Sublime were one of the most influential bands of the 90s, and although some of their lyrics have not stood the test of time (“Date Rape” and “Wrong Way”, to name a couple), the vast majority of their old hits remain tried and true summertime and stoner anthems. Sublime’s reggae-infused rock sound has always, and will always go hand-in-hand with warm weather and cold beer, and of course the music will always be enhanced by the effects of marijuana, which is a frequent topic in the late Bradley Nowell’s songwriting.
Regardless, Sublime, along with their trusty pal Lou Dog, hold a special place in our nostalgic hearts, and while some may turn their noses up at the college stoners who love Sublime, we embrace that demographic here at Extra Chill, because I’ve been there myself, and those memories will forever be dear to me. I will confidently say that I had a Sublime poster on my dorm room wall in college, and I do still enjoy their music, however juvenile some of it may sound today.
Bradley Nowell’s death came of heroin overdose in May of 1996 just two months before the release of their self-titled album; the one that has all of their most popular songs. In all honest and fair terms, Bradleys death caused a surge of popularity for Sublime, and since Sublime is actually a fantastic album that would have done well either way, the record blew up. This inevitably spawned an endless onslaught of bands that sound like some blend of what Sublime did.
Obviously Bradley’s death spurred popularity for the band, but I would argue that they would have made even more memorable music had Bradley survived. He may have died a few years later, but we would have gotten at least one or two more albums of killer California surf rock and ska and punk and hip-hop before he kicked the bucket. Or else they would have ended up on the level of Red Hot Chili Peppers or Foo Fighters and filled arenas playing “What I Got” at age 50. The genre would look entirely different in much the same way that hip-hop would look different had Biggie Smalls survived.
A few of the bands who spawned in the Sublime genre were actually good, like Slightly Stoopid, 311, and Pepper, but there are only so many ways you can cut white boy reggae rock before it gets stale, and what resulted was an oversaturation of the genre, a bubble of sorts that is now past its prime but still not quite done.
Sublime were great because they were innovative in their own unique way, and they’re the type of dudes that you would want at your party, as long as you took the proper precautions of locking up your valuables beforehand. Maybe the folks over at Pitchfork who say they want the Sublime genre to die out have simply forgotten how to have fun.
With the unfortunate reality of Bradley Nowell’s young death, we were left with just 3 official Sublime albums, and then a handful of posthumous records churned up by the label and the surviving members of the band.
Before I get into my list of the best Sublime songs, I want to plug Long Beach Dub All-Stars, a band formed by surviving members of Sublime Eric Wilson and Bud Gaugh. Their album Right Back is solid material.
Anyway, here are the 10 best Sublime songs.
10. “Greatest-Hits” (Robbin’ The Hood, 1994)
This list consists of Sublime’s greatest hits, which includes a bass-driven song called “Greatest Hits”. It’s got the classic Sublime lyric: “I’m drunk by noon but that’s okay / I’ll be president someday”. This song really rips in the ska department and is one of the most motion-inspiring Sublime songs on this list.
9. “Smoke Two Joints” (40oz. To Freedom, 1992)
Anytime you see the Sublime sunshine logo from 40oz. To Freedom, the first song you probably think of is “Smoke Two Joints”. That sun has become known to represent stonerdom, and “Smoke Two Joints” and the rest of Sublime’s music by tangent has become central to that, even if the song is a cover. As far as irreverent stoner songs go, it doesn’t get much better than “Smoke Two Joints” by Sublime.
8. “40oz. to Freedom” (40oz. To Freedom, 1992)
If you want to be young and drunk and stupid then you probably also want to listen to Sublime, and perhaps the best Sublime song for you is “40oz to Freedom”. Because when you’re young and drunk and stupid, “40oz to Freedom” is your ticket to drunken freedom, which almost feels like the real thing sometimes.
7. “April 29th, 1992 (Miami)” (Sublime, 1996)
This song is about Bradley Nowell’s involvement in the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles in 1992. He proudly sings about robbing and looting stores to improve his home furnishings. He’s so twisted during the recording that he accidentally sings “April 26th, 1992” on the track, and the band kept it. I enjoyed what Stereogum said about this song; that it had 13-year olds reciting lyrics about killing cops.
“But if you look at the street, it wasn’t about Rodney King
It’s this fucked-up situation and these fucked-up police
It’s about coming up and staying on top
And screaming 1-8-7 on a motherfucking cop“
6. “Badfish” (40oz. To Freedom, 1992)
“Badfish” is a chill, bass-driven party song that stands as a staple of Sublime, and the namesake of the most popular Sublime tribute band. Picture yourself in the backyard, with the grill going and sitting around the fire pit with your closest friends. That’s what the song feels like, and might make you think that it’s good to be a Badfish, but in reality the lyrics tell a darker tale of drug addiction that not many consider when listening to the feed-good tune.
Check out our full analysis on the meaning of “Badfish” for an in-depth look at the song.
5. “What I Got” (Sublime, 1996)
If you’ve ever got an outdoor backyard party situation on your hands and you’re in desperate need of something to keep everybody happy, “What I Got” is always a good song to have in your back pocket. As the most popular Sublime song, “What I Got” is all about appreciating the moment the love that you’ve got from the people around you. It’s the song that propelled Sublime to fame after Bradley’s death, and it will forever be remembered as one of the most iconic and influential songs of the 90s.
4. “Doin’ Time (Original Version)” (Sublime, 1996)
Here Sublime uses a hip-hop beat once again and describes the relationship that Bradley was in at the time, where he feels locked up; as if he’s “Doin’ Time”. How this did not make the original cut of the album is beyond me. While a good song in itself, “Doin’ Time” was also made infinitely more cool in 2019 when it was covered by Lana Del Rey on her acclaimed album Norman Fucking Rockwell.
3. “Santeria” (Sublime, 1996)
The opening chords to “Santeria” are some of the most memorable moments in 90s music, at least for the beach kids. It’s probably the second most popular of all the songs by Sublime. “Santeria” is the song of driving to the beach in the summertime, with no responsibilities other than one long day to kick it. It asks nothing of the listener, and just wants to show you a good time in the sunshine. It’s also got some of the best Sublime lyrics to open things up: “I don’t practice santeria / I ain’t got no crystal ball / Well, I had a million dollars but I, I’d spend it all”.
2. “Pawn Shop” (Sublime, 1996)
The longest song on Sublime, “Pawn Shop” rips an instrumental jam that is anchored by a strong bassline while the guitar rolls around ferociously. “Pawn Shop” is the most psychedelic Sublime song, and one of the songs in their catalog that can be appreciated by people who don’t enjoy the rest of Sublime’s music. This is some funky shit, California white boy heroin-addicted surfer style.
1. “Garden Grove” (Sublime, 1996)
“Garden Grove” is the Sublime song that has stood the test of time the most, in terms of still being interesting today, and that’s why it tops this list as what we’re calling the best Sublime song. Bradley shows us around his home with the lyrics, and the beat is hip-hop that is stylistically definitive of the 90s, in a song about living in a screwed up world and being absolutely, completely okay with it. Happy, even. It’s definitively Sublime, and it’s still chill by today’s more strict standards.
Bonus: “Get Ready” (Sublime, 1996)
There are so many good Sublime songs that I couldn’t limit myself to just 10 songs here, so I decided to throw in “Get Ready” as a bonus. This song almost made the list but there was no way I was going to drop any of the other choices on this list. “Get Ready” is another one of those Sublime jams that have stood the test of time. It’s a slow reggae groove, and has one of the most iconic Sublime lyrics, and also a great place to leave you off: “Load up the bong, crank up the song / let the informer call 9-1-1”.