Many great things came from the late 80s and all of the 90s. Chief among these for many 90s kids would be the music. The 90s were a decade for rebellion and experimentation on a whole new level.
One of the groups that stood out the most in this regard was 311. They were formed in Nebraska in 1988 and began producing independent releases a year later, starting with their Downstairs EP in 1989.
The group followed this independent, selling tapes out-of-your-car mentality for a while. Eventually, they grew popular enough and moved to Los Angeles to try and get signed.
Three months after arriving there in 1992, they were signed to Capricorn…
311 gets its name from the police code for indecent exposure (three-eleven) in the state of Nebraska. This was inspired by the group’s original guitarist getting arrested for streaking.
The group has released thirteen albums to date. And this past week, I decided to revisit them all and give my take on the best 311 songs of All Time. So, let’s get started with…
Top 14 Best 311 Songs of All Time
Whiskey and Wine
Album: Don’t Tread On Me
From 311’s eighth studio offering, we have this beautifully mellow track. “Whiskey and Wine” is a track that works for almost any setting, and that’s why it’s a great 311 song. Just like the band that wrote it, this track can be deployed in any situation to great effect.
“Whiskey and Wine” has been called 311’s attempt at doing their own “Red Red Wine.” And you can’t deny that they pulled it off brilliantly. The mellow guitars, the fluid-sounding bass, and that brilliant cymbal work in the background create a bed for the vocals to sink into.
This track should be much more famous than it is. It’s one of 311’s most underrated songs. A simple theme that’s been covered in many songs before is given a new and fresh flavor.
Space and Time
Another genre-defying track from an album that seems to speak only to a group that was trying to make themselves sound as old as possible. Not that this was a bad thing. But, Voyager was easily one of the most experimental albums from an already experimental band.
The album was released in 2019…
Yet, it seems to sound as if it came from a decade or two prior. The musical recipe hasn’t changed that much in all these years.
The intro is a classic lead line from a clean guitar with a healthy sprinkling of wah and delay followed by a sprightly rhythm part underneath.
In the background, the drums sound like they’re doing their own thing. But the more you listen, the more you hear the imperfect synergy between the guitar, bass, and drums.
Lyrically, it’s got to be one of the group’s best…
There are so many themes. From the personal to the cosmic, interpreting them all would take uncountable listening sessions. But then again, why not, since it’s such a great tune?
“Do-do-do-do do you still remember – What you’re trying to dismember – A construct to destruct.”
This one is not only a highlight of the album but of the entire 311 discography. “Friday Afternoon” is a cacophony of sounds that come from opposite sides of the spectrum.
The iconic guitar intro creates a beautiful sea of delay that makes you want to lie on the grass and watch the clouds pass. The vocals come in with a very mellow vibe, describing a carefree Friday afternoon filled with bliss and contentment. Sonically, Stereolithic is a continued exploration of the atmospheric sound that the group had started to experiment with on the previous albums. “Friday Afternoon” is such an interesting layer cake of sound.
Around the one-minute mark…
There’s a distorted guitar drop that creates a beautiful contrast and adds interest to the track. And one of the best parts of this track is the guitar solo. It’s technically not a guitar solo, but a beautiful dance between the bluesy lead guitar and the more thumpy, almost funky-sounding bass.
One instrument perfectly fills the holes left by the other. Together they perform like the cosmic dance between planets and galaxies. A perfect homage to one of the best days of the week and one of the best 311 songs of all time.
Don’t Stay Home
One of the group’s heavier offerings from their mid-90s period. “Don’t Stay Home” is one of those tracks that keeps you guessing to the end and beyond. The music video does little to help alleviate the ambiguity in this mysterious yet infectiously groovy track.
Despite debuting almost thirty years ago, it seems to be holding up quite well from a lyrical standpoint. The recent global event that forced us to hide in our homes out of fear of something that we cannot see was foreshadowed in the song’s lyrics.
“Life could slip away in absent-minded numbness – I’m only sayin’ this ’cause I wish for the best – When you always stay in self-incarceration – I think it’s such a shame.” Almost like they could see the future, eh?
From a musical standpoint…
It’s another great testament to the incredible musicianship and creativity of 311. “Don’t Stay Home” has such an infectious “wonky” tempo and rhythm to it. Maybe it’s what keeps me coming back.
