Top 10 Sublime Songs

Sublime Songs

Feature Photo: Amy Nichole Harris /

Sublime was an American ska punk band from Long Beach, California, formed in 1988. The band’s line-up, unchanged until their breakup, consisted of Bradley Nowell (vocals and guitar), Eric Wilson (bass), and Bud Gaugh (drums). Sublime blended various genres, including reggae, punk, ska, and hip-hop, and became one of the most popular bands of the 1990s ska movement.

Formation and Early Years:

Sublime was founded by Bradley Nowell, Eric Wilson, and Bud Gaugh, who met while attending California State University, Long Beach. The trio began playing together in 1988, with Nowell’s charismatic presence and distinctive voice leading the band. They started creating music in a garage and soon developed a following with their energetic performances at parties and local venues.

Rise to Fame:

Their independent spirit and relentless touring marked Sublime’s rise to fame. They gained a significant following through word of mouth, live shows, and radio play on local stations. Their first major release, 40oz. to Freedom (1992), was recorded at a makeshift studio and became a huge hit in Southern California, eventually achieving cult status. The album featured hits like “Date Rape” and “Badfish,” showcasing the band’s genre-blending style.

Sublime’s discography, though brief due to the untimely death of lead vocalist Bradley Nowell, left a significant mark on the music world, particularly within the ska punk genre. Their first major release, 40oz. to Freedom, arrived in 1992 and quickly became a staple in the Southern California music scene, blending ska, reggae, punk, and hip-hop in a raw, infectious package. Hits like “Date Rape” and “Badfish” from this album became anthems of Sublime’s early sound. Following this, in 1994, Sublime released Robbin’ the Hood, an experimental and lo-fi album recorded on a four-track cassette recorder. This album was notable for its eclectic mix and DIY ethos, featuring tracks such as “Pool Shark” and “STP” that further showcased the band’s versatility and willingness to explore different sounds.

The culmination of Sublime’s creative journey was their self-titled album, Sublime, released posthumously in 1996 after Nowell’s death. This album, containing some of their most beloved tracks like “What I Got,” “Santeria,” and “Wrong Way,” achieved widespread acclaim and commercial success, cementing the band’s legacy in the annals of 1990s alternative music.

Tragic End and Legacy:

Sublime’s promising career was cut short by the tragic death of Bradley Nowell from a heroin overdose on May 25, 1996, just two months before the release of their self-titled album. Despite Nowell’s death, Sublime became a massive commercial success, earning multi-platinum certifications. The album’s enduring popularity and the band’s influence on the ska and punk scenes cemented Sublime’s legacy in the music world.

After Nowell’s death, the surviving members initially vowed not to perform under the Sublime name out of respect. However, in the 2000s, Sublime’s music saw a resurgence, and the band’s influence on the ska and punk genres was widely recognized. Eric Wilson and Bud Gaugh later formed the Long Beach Dub Allstars, and in 2009, they collaborated with Rome Ramirez to form Sublime with Rome, a new iteration of the band that continued to perform Sublime’s music along with new material.

Influence and Recognition:

Sublime is remembered for contributing to the revival of ska and reggae influences in American punk rock. Their music remains influential, blending laid-back Southern California vibes, reggae rhythms, and punk energy. The band’s ability to address serious topics like addiction, poverty, and social injustice in their lyrics and infectious melodies has ensured their music remains relevant.

Sublime’s history is a tale of immense talent and potential, a meteoric rise to fame, and a tragic ending that impacted their fans and the music industry. Their music continues to inspire new generations of musicians and fans alike, solidifying their status as icons of the 1990s alternative music scene.

# 10 – Greatest-Hits

“Greatest-Hits” is a track from Sublime’s second album, Robbin’ the Hood, released in 1994. This album marked a departure from the band’s debut, 40oz. to Freedom, by delving into a more experimental and lo-fi direction. Robbin’ the Hood was known for its eclectic mix of home recordings, studio tracks, and sound clips, which gave the album a distinctively raw and unpolished sound. The recording sessions for the album took place in a variety of locations, including bedrooms, garages, and studios in Long Beach, California, contributing to its diverse sonic texture. The production was largely handled by the band members themselves, with Bradley Nowell and Michael “Miguel” Happoldt taking the lead, emphasizing a DIY ethos that resonated with the band’s punk influences.

“Greatest-Hits” encapsulates Sublime’s knack for blending genres, with its foundation in reggae rhythms complemented by punk energy and hip-hop influenced beats. The track showcases Bradley Nowell’s versatile guitar playing and distinctive vocal style, Eric Wilson’s solid bass lines, and Bud Gaugh’s dynamic drumming. The song’s title carries an ironic twist, as it was not a conventional hit in the commercial sense but rather an example of Sublime’s ability to create music that was both accessible and artistically challenging. The lyrics reflect a blend of personal storytelling and commentary on the music industry, a recurring theme throughout Robbin’ the Hood.

