I’ve always been a fan of musicians that create songs by merging different genres together, there’s just something really creative about that. Two of my favorite genres, when I was growing up, were punk, third-wave ska, and reggae.
When I found out that there was a band that combined all of these elements into their music, you could say that I thought that sounded sublime.
Puns aside, Sublime is a fantastic band for anyone who’s into the tongue-in-cheek nature of ska-punk and the chilled vibes of reggae. They were formed in California in 1988 and sadly broke up only eight years later, but throughout their short-lived career the band released a ton of fantastic music.
I’ve decided to take a trip back to the early ‘90s and relive my favorite music as an adolescent by breaking down the 20 best Sublime songs.
Read on to find out which tracks I chose!
Best Sublime Songs of All Time
At the top of our list is Santeria, one of the most well-known and best Sublime songs out there right now. This track has a slow and hazy tempo, clean ska guitar rhythms, and the soulful vocals of Bradley Nowell.
It’s actually a pretty emotional track, as it was released after the death of the talented vocalist and the subsequent split of the band. This means that Nowell sadly never got to see the success this track had on the radio, but he’d be so proud if he heard it.
2. What I Got
One of the main reasons I was always so obsessed with Sublime is you just never knew what you were going to get. Sure, they released a ton of music in their signature ska style, but they were always exploring different genres.
A great example of this is What I Got – this catchy tune combines some unusual hip-hop drums, acoustic guitar solos, organs, and reggae-style rapping. It’s truly a unique track and has the kind of vibe that makes you want to meet up with your friends in the sun and chill out.
3. Wrong Way
If you’ve never heard of Sublime or know somebody who hasn’t, I think this next track is the perfect place to start – Wrong Way.
Whilst they were a versatile band, this track represents Sublime’s signature ska-punk style perfectly. It’s a bit more fast-paced than the last tracks and features all of the brass elements and off-beat ad-libs that were commonplace in the first and second waves of ska music.
Bands such as The Madness and The Skatellites must love how their music influenced Sublime’s sound.
Next up, we’ve got a reggae anthem from Sublime – Badfish. I absolutely love the vocals on this one – Nowell really expresses himself beautifully and lets his unique style shine. Plus, that wavey guitar solo two minutes in is a reason to listen to this track in itself.
Not only is this one the best Sublime tracks in my opinion, but it was also one of the band’s favorites. It features on their demo tape Jah Won’t Pay the Bills, their first album, a compilation and greatest hits album, AND its own dedicated EP.
If that isn’t a sign of a reggae classic, I don’t know what is!
5. Smoke Two Joints
If you’ve listened to a fair amount of Sublime, you’ve probably realized by now that the lyrical content of their entire career has something in common – the band loved cannabis. Just listen to the lyrics of the classic reggae track Smoke Two Joints, the title of the track really gives it away really.
It’s pretty clear that the band’s obsession had a huge influence on their music, giving them the carefree, good vibes required to produce so many chilled-out tracks!
I’m honestly surprised that the band managed to stay so productive and release so much music!
6. Doin’ Time
As I already mentioned, Sublime occasionally likes to chuck some hip-hop elements into their music, particularly when it came to percussion and vinyl-scratching.
One of the best Sublime songs to feature these elements would have to be Doin’ Time – it’s a really great track that uses the combination of reggae and hip-hop to create an early example of modern-day dub music.
I’m a huge fan of this track, but I can’t help but wonder if their cannabis obsession had something to do with the title of ‘Doin’ Time’.
7. Date R***
Whilst the name of this track can be somewhat shocking and controversial, this simply would not be a list of the top 20 best Sublime songs without the inclusion of Date R***.
I’m not going to get into the lyrics of this track, but let’s just say it shows off the band’s love of dark and edgy humor. Regardless of these vocals, you just can’t deny that this track is Sublime’s masterpiece.
The composition is complex, there are tons of really unique key changes, and the vibe of the track is just so euphoric, it just makes you want to dance!
8. Caress Me Down
If you’re a fan of dub music, you’ll probably be familiar with the bassline that opens this next track, Caress Me Down.
The signature bassline quickly switches from a bass guitar to a synthesizer, specifically sub-bass, giving the track a fat sound that performs very well through big sound systems. The vocals are also really interesting to listen to, playing on the traditional vocal styles found in Jamaica and Caribbean reggae.
Sublime really are a varied band – they mastered dub music just as much as they mastered ska-punk and reggae.
9. Same in the End
Let’s move back to the fast and energetic sound of Sublime’s ska-punk music, tracks such as Same in The End. If you’re up for a laugh, you should check out the lyrics of this one – it’s another example of the quirky humor found throughout the band’s portfolio.
I particularly love how these nonsensical stories are articulated through staccato vocals, almost being rapped over sung. This style is pretty common in the second and third waves of ska music, Sublime really nailed it on this one.
Easily one of the best Sublime songs and one of the greatest ska-punk tracks overall.
10. Garden Grove
I’ve always loved Sublime’s ability to seamlessly switch between genres, often starting tracks off in a typical country-rock style before gradually introducing reggae and dub elements. Garden Grove is a prime example of this, it’s one of the best Sublime tracks in my opinion due to the smooth genre transitions.