Another important aspect of this track is the tonal foundation it laid. That foundation is what would eventually become known as “Shoegaze Music.” Listen to the phasey, distorted chords on this track. You’ll hear the sound that is now splattered across Shoegaze albums all over Soundcloud and Bandcamp.
Too Much To Think
“Too Much to Think” is a more recent tune that kind of stands to one side a bit. The instrumentation and structure still very much follow a tried and trusted 311 recipe. However, the vocal performance on this one is very poppy.
Not that this is a bad thing, mind you…
Far from it. The group’s ability to still come out of the left field with something fresh and new sounding is a testament to their healthy attitude towards experimentation. This track could easily find its way into a pool or beach party playlist with a bunch of Billboard toppers.
Despite peaking at #20 on the Alternative Airplay chart, “Too Much to Think” has a mainstream appeal that very few 311 songs can match. As a result, it’s one of 311’s most popular songs.
The music video is one of the group’s best in terms of production. It’s a great mingling between shots of the band playing their instruments in the desert and a group of friends who go into the desert for a bit of soul-searching.
Don’t Tread On Me
Album: Don’t Tread On Me
The title track from 2005’s Don’t Tread On Me is one of the best 311 songs ever. One of the most noticeable aspects is the sound of the vocals. It could just be the way the vocals were mixed for this track. Or Nick Hexum may have taken some vocal lessons.
Whatever it is…
“Don’t Tread On Me” sounded different enough to be surprising and fresh. And at the same time, it retained enough of the original 311 sound.
All in all, it’s one of their best compositions ever. This was reflected by reaching #2 on the Billboard Alternative Songs Chart. It was the group’s seventh Top 5 hit on that chart.
Album: Self Esteem
This fantastic cover of one of The Offspring’s greatest tunes was released in 2018. And it’s a brilliantly tasteful cover of a Punk Rock classic. Of course, 311’s version is more mellow during the verses. But, they go all-in with surprising heaviness during the chorus.
Here’s a fun piece of trivia about this cover – it has a sort of “sister” track. On the very same day that 311 released their cover of “Self Esteem,” The Offspring released a cover of 311’s 1995 hit, “Down.”
It might be strange to put a cover version on a list since 311 is such an original band. But the fact that they can interpret a piece of music so effortlessly also attests to their musical ability. Therefore, it’s an important track to take note of.
Use of Time
There are far worse ways to use your time than listening to this song. Yes, I know, that’s the lamest pun you’ve heard all year, but it’s there, and I used it.
“Use of Time” comes from the group’s fourth album, and it’s what you might call a “deep cut.” Of special note was the album’s departure from rapping. Instead, it was a deep dive into longer and more experimental tracks that featured influences other than Hip-Hop.
At the start of the song…
“Use of Time” sounds a bit like one of the many Nu-Metal ballads that would dominate the airwaves in a few years. The vocals are ethereal and ambiguous, like many other 311 tracks.
But, before the first chorus, you catch a glimpse of some reggae-influenced guitar. A strong contrast to previous material and a beautifully fresh combination of sounds. Thereafter, it plunges into a nice distortion-laden chorus with a soaring vocal. One of their best obscure songs.
When you first listen to “Good Feeling,” you might react the same way I did in 2019. I thought that it was way too “poppy.” I don’t deny that the group has always had some popular appeal. That said, the track sounded a bit too polished and produced.
But, over time, the track will start to grow on you. And, the more you listen to it, the more you can hear that it was the perfect thing for the band to be experimenting with.
Despite the track’s catchiness, it didn’t move around much on any charts. It remains one of the best songs by 311, and hopefully, they’ll be willing to delve deeper into this aspect of their sound in future releases.
Creatures (For A While)
Moving from the poppy side of the spectrum to the heavy side, we have one of 311’s most successful songs. “Creatures” was inspired by Nick Hexum seeing the phrase, “A few drinks, a few smokes, and then… creatures for a while,” on a poster for a Punk show.
This track is all about blowing off steam and releasing some pent-up energy. The music video features 150 fans and extras causing all kinds of mischief, including pushing a guy in a porter potty down a hill.