Critically, Robbin’ the Hood and “Greatest-Hits” received a mixed response upon release, with some praising the album’s authenticity and depth, while others criticized its lo-fi production and disjointed feel. Over time, however, the album and the song have been reevaluated by critics and fans alike, gaining an appreciation for their raw expression and the way they capture a moment in Sublime’s evolution. “Greatest-Hits” stands as a testament to the band’s creative spirit and their willingness to push the boundaries of their music beyond conventional genre constraints. Like much of the album, the track reflects Sublime’s deep connection to the Long Beach music scene and their influence on the development of ska and reggae-infused rock in the 1990s.

# 9 – What Happened?

“What Happened?” is a standout track from Sublime’s debut album, 40oz. to Freedom, which was released in 1992. This album set the stage for Sublime’s unique blend of ska, punk, reggae, and hip-hop, with “What Happened?” exemplifying the band’s ability to fuse these genres into a coherent and engaging sound. The recording of 40oz. to Freedom took place in several makeshift studios, primarily at the home of Sublime’s drummer, Bud Gaugh, and at various locations in Long Beach, California. This DIY approach to recording contributed to the raw, authentic sound that became characteristic of Sublime’s music. Michael “Miguel” Happoldt, along with the band members themselves, played a significant role in the production of the album, capturing the essence of Sublime’s live energy and the diverse influences that shaped their sound.

In “What Happened?”, the band’s members—Bradley Nowell (vocals and guitar), Eric Wilson (bass), and Bud Gaugh (drums)—combine their talents to create a track that is both reflective and energizing. The song starts with a memorable guitar riff followed by a dynamic rhythm section that underpins Nowell’s distinctive vocal delivery. The lyrics narrate a series of misadventures and reflections, encapsulating the band’s laid-back yet chaotic lifestyle, with references to the party scene and the unpredictability of life. The song’s structure and the interplay of instruments showcase Sublime’s ability to blend smooth reggae grooves with the raw energy of punk, creating a sound that resonated with a wide audience.

Critically, 40oz. to Freedom and “What Happened?” received attention for their innovative sound and the way they captured the Southern California cultural landscape of the early ’90s. While not a commercial hit upon initial release, the album and its tracks, including “What Happened?”, gained a substantial following through word of mouth and extensive touring. Over time, Sublime’s debut has been recognized for its influence on the ska-punk and alternative rock scenes, with “What Happened?” often cited as a fan favorite for its catchy melody, relatable lyrics, and the band’s signature blend of musical styles. The legacy of “What Happened?” and 40oz. to Freedom lies in their enduring appeal and the foundation they laid for Sublime’s subsequent success, marking a significant moment in the evolution of ’90s alternative music.

# 8 – 40 oz to Freedom

“40oz. to Freedom,” the title track from Sublime’s debut album, 40 oz to Freedom, is a cornerstone of the band’s discography that showcases their eclectic blend of ska, punk, reggae, and hip-hop influences. The album, released in June 1992, was recorded in a makeshift studio at the house of Sublime’s drummer, Bud Gaugh, and various locations in California. This DIY approach contributed to the raw, unpolished sound that became a hallmark of Sublime’s early work. The production of the album was managed by the band itself, with Michael “Miguel” Happoldt playing a significant role in the recording and production processes, capturing the spontaneous energy and spirit of Sublime’s music.

The song “40oz. to Freedom” is emblematic of the band’s ethos, combining laid-back vibes with a deep, grooving bassline provided by Eric Wilson, energetic drums from Bud Gaugh, and Bradley Nowell’s distinctive vocals and guitar. The lyrics reflect a mix of personal experiences, social commentary, and the pursuit of freedom through the lens of Southern California’s punk and ska scenes. The track’s infectious rhythm and candid lyrical style resonated with fans, contributing to the underground success of 40oz. to Freedom. The album’s grassroots popularity was propelled by extensive touring and word-of-mouth, laying the groundwork for Sublime’s rise to fame in the mid-90s.

# 7 – 5446 That’s My Number/Ball and Chain

“5446 That’s My Number” is a cover of a song originally by Toots and the Maytals, a band that was highly influential to Sublime’s reggae and ska elements. Sublime’s version adds a punk rock edge to the classic reggae track, showcasing Bradley Nowell’s versatile guitar work and distinctive vocal style, Eric Wilson’s steady bass rhythms, and Bud Gaugh’s dynamic drumming. The transition into “Ball and Chain” maintains the energetic tempo and introduces Sublime’s original lyrics, which reflect themes of love, loss, and the longing for freedom, resonating with the band’s young, rebellious fan base. The seamless blend of the two songs in the medley highlights Sublime’s ability to pay homage to their musical influences while infusing their tracks with personal and cultural significance.

