Our five favorite No Doubt songs — and yours?
At first, nothing about No Doubt screamed ”career longevity.” Amid the grunge rock and gangsta rap of the early ’90s, a ska-pop band fronted by a yelping platinum blonde seemed like a novelty act. But after the Gwen Stefani-led foursome broke through with 1995’s ”Just A Girl,” the hits kept coming, and coming — enough to fill a recently released singles compilation, and to merit a greatest-hits tour this summer. No Doubt may not be the most important band of the last decade, but they’re definitely one of the most fun. We picked five tunes that prove it.
”Spiderwebs” (”Tragic Kingdom,” 1995)
No Doubt’s second hit single is a rarity: a headbanging pop song. Guitarist Tom Dumont’s heavy-metal roots show in its squealing main riff, and the band’s crazy-quilt eclecticism periodically pulls the song into ska detours. Stefani, chronicling her break-up with bassist Tony Kanal, shows early flashes of lyrical wit, singing: ”It’s all your fault/I screen my phone calls/No matter who calls.” Bonus points for writing one of the few choruses that can double as an outgoing answering machine message (”Sorry I’m not home right now/I’m walking into spiderwebs.”)
”Simple Kind of Life” (”Return of Saturn,” 2000)
Far from the melodrama of 1995’s ”Don’t Speak,” ”Simple Kind of Life” is musically understated (layered guitar strumming and a melancholy melody), but lyrically devastating. Stefani, singing in a heartfelt croon instead of her vibrato-ladedn shout of yore, hints that she’d rather be raising a family than nurturing pop hits: ”How’d I get so faithful to my freedom?/A selfish kind of life.” One line in particular must have unnerved Stefani’s then-boyfriend, now-husband Gavin Rossdale: ”I always thought I’d be a mom/Sometimes I wish for a mistake.”
”Bathwater” (”Return of Saturn”)
Anyone who doubts that No Doubt is a band — rather than a bunch of anonymous dudes backing a hot, talented singer — need only check out ”Bathwater.” Jazzy verses, a perky pop-punk chorus, a ”Sgt. Pepper”-like horn break, and surf-rock guitars make up this quirky tour de force. And that’s despite downright nauseating lyrics: ”I still love to wash in your old bathwater.” Let’s hope Gwen was being metaphorical.
”Hella Good” (”Rock Steady,” 2001)
With synthesizers buzzing and funk guitars dancing over a ”Billie Jean”-like beat, this dance-pop delight is irresistible enough to make you forget that ”hella” is one of history’s most irritating slang terms. ”I’m in the mood/So come on and give it up,” Stefani purrs, full of newfound confidence after the cred-boosting collaborations with Moby and Eve that preceded ”Rock Steady.”
”Hey Baby” (”Rock Steady”)
An even more radical departure than ”Hella Good,” ”Hey Baby”’s hip-hop-inflected sound (complete with a guest spot from dancehall star Bounty Killer) helped win No Doubt new Gen-Y fans. The band’s musicians probably weren’t thrilled with the absence of live instruments from the track, but Stefani’s chanted vocals (think Debbie Harry on ”Rapture”) suggest a Madonna-like capacity for reinvention. Stefani’s upcoming solo album will apparently follow ”Steady”’s dance-friendly lead, to which we say, hella yeah.
Do you agree with our picks? What are your favorite No Doubt songs?