Five Songs That Prove Why Sublime Still Matters

Categories: long beach
sublime 1.jpg
The story of Long Beach's most successful band rarely emphasizes its multicultural roots, its ability to seamlessly blend disparate genres or its importance in creating a globally appealing pop sound out of a mass of local musical influences. Instead, most considerations of ska-punk outfit Sublime focuses on the cruelly timed death of frontman Bradley Nowell, a herion-death cliché-of-the-times that left his image lumped in with countless others associated with the drug-addicted alternative rock mainstream of the 1990s.

This perspective of the Long Beach-bred three-piece, however, unfairly sweeps the band away from critical study, leaving its contemporaries in grunge and hip-hop to the theorists and relegating Sublime's gritty dub-rock hybrid albums to the lowly pantheon of bro music. But Sublime is more than the beach-inspired stylings of a heroin addict and its legacy far greater than the cottage industry of white-boy reggae-punk fusions that continue in its wake (Slightly Stoopid, anyone?).To understand the musical impact of Sublime, we break down five songs that exemplify the reasons this band--love them or hate them-- still matters.

5. "What I Got" (aka where pop, reggae and hip hop collided on American radio)

Like most other Sublime songs, what landed on the radio in 1996, "What I Got" was not entirely original music. Instead, the song is an amalgam of several important songs with roots spanning from West Kingston to Liverpool to Oakland. The melody and pacing of the verses is identical to Beatles' "Lady Madonna" while the chorus is an exact cover of "Lovin'" by Jamaican ragga singer Half-Pint. In addition to aligning itself with Britain's quintessential rock band (and all of the whiteness that goes with it), the song plants Sublime in an opposing world of working-class black music, not only through the Half-Pint cover, but also with its lyrical references to Oakland's Too Short and Haitian-American act, The Fugees. And yet Sublime's first foyer into mainstream music was not making a mockery of African rhythms and racialized beats, but instead taking the parts it needed and mixing with other resources along the way to make "What I Got" a sincere and universally appealing pop ballad.

4. "Badfish" (aka where British two-tone found a new working-class American home)
Though "Badfish" is one of the more sonically original of Sublime songs, it still cites influences from two bands--The Specials and the Ziggens. The Specials were one of the most important bands of England's 2 Tone ska-revival scene and the Ziggens were local contemporaries of Sublime, releasing surf-punk albums on Skunk Records. "Badfish" combines the introductory "field recording of a bar" aesthetic and several lyrics from The Specials' 1979 song "Nite Klub" and a loose melody from the Ziggens' 1991 "All The Fun That We Missed."

Written several years before the civil unrest of the L.A. Riots, "Badfish" takes this anti-partying party song approach to Long Beach's drug-and-alcohol scene, which Sublime members were off-and-on members of. Using blatant metaphors to shed light on the realities of working class life in the industrial port city, the song is uncommon poetry for the usually straight-forward Sublime. And for those who ran in these hard-times circles in Long Beach--which boasts other famously tormented alumni such as John Fante and Charles Bukowski--lines such as "Ain't got no money to spend/I hope the night will never end" and "Ain't got no quarrels with God/Ain't got no time to get old" define the experience.

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