21 Great Sublime Songs

Sublime was an American Reggae rock and Ska Punk band from Long Beach, California that formed back in the late 80s. 

The band’s members remained consistent throughout its duration, which sadly ended in 1996 when Bradley Nowell (vocalist and guitarist) died of a heroin overdose.

They had a really cool dog mascot, named Lou Dog, a dalmatian owned by Bradley Nowell. That in itself makes me like them.

Although their first two albums were somewhat popular in the United States, Sublime never really experienced significant mainstream success until 1996, when they released their self-titled third album two months after Nowell’s death

The band only ever had one number 1 hit single (on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart that is), but they managed to produce several unique hidden gems. 

While I will say that their music isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, for a musician with an open mind, they’re something worth listening to. 

Below is a curated list of some of their best songs from throughout their career, not in order of goodness, but rather like a playlist you can follow through chronologically. 

Enjoy.

1. Santeria

Santeria is probably one of their most well-known songs, with a very obvious reggae rhythm and beat to it, Nowell’s vocals stand out in this song, showing his singing skills and control over his vocal tone. 

Santeria is considered one of Sublime’s signature songs, along with “What I Got.”

  • The song includes the bassline and guitar riff from an earlier song “Lincoln Highway Dub.”
  • Santeria is an Afro-Cuban religion, practiced in Cuba, and South Florida that has been spread to other areas in the Caribbean.
  • The names used in the song: Sancho and Heina are cultural references found in Chicano culture. A man who steals another man’s girl is called a “Sancho” and “Heina” comes from reina, meaning “queen” in Spanish.
  • The song is a playable track on the 2008 Guitar Hero World Tour video game and was released as a downloadable song for Rock Band 3 in 2012 as well as Rocksmith 2014. The song was also featured in several films.

2. What I Got

“What I Got” was the biggest radio hit from Sublime, ironically only attaining this status after the death of the band’s lead singer and guitarist Bradley Nowell, and their subsequent disbanding. 

The song shares a lot of similarities with other songs of the time, with a melody similar to The Beatles’ “Lady Madonna.”

  • What I Got reached the number one spot on the US Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart and was also a radio hit during its heyday.
  • It peaked at number 29 on the Billboard Hot 100 Airplay chart.
  • In New Zealand, “What I Got” reached the number 34 spot on the RIANZ Singles Chart.
  • It’s ranked 83 in Rolling Stone magazine’s “100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time.”

3. Date Rape

A bit of an outdated theme for a song that tries to be funny.

This song is in the style of a ballad, telling the story of a girl taken advantage of on a night out, who then later goes to the police to have the man arrested for the crime. 

By the end of the song, he’s in prison and receiving the same treatment from his cellmate.

Story aside, the composition of the song tries to be comical for the most part but has a pretty decent guitar solo about halfway through. 

The song itself has a lot of history to it:

  • It was first released as a single in 1991, but didn’t become a hit until four years later when the LA radio station KROQ began adding it to their playlists.
  • While the band felt the song was one of their worst, fans disagreed, with the song often being requested at gigs.
  • The music video includes an adult film actor, playing both the judge at the rape trial and the “large inmate” at the end.
  • The song was covered by Fishbone on both the 2005 Sublime tribute album: Look at All the Love We Found and Fishbone’s own Still Stuck in Your Throat album.

4. Badfish

One of the songs from their debut album, 40oz. to Freedom

The single was released in 1993 and again in 1997. 

It’s added here at number four because it’s a little more low-tempo than the previous four songs and gives a nice look at the versatility of the band.

While still a reggae song for sure, with an offbeat rhythm to it, the song itself is a pleasant listen if you’re just in the mood to have a relaxing afternoon watching the sunset over the sea and drinking a few beers.

  • The song resonated with the band’s hometown Long Beach, California, with lyrics about the struggle of being in the working class.
  • The song made use of local landmarks in the recordings, both audio and video. 
  • The song serves as an after-the-fact reminder of singer Bradley Nowell’s struggle with heroin, using the slang term “Badfish” to hint at the struggle to resist trying the drug.
  • MTV and radio stations refused to play the song before Nowell’s overdose in 1996, but later “Badfish” became one of the band’s most popular songs.
  • The song is in the key of A Mixolydian, which is the fifth mode of the key of D major/Ionian. This mode is quite common in ska and reggae music
  • The song eludes to singer Nowell’s struggle to avoid using heroin, as it was part of the culture of the time. Ironically (and unfortunately) he later became addicted to and struggled with heroin for the remainder of his life.
  • You can find a stark contrast to Badfish in the song Poolshark

5. Doin’ Time

Another lower tempo song, Sublime mixed in a couple of hip-hop elements when creating this song, especially pertaining toward the percussion and vinyl scratching side of it. 

The song itself tells the story of a cheating girlfriend, whose abuse toward her boyfriend makes him feel like he’s in a prison.