Take a listen and you’ll see what I mean, it starts off as country, switches to reggae, then dub, and even introduces a south-coast hip-hop synthesizer after the one-minute mark! It’s truly a unique mix of sounds, love it.
Judging by track names such as Doin’ Time and Jailhouse, I get the impression that the boys in Sublime weren’t exactly on their best behavior.
However, this is misleading – the latter example is actually a Bob Marley cover, believe it or not! It only makes sense that Sublime would cover a song written by the king of reggae; he was clearly very influential to the aesthetic of the group.
I really love this cover as it was released over 30 years after the original in 1965, giving it a well-produced and creative makeover.
12. Pawn Shop
Guitar solos aren’t generally associated with reggae and dub music, but Sublime’s lead guitarist Michael Happoldt has always seemed to pull it off fantastically.
Their track Pawn Shop shows this off very well – it’s easily one of the most chilled dub reggae tracks I’ve ever heard, yet the track is dominated by an overdriven guitar-shredding fantastic solo.
It even features pinch harmonics, a technique generally found more in heavy metal music. Yet another example of the innovation and musical exploration of this wonderful band.
13. April 29, 1992 (Miami)
Whilst Sublime never took themselves too seriously, they weren’t always singing about having fun and getting stoned – sometimes their lyrical content took on a more serious tone.
April 29, 1992 (Miami) is a good example of this – it discusses the crime and vandalism that arose during the 1992 riots of Los Angeles, hence the name.
Whilst the band is certainly not one to condone violence, they were actually directly involved in the riots due to their political views, and this track was a way of justifying their actions. It’s very interesting stuff!
Seed is easily one of the best Sublime tracks in my opinion because of its interesting fluctuations in tempo. The track starts off in the rapid style of hardcore punk, which is pretty unusual even for Sublime.
However, within 10 seconds the musicians have already reduced this speed to less than half, jamming out in a reggae style. This literally lasts a couple of bars before speeding up once again, this time meeting the tempo in the middle at their classic ska-punk speed.
This continues throughout the track – it’s a very unique use of tempo!
15. Don’t Push
Next up in my list of the best Sublime songs, we’ve got Don’t Push, another classic from the band’s famous album 40 Oz. To Freedom. This track is a great example of one of my favorite Sublime idiosyncrasies – they use some really interesting musical scales to give their tracks a somewhat mysterious sound.
This is pretty typical in dub music, but it makes a nice change from the major scales commonly found in reggae. The Jamaican-style vocals that come in around the middle only add further mystery – really interesting stuff.
16. Let’s Go Get Stoned
We’ve explored all sorts of genres that Sublime has mastered throughout this article, but I honestly think that some of the best Sublime songs are just plain and simple reggae tracks. Can you think of anything more ‘reggae’ than writing a song called Let’s Go Get Stoned? I sure can’t.
Whether you love pot or you’re not a fan, it’s pretty obvious that Sublime are big fans, and it seemed to work magic on their chilled music portfolio. The track isn’t just any old reggae track though – it features a truly breathtaking and psychedelic guitar solo towards the end that makes me think of Jimi Hendrix.
17. Waiting for My Ruca
We’re nearing the end of this article, and I suddenly realized that I hadn’t mentioned Waiting for My Ruca yet.
This is absolutely one of the best Sublime songs and possibly the most unique – it features an experimental electroacoustic introduction, essentially consisting of a sound collage of samples. Once this interesting moment is over, the track evolves into a very sparse, bass-heavy hip-hop track, there truly is no other song like it.
I reckon the band members were particularly ‘inspired’ when they wrote this one.
18. 40oz. To Freedom
40oz. To Freedom was by far the most popular release by Sublime, it was pretty groundbreaking stuff at the time. The album actually included a song named the same as the album, and it’s yet another example of the versatility of this band.
It’s mainly themed around reggae, even treating us to a melodica solo before the final section. However, I think it’s a particularly powerful track due to its distorted and grunge-influenced chorus – it’s definitely one of the heaviest moments in the band’s career.
An overall great track on a great album!
19. Scarlet Begonias
Despite the originality of Sublime, they also loved to record covers of their favorite songs – 40 Oz. To Freedom included a whopping six covers, and one of them includes Scarlet Begonias, a track originally written by the psychedelic rock pioneers, the Grateful Dead.
However, the band put a really unique spin on this cover – the drum break that you hear when the song first begins is very famous, it’s been used in hip-hop and electronic music for years.
However, Sublime were some of the first to use it – they were some of the earliest pioneers in sampling!
20. Get Ready
It was really difficult to pick the final song for this list – Sublime just has so many amazing tracks, so it’s difficult to round it off. However, I eventually decided on Get Ready – I feel like the lyrical content perfectly represents the band’s aesthetic, as does the hazy, slow and at times sloppy instrumentation.
This is an original sublime track, but I think the Bob Marley influence is pretty clear, particularly in the singing style.
This track has a bit of everything, and this kind of variety is exactly why I love Sublime. Brilliant.
Alex is a man of many talents. He’s been playing music since he was young, and has been the main content writer at Tone Start for the past few years. Alex loves to play around with different styles of music and enjoys listening to anything from country to classical.