# 6 – Badfish

The song was initially featured on the band’s 1991 demo Jah Won’t Pay the Bills. It would later appear on their Second-Hand Smoke compilation and Greatest Hits album. It is one of Sublime’s most popular songs. In “Badfish,” Bradley Nowell’s expressive vocals, melodic guitar riffs, Eric Wilson’s fluid bass lines, and Bud Gaugh’s steady drumming merge to create a laid-back and engaging track. The song’s title refers to a term used in surfing culture to describe someone who draws others into addictive behaviors, particularly in the context of drug use. This theme is reflected in the lyrics, which touch on feelings of entrapment and the desire for escape, themes recurrent in Nowell’s songwriting.

# 5 – Steppin Razor

“Steppin’ Razor” is not an original Sublime song but a cover showcasing the band’s ability to reinterpret and infuse other artists’ work with their unique blend of ska, reggae, punk, and hip-hop influences. The song itself has a storied history. It was initially written by Joe Higgs, a key figure in the development of reggae music, and popularized by Peter Tosh, a former member of The Wailers. Sublime’s version of “Steppin’ Razor” maintains the reggae roots of the original while incorporating the band’s signature style. 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

“Doin’ Time” is a standout track from Sublime’s third and final studio album, Sublime, released in 1996. The album was recorded over several months in 1995 and early 1996 at various studios, including Total Access Recording in Redondo Beach, California. The production of Sublime was overseen by Paul Leary and David Kahne, who worked to capture the band’s eclectic sound, blending elements of ska, reggae, punk, and hip-hop. The album’s recording was marked by the tragic death of lead singer and guitarist Bradley Nowell in May 1996, just before the album’s release, making Sublime a poignant finale to the band’s career.

“Doin’ Time” is notable for its creative sampling of “Summertime” by George Gershwin, reimagined with Sublime’s signature reggae and ska-infused sound. The song features Bradley Nowell’s smooth vocals and laid-back guitar riffs, Eric Wilson’s deep bass lines, and Bud Gaugh’s tight drumming, creating a summer anthem that encapsulates the Southern California vibe. The lyrics, which Nowell adapted from the original Gershwin piece, reflect a narrative of love and betrayal set against the backdrop of the Long Beach lifestyle.

“Doin’ Time” peaked at 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

“Santeria” is a poignant ballad by the American ska punk band Sublime, featured on their third and self-titled album released in 1996. The song emerged as a single on January 7, 1997, after the tragic death of Sublime’s lead singer, Bradley Nowell. Despite Nowell’s absence, “Santeria,” along with “What I Got,” has become emblematic of Sublime’s enduring legacy, often regarded as the band’s signature songs. The track’s composition borrows the bassline and guitar riff from Sublime’s earlier song “Lincoln Highway Dub” from their 1994 album Robbin’ the Hood. The inclusion of these musical elements from their previous work demonstrates Sublime’s ability to recycle and reinvent their music, creating something familiar yet entirely new.

Lyrically, “Santeria” delves into the narrative of a jealous ex-boyfriend contemplating revenge against the man who took his girlfriend, referred to as “Sancho” in the song. This narrative is set against the backdrop of Santería, an Afro-Cuban religion, which adds a layer of cultural depth to the song, albeit the song’s content doesn’t directly reference the religious practices. The protagonist’s turmoil and plans for retaliation, including violent intentions towards Sancho and his ex-girlfriend, are vividly described, painting a picture of a man caught in the throes of jealousy and loss. The terms “Sancho” and “Heina” used in the song draw from Chicano culture, adding authenticity and a sense of place to the storytelling, with “Sancho” denoting the man who steals another’s girlfriend and “Heina” referring to one’s woman or girlfriend, derived from the Spanish word “reina,” meaning queen.

The music video for “Santeria” was created posthumously for Nowell, featuring stock footage of the singer and appearances by his beloved Dalmatian, Lou Dog. The video casts a Western narrative theme, visualizing the song’s storyline with actor Tom Lister, Jr. portraying Sancho. Notably, during the filming, Lister experienced a memorable interaction with Lou Dog, adding a real-life anecdote to the video’s production. This visual representation, combined with the song’s narrative, offers a creative interpretation of the lyrics and pays homage to Nowell’s memory.

Commercially, “Santeria” achieved moderate success, notably breaking into the Top 5 on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks chart and reaching number 43 on the Hot 100 Airplay chart. This crossover appeal underscores Sublime’s ability to resonate with a broad audience, bridging genres and eras with their music. Additionally, “Santeria” has found its way into popular culture, being featured in video games like Guitar Hero World Tour and Rocksmith 2014, as well as films including Idle Hands and Knocked Up, further cementing its status as a quintessential Sublime track.

