Formed in Long Beach, California, in 1988, Sublime was a fusion band mixing Ska, Punk, Reggae, and Rock to create their own unique sound. They released their debut album, 40oz. to Freedom, in 1992.
But, it wasn’t until 1996 and the release of their third and final album that the band finally achieved real commercial success.
Tragically, this was to be the end of the road for the band…
Lead singer and guitarist Bradley Nowell died from a heroin overdose not long after the completion of their last record. Nowell was considered such an integral part of Sublime that the remaining members of the band didn’t even consider carrying on without him.
However, with the multi-platinum success of their final self-titled album, they cemented their place in the canon of 90s music history. They left a legacy of great tracks much loved by fans to this day. So, here are 50 of the best Sublime songs of all time presented to you in chronological order.
Top 50 Best Sublime Songs of All Time
40oz. to Freedom (1992)
Taken from their debut album of the same name, “40oz. to Freedom” is an unapologetic ode to forgetting your worries by having a drink. An activity that the band excelled in.
If you went to high school or college in the 90s, you might remember this one from a keg party or two. The track opens with a smooth reggae riff, but the peaceful vibes don’t last long.
The start of the first chorus completely changes direction, with grunge-inspired guitars and rasping vocals taking center stage. This chop and change between styles mid-song represents the band perfectly, showcasing the diverse influences that would shape the band going forward.
This is a catchy reggae number. The kind of song you want to kick back to and watch a good sunset with a nice cold beer in your hand.
Ironically, the song is about struggling with addiction. The protagonist wishes he had never gone down the road of booze and drugs. And he needs somebody to help him surmount his growing problems.
Musically, there isn’t a fusion of styles going on here…
This is more of a straight reggae track than anything else. There’s a nice wavy Surf Rock guitar solo in the middle that adds a little extra flavor. But, otherwise, it’s Jamaican influence all the way.
Taken from their debut album, 40oz. to Freedom, “Badfish” was released as a single twice. And it has gone on to become a fan favorite Sublime song. It appears on many of the band’s compilation and live albums.
Date Rape (1992)
It’s hard to imagine a darkly humorous song about date rape getting a lot of airtime in 2023. But, for better or worse, times were different back then.
The story follows a date rapist who gets his comeuppance by being raped in prison by a fellow inmate. The inmate in the video is played by famous porn star Ron Jeremy no less.
Edgy subject matter aside, the song is a fast-paced Ska number. Complete with a brass section and a cracking guitar solo thrown in. If this track doesn’t get you up on your feet and moving to the beat, then not a lot will.
Wrong Way (1997)
If you’re looking for a song that sums up Sublime’s infectious Ska-Punk energy, look no further than “Wrong Way.” In the 1990s, what’s called the Third Wave Ska movement emerged. And this song is a classic example of the genre.
It’s a fast-paced dancefloor filler, complete with some beautiful trombone playing that livens things up. It was received well on its release and, like “Santeria,” also hit #3 on the US Billboard Alternative Rock chart.
The subject matter is pretty dark…
It’s the tale of a girl forced into selling sex by her degenerate family. One day she is rescued by the narrator, who is also a punter but ends up being abused by him too.
An interesting choice of story for such an upbeat and carefree song. But that’s the kind of juxtaposition you can expect from a band like Sublime.
April 29th, 1992 (1996)
Not all of the greatest Sublime songs are about drinking and drugs or edgily humorous. The band could get political when they wanted to, as demonstrated by “April 29th, 1992”.
The title is a reference to the Los Angeles riots of that year that erupted in response to the police acquittal in the Rodney King trial.
In the song…
Nowell claims that he and other band members participated in the rioting and looting as a direct middle finger to what they saw as corrupt policing. Whether these events happened or not, we will never know.
But, as a straight-up revolutionary anthem, “April 29th, 1992” is as incendiary a song about the riots as any musician produced.
A hardcore Hip-Hop beat is accompanied by thrashed guitar chords and police radio recordings from the day itself. All combine to great effect with Nowell’s calls to “Let it burn, let it burn.”
Garden Grove (1996)
Once again, Sublime’s fusion style is front and central in “Garden Grove.” It’s a heartfelt tribute to the rundown community of Garden Grove in Orange County.
A place the band knew intimately…
The song references the use of drugs to deal with the desperate situation a lot of people in Garden Grove find themselves in. Furthermore, the whole song has a kind of hallucinatory feel to it which one can only assume was intentional.
The song shape-shifts multiple times throughout. It takes us on a ride through a Country-Rock style opening. Then, it seamlessly transitions into a Reggae-Dub sound before introducing Hip-Hop synth tones into the mix.
The result is like nothing you’ve ever heard before. A truly unique blend from a one-of-a-kind band. And, easily one of the best Sublime songs of all time.
