven to be massively influential, with many punk and ska bands citing them as an influence to this day. The band’s sound has often been synonymous with that of California. They are also still very popular, with their music appearing in a variety of media soundtracks. They have sold over seventeen million records. They have even been compared to Nirvana, due to the fact that they made a big impact in a short space of time. The band even felt when Bradley Nowell died , the band died with him, just like Nirvana did with Kurt Cobain. So with all that said, let us look at what their ten greatest songs are.
# 10 – Greatest-Hits
Kicking off our top ten Sublime songs list is this song taken from the second album titled Robbin The Hood released in 1994. The song shows the album’s more experimental nature, as it very funk influenced as well as mixing in elements of ska. It is one of the song’s on the album that became one of the band’s biggest hits.
# 9 – What Happened?
Up next is a track from Sublime’s debut album which was released in 1992 titled 40 oz To Freedom. The song is rather traditional sounding ska, featuring a saxophone and being rather reminiscent of The Specials. The title refers to the fact that the song is about how Nowell cannot remember what happened when he had been out partying the night before.
# 8 – 40 oz to Freedom
Here we have the title track of the first album. Like a lot of the band’s songs, its lyrics deal with drinking and partying, something that the band were known for doing excessively. The song has a very youthful vibe to it, and is about being young and free. For many people who were young at the time, it was no doubt a song that soundtracked their youth.
# 7 – 5446 That’s My Number/Ball and Chain
Up next we have yet another song from the first album but which this time is a cover that was originally recorded by Toots and the Maytals. The cover is performed as part of a medley along with “Ball and Chain” which is an original Sublime song. The former song has also been covered by a wide variety of other artists over the past few decades.
# 6 – Badfish
Ending the first part of this list we have …another song form the first album! (This writer is a fan.) The song was originally featured on the band’s 1991 demo Jah Won’t Pay the Bills. It would later appear on their compilation album Second-Hand Smoke and on their Greatest Hits album. It is one of Sublime’s most popular songs.
# 5 – Steppin Razor
Kicking off the second half of this list we have the second cover song and second song from Robbin The Hood. The original was by Peter Tosh and this version contains a sample of Steely Dan’s “Do It Again.” The album contains many samples of other songs from artists such as Bob Marley, Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Doors.
# 4 – Doin Time
Next up we have the first song on this list be taken from the band’s third and final self-titled album released in 1996. The lyrics are about a cheating girlfriend who makes her lover feel like he is in prison because of her poor treatment of him. It got to number eighty-seven on the Billboard Hot 100 and twenty-seven on the Modern Rock Charts. In 2019, it was covered by Lana Del Rey.
# 3 – Santeria
At number three is this song that was released as a posthumous single in 1997 after Bradley Nowell’s death. Despite this , it is considered to be one of Sublime’s signature songs. Commercially, it did moderately well, reaching the top five of the Billboard Modern Rock chart and forty-three on the Modern Hot Airplay Chart.
# 2 – Pawn Shop
Just off the top spot is this track from Sublime which is its longest song, clocking in at over six minutes. This song is one of the most pure reggae sounding songs that the band have recorded, having very little elements of ska or punk. It is a track that shows a maturity in sound for the band and a tragic reminder that they probably had a lot more to offer.
# 1 – Seed
Topping this Sublime songs list is this short and sweet two minute number taken from Sublime. It is a track that see’s Sublime going all out punk with no reggae or funk influence. The record had several hit singles and was massively successful despite the band not touring to promote it following Nowell’s death. It sold over five million copies in the US and is still a popular album to this day. It pioneered what is known as third wave ska which includes other bands such as No Doubt and Less Than Jake. Critical reviews for it were also very positive with many critics, praising Nowell’s songwriting ability. It is considered an all time classic album of the 1990’s.
Top 10 Sublime Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
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