In chart performance, “Santeria” made notable appearances, including reaching number 90 on Canada’s Top Singles (RPM) and number 3 on the US Alternative Airplay (Billboard), showcasing its wide appeal and the lasting impact of Sublime’s music. The song’s enduring popularity and its incorporation into various media platforms highlight its timeless quality and Sublime’s influential role in the ska punk genre. Through “Santeria,” Sublime’s legacy continues to thrive, offering new generations a glimpse into the band’s unique blend of sounds and storytelling.

# 2 – April 29, 1992 (Miami)

“April 29, 1992 (Miami)” is a compelling track by the American rock band Sublime, featured on their self-titled album released in 1996. The song is a raw and unfiltered reflection on the 1992 Los Angeles riots, a series of events triggered by the acquittal of four police officers accused of using excessive force in the beating of Rodney King, an incident that was caught on videotape and broadcasted widely. The song’s title marks the date when the verdict was announced, leading to widespread civil unrest and violence in Los Angeles and other cities across the United States.

An interesting aspect of the song is the discrepancy between the official title and the date mentioned in the lyrics, “April 26, 1992.” This inconsistency has been noted by the band and fans alike, with some suggesting it was a simple mistake that was overlooked due to the strength of the recording take. However, this variance has also sparked theories and discussions about the deeper meaning and authenticity of the song’s narrative. The lyrics of “April 29, 1992 (Miami)” delve into the chaos of the riots, describing acts of arson, robbery, and vandalism. There is a controversial claim that Sublime’s lead singer, Bradley Nowell, and other band members participated in the unrest, with the song providing a form of justification for their involvement.

The song stands out for its candid portrayal of the anger and frustration felt by many in the wake of the Rodney King verdict. Sublime’s approach to addressing such a sensitive and complex topic in “April 29, 1992 (Miami)” reflects the band’s willingness to confront social and political issues head-on, using their music as a platform for commentary and reflection. The track’s raw energy and poignant lyrics offer listeners a glimpse into the turmoil of the time, serving as both a historical document and a personal account of the events.

Through “April 29, 1992 (Miami),” Sublime contributes to the ongoing conversation about justice, inequality, and the power of collective action in the face of systemic failures. The song remains a powerful reminder of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, encapsulating the emotions and experiences of those who lived through the unrest. It highlights the band’s unique ability to blend musical genres and lyrical storytelling, solidifying Sublime’s legacy as a band unafraid to tackle the pressing issues of their time.

# 1 – What I Got

“What I Got” is a quintessential track by the American band Sublime, featured on their self-titled third album released in 1996. This song, emerging in the wake of lead singer Bradley Nowell’s tragic death from a heroin overdose, marked a poignant moment in the band’s history, becoming their most significant radio hit. Released as the band’s second single, following “Date Rape” from 1991, “What I Got” showcases Sublime’s unique blend of musical styles, with its chorus borrowing from “Loving” by reggae artist Half Pint, who is credited as a co-writer. The melody of the song also bears a resemblance to the Beatles’ “Lady Madonna,” highlighting Sublime’s ability to weave together diverse musical influences.

Commercially, “What I Got” achieved remarkable success, securing the number one spot on the US Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart and reaching number 29 on the Billboard Hot 100 Airplay chart. The song’s widespread appeal was further evidenced by its international chart performance, including a peak at number 34 in New Zealand and number two on the Canadian RPM Alternative 30 chart. Its inclusion in Rolling Stone magazine’s “100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time” at number 83 is a testament to its enduring impact and the skillful musicianship it showcases.

The music video for “What I Got,” crafted as a tribute to Nowell, features a collage of archival videos and photos, celebrating his life and the band’s journey. The inclusion of live footage from a Sublime show at The Capitol Ballroom in Washington, DC, alongside images of Long Beach, California—where the band found their success—adds a deeply personal touch to the visual narrative of the song.

The song’s recording and release history is both unique and complex, spanning two producers, David Kahne and Paul Leary, and two labels, including Sublime’s independent label Skunk Records and later MCA Records. The presence of multiple versions of the song, including a reprise, on the self-titled album released posthumously highlights the challenges and intricacies involved in bringing “What I Got” to a wider audience, especially considering the task of securing airplay for an unknown band without a living lead singer.

“What I Got” played a pivotal role in propelling Sublime to widespread acclaim, contributing to the self-titled album’s status as one of the best sellers of 1997, with over 5 million copies sold. The song’s success sparked renewed interest in Sublime’s back catalog, leading to their first album, originally released in 1992, achieving Platinum status. Following Nowell’s death, the remaining members of Sublime formed the Long Beach Dub Allstars, which eventually evolved into Sublime With Rome, with lead singer Rome Ramirez, ensuring that the spirit of Sublime’s music continued to resonate with fans new and old.

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