Doin’ Time (1997)
The George Gershwin classic “Summertime” features heavily in this highly successful Sublime song. “Doin’ Time” was another hit for the band from their enormously successful last album. Furthermore, it was the last official single the band ever released.
It is the only single the band released to make it into the US Billboard Hot 100. Number 87, to be precise.
The long-suffering protagonist in the song has a constantly cheating girlfriend. And her infidelities make him feel like he’s serving prison time.
Hip-Hop beats and turntable scratching feature heavily in this song, along with Nowell’s reggae-style vocal delivery, to create a laid-back summer party classic.
Same in the End (1996)
This turbocharged track, also from their final album, showcases Sublime’s brand of Ska-Punk music at its finest. Some critics thought that there were too many diverse and conflicting styles present on the album for any coherency.
But, for most fans, that was their appeal…
The rule book was thrown out of the window. As a result, you never knew quite what you were going to get from song to song.
The staccato vocals are spat out at 100 mph over a jumping and incredibly fast Ska beat. In the chorus, we switch into a thrashing grunge fest fully equipped with screaming guitars before dipping back into the speed Ska again.
It’s a full-on rage of a song that deserves an energetic mosh-pit to fully appreciate.
Alongside “What I Got,” “Santeria” is probably Sublime’s most popular song. It’s a laid-back Ska number that leaves a lot of room for Nowell to display his full vocal range. It was another successful single from their final album, climbing as high as #3 on the US Billboard Alternative Rock chart.
The song is a classic Chicano tale of a man looking to get revenge on the guy (Sancho) who stole his girl (Heina). In Chicano culture, Sancho refers to a man who lures away another man’s woman, and Heina is the name given to the stolen girlfriend.
“Santeria” gained even more exposure after being featured on the soundtracks of four movies from 1999 to 2012. And it was a playable track on Guitar Hero at one time.
What I Got (1996)
“What I Got” was Sublime’s best-selling song hitting #1 on the US Billboard Alternative Rock chart. Sadly, Bradley Nowell would never get to experience this success. He passed away shortly after the completion of the album.
If there is one song that typifies the band’s approach to music and life, it’s “What I Got.” It’s a beautiful reminder to treasure the one thing we can all give to the world, no matter our situation in life. And that one thing is love. We’re only on this planet for a short time, so make the most of it.
It’s a mish-mash of Hip-Hop beats, acoustic guitars, and punchy vocal delivery, both rapping, and singing. It all gels together seamlessly to create a song that, once heard, stays with you forever.
This was the track that launched the band to a far wider audience, which in turn generated increased interest in their back catalog. It also helped push the album to five million sales, no mean feat for a band that no longer existed.
Smoke Two Joints (1992)
54-46 That’s My Number (1992)
Scarlet Begonias (1992)
We’re Only Gonna Die for Our Arrogance (1992)
Pawn Shop (1992)
Get Out! (1992)
Steppin’ Razor (1992)
Boss DJ (1996)
All You Need (1996)
Waiting for My Ruca (1996)
Chica Me Tipo (1996)
Right Back (1996)
New Thrash (1996)
Let’s Go Get Stoned (1996)
40oz. on Repeat (1996)
Garden Grove (Acoustic) (1997)
Rivers of Babylon (1997)
What Happened (1997)
Thank You (1997)
Free Loop (1997)
STP (Demo Version) (1997)
Garden Grove (Live) (1997)
Pool Shark (Live) (1997)
Hong Kong Phooey (1997)
Love Is What I Got (Acoustic) (1997)
Garbage Grove (1997)
Dub Medley (1997)
Thanx Dub (1998)
Get Out (Acoustic) (1998)
Police on My Back (1998)
Don’t Push (1998)
The Way You Do the Things You Do (1998)
Paddle Out (1996)
Doin’ Time (Uptown Dub) (1997)
Need More Great Music from the 90s?
Well, have a look at our detailed articles on the Best 90s Songs, the Best 90s Rock Songs, the Best 90s Hip Hop Songs, the Best 90s Country Songs, and the Best 90s Love Songs for more incredible song selections from the 1990s.
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Best Sublime Songs of All Time – Final Thoughts
Sublime was only making music for a relatively short time. But, they left a body of work that has gained increasing respect as time has passed. It’s no easy task to seamlessly mix such a range of different musical genres and make it work.
But, make it work, they did…
Their final album is so packed with Ska-Punk gems that putting this list together was not an easy task. The tragedy here is that Bradley Nowell never got to see how appreciated Sublime would become.
With hindsight, it seems unlikely that he would have handled fame and success very well. Even if he hadn’t overdosed when he did, if ever there was a man destined to burn out rather than fade away, it was him.
So what do you think of my choices? Everyone’s got their preferences. Are there any songs you would have included that we missed? Let us know in the comments below if so, and I hope you enjoyed my selections.
Until next time, happy listening.