  • The song was released in November 1997, with the disk containing alternate versions of the song by Wyclef Jean and The Pharcyde. 
  • In later albums, Snoop Dogg is featured
  • The song heavily samples “Summertime” by George Gershwin, along with a cover of Summertime by jazz flutist Herbie Mann.

6. Wrong Way

Wrong way is one of Sublime’s instantly recognizable songs. 

If you’ve heard it before, you know it the second time you hear it. 

That aside, the song fits snuggly within the popular genres of the time, heavily inspired by third-wave ska. 

It was quite a popular track too, managing to get onto the Billboard Hot 100 Airplay chart and spending 26 weeks there. 

The song tells a lyrical story about a young girl who was forced into prostitution by her family, where she is rescued by the narrator and then later violated by that same narrator. 

The song adds a lyrical twist, hinting that the narrator regretted mistreating her too. 

A bit of a dark song, disguised in an upbeat and whimsical composition.

Some facts:

  • The trombone solo, played by Jon Blondell, contains an interpolation of the theme from George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”
  • The radio version of the song typically edits out the use of the word “tits”, but doesn’t remove it entirely. 
  • The music video was made soon after the band’s lead singer, Bradley Nowell, had died, featuring many well-known members of various bands at the time. Some of these included Angelo Moore, from Fishbone and members of The Ziggens.

7. Garden Grove 

Garden Grove is another one of those songs that are still being played and talked about today. 

The song is track no.1 on Sublime’s third album and as most music enthusiasts know, by the time the album hit the streets in July 1996, Bradley had been dead for two months.

He lived just long enough to finish the band’s only ever commercial record deal album- the first were self-published albums and Nowell would sell them out the trunk of his car. 

Sadly he never lived to hear his songs played broadly over the radio, which only really started with this album.

  • This song is purely about Garden Grove, California, and the life many people had been living there. Every verse points to a specific characteristic of life in the Grove
  • While Garden Grove boasts Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral and close proximity to Disneyland, the majority of the Grove has degenerated over the years into almost a slum.
  • Many of the lyrics point to aspects of daily life for many in the Grove, like “Living in a tweaker pad,” “Finding roaches in the pot,” and so on. Even mentioning picking up his dog at the pound is a call to his dalmatian Lou-Dog

8. Caress Me Down

Caress Me Down was released on Sublime’s titular album; it was never released as a single but still receives plenty of airplay on KROQ and other stations. 

The bass line of the song features the well-known Sleng Teng riddim from Wayne Young’s 1985 song “Under Me Sleng Teng” and the lyrics and melody is primarily borrowed from the 1980s song “Caress Me Down” by Clement Irie.

In essence, the song is almost a cover, but with a few changes and additions that make it unique to Sublime’s sound. 

The song has a lot of sexual connotations, so if you’re not one for such lyricism, this song wouldn’t be much for you, but the rhythm and sound of the song is really what keeps you listening.

Some facts about the song:

  • Although once a staple of Alternative radio, Caress Me Down has been mostly removed from playlists since the early 2020s due to the sexual assault allegations made against Ron Jeremy, who is referenced directly in the opening verse.
  • Rome Ramirez considers this song off-limits when performing live because of the lyrics “Mucho gusto, me llamo Bradley” which means, nice to meet you, my name is Bradley. He stated that he doesn’t feel comfortable singing the lyrics of the deceased band member, nor would he consider changing them.
  • A demo version titled “Caress Me Dub” can be found on the box set Everything Under the Sun 
  • A live version that predates the version on the Sublime album, which contains incomplete lyrics appears on Stand By Your Van

9. Smoke Two Joints

Actually a cover song done by Sublime on their 1992 album 40oz. to Freedom. “Smoke Two Joints” was one of the first Sublime songs to be played on the radio after “Date Rape.” 

Much of the song version here mixes in unique samples from a film along with some other artists adding phrases to the song.

Sublime had a knack for taking songs and turning them into their own sound, however, this song still maintains that Reggae tone throughout.

  • The song was originally written by The Toyes who wrote the song while sitting under a large banyan tree on Kuhio Beach while “tokin on some sweet bud…”
  • The song was covered by several other bands, including Nardini, Richard Cheese, and The Rudiments
  • Afroman did a parody of the song called smoke two blunts

10. Same in The End

A more upbeat ska punk song, Same In The End is a clear example of the creative mind of Bradley Nowell, combining distorted guitar sound with a reggae offbeat throughout the song. 

A short 2 minutes and 35 seconds of music, you don’t quite get enough time to take in the song fully in my opinion, but most punk rock songs are known for being under 3 minutes anyway.

11 More Songs From Sublime

TitleAlbum
Waiting for my Ruca40oz. to Freedom
Pawn ShopSublime
Boss D.J.Robbin’ The Hood
Don’t PushJah Won’t Pay the Bills
SeedSublime
Saw RedRobbin’ The Hood
Get ReadySublime
Pool SharkRobbin’ The Hood
Slow Ride89 Vision
40 oz. To Freedom40 oz. to Freedom
April 29th 1992Sublime