Musically, it melds the band’s Alternative and Hip-Hop influences…
There’s a sparser arrangement due to Nick not playing guitar. But, this makes the instruments that are there sound that much fatter due to brilliant mixing.
For many years now, this track has been the closing number at 311’s live shows. Nick Hexum told an interviewer that it’s one of his favorite tracks to perform live.
It peaked at #2 on the Modern Rock Tracks Chart and helped the Evolver album make it to #7 on the Billboard 200 for a while.
The second track from Soundsystem is considered by many to be one of, if not the greatest 311 songs ever. Mostly because it appeals to the hardcore fans who followed the group from the beginning. And, because it consists of everything that makes them great.
The track was inspired by a trip to Jamaica in 1998…
They weren’t touring at the time. So, they decided to go off the beaten track in the hopes of finding some new inspiration.
There happened to be a Reggae festival going on, and the group was struck by the bolt of inspiration they’d been searching for. They absorbed the rhythms and culture of the island and when they got back in the studio, “Come Original” just flowed out of them like a fine wine.
The song could be interpreted as a slight on other artists…
But that’s entirely up to the listener. Mostly, it’s a challenge to other artists to be themselves instead of imitating the ones they admire. Musically, it is a melding of so many influences that it’s hard to keep track while you’re listening to it.
There’s a prominent reggae sound in the vocals and verse guitars. Then, there’s a distorted guitar riff and Hip-Hop-influenced breakdowns that feature fantastic 311-style raps. Add some vocal harmonies, and you’ve got a track loaded with power and pop.
The lyrics even give you the recipe that the bad used. “Funk slap bass mixed with the dancehall and Hip-hop beats and punk guitar.” “Come Original” peaked at #6 on the Modern Rock Tracks Chart and was in the Top 40 on the Mainstream Rock Track Chart.
This is a throwback to the very beginnings of the group. And, even on this early track, you can hear a unique combination of sounds and styles. This track particularly shines through with Jazz influenced drum beats and bass lines.
The band got the “muddy” they hoped to create for this album. Yet, you can still hear the pristine quality in Nick’s voice during the chorus. It serves as the perfect contrast for the harsher rasping tone of the rapping during the verses.
So, what makes this track so special?
The musicianship of the players, and in particular, the drums and the bass. Even in the early 90s, these two had their synergy down to a tee, and it sits at the heart of so many later 311 recordings.
Like the mingling between the two lovers described in the lyrics, the instruments in the track perfectly dance around one another to make something beautiful and unique.
The opening track from the group’s self-titled third album is drenched in Hip-Hop and Alternative influences. It remains one of their most anthemic and enduring numbers. That’s probably because it features the group just as they started finding their stride musically.
“Down” is built upon the back of a killer riff and a chopped-up Hip-Hop beat intermingled with Nick’s raspy vocals and some rapping. Unlike most of the 311 catalog, the verses are all rapped, while Nick only sings in the chorus.
“Down” has been described as a thank you…
Not only to the fans but also to fellow band members by Nick Hexum. It’s one of 311’s most successful tracks to date and comes from their most successful album.
It was their first #1 on the Billboard US Alternative Airplay Chart. It was also in the Top 20 on the Mainstream Rock chart and managed to chart in Canada and even Australia.
Album: From Chaos
Of course, this one was going to be on a list of the best 311 songs of all time. It’s probably the most widely recognized 311 song ever. And, for a good reason, it is simply one of their very best. The track was inspired by Nick’s then-fiancee Nicole Scherzinger, who was a member of the group Eden’s Crush.
Musically, it’s one of their best reggae-influenced tracks ever. The reggae guitar chords and mellow vocals are the perfect combinations for taking your mind on a trip away from wherever it is you are now. This track is the perfect one for a weekend getaway or a day out at the beach.
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Best 311 Songs of All Time – Final Thoughts
For more than two decades, 311 has been paving the way through the world of fusion music with incredibly unique songs and a sound all their own. Not many groups from the early nineties have been able to flourish with such success.
They’ve only ever had one platinum album. But, they remain active thanks to a dedicated fanbase who no doubt will watch their future releases with as much anticipation as the previous ones.
So, until next time, happy listening.