March 14th, 2012 marked the 25th anniversary of the former ska-revivalists and genre-bending band No Doubt, yet I can still remember my first listen like it was yesterday. It was 1996 and Girl Power was spreading across America faster than wildfire the color of Ginger Spice’s hair. I was 12 and in the 6th grade and had an older brother…in high school! which was clearly a solid source of music that heavily influenced my needy little soul. The “Just a Girl” video was in heavy rotation on MTV, though at first, it didn’t quite soak into my sponge-like mind. My brother brought home Tragic Kingdom and suggested I listen, as he dug the band’s eclecticism and catchy ska-alternative blend. Since I was 12 and had nothing better to do than steal my brother’s CDs, I dove in head first without the slightest inkling that what I was about to hear that day would change my life entirely.
After buying my own copy of Tragic, I had to get my grubby little hands on the rest of the No Doubt discography. I distinctly remember finding an original copy (pre-rerelease) of The Beacon Street Collection at a small record store in Hamden, Conn. I also remember gallivanting around New York City and discovering the self-titled like it was some kind of hidden treasure. My mom bought it for me after a minimal amount of begging, pleading, and maybe whining (She would later bring me to my first of 15 No Doubt shows later that year). I loved Tragic, but these older songs were a little looser, a little more amateurish, and way more Ska than their breakthrough had led on. I fell in love with the self-titled’s horns, synths, and keys; its simple lyrics blended with its complex and fast-paced structure, which was such a welcome relief from the grotesque landscape of boy bands and Britney wannabes that was happening at the time. My love was cemented.
After No Doubt hit me, my entire musical outlook had changed. I started binging on classics, devouring anything and everything relevant to the band’s world. After hearing their cover of The Clash’s “Hateful,” I soared into London Calling. After their slow, reggae’d version of “Sailin’ On,” I picked up a copy of Bad Brains. The feeling was like a drug: The Skatalites, The Specials, Fishbone, Madness – anything they loved or were influenced by I found and clung to all before stepping through the doors for my first day of high school. I couldn’t consume music fast enough. I even listened to their contemporaries: Reel Big Fish, Save Ferris, Less Than Jake, 311, and everything else from the Orange County, third-wave ska-punk scene became my life. This musical evolution and education happening in my brain was invaluable to me and still is.
Lyrically, No Doubt’s records resonated with me many times throughout my life. Many of young adulthood’s “firsts” were soundtracked by Tragic Kingdom‘s “Different People” and “Sixteen.” Growing pains were eased with Beacon Street’s “That’s Just Me” and the debut’s “Sometimes.” When I was scared, down, angry, ecstatic, joyous or broken, songs like “The Climb” and “You Can Do It” were there to set me on a sure-shot pathway to better vibes and a positive attitude, so much that I cannot fathom growing up without these staples in my life.
Although I’ll probably never get to tell them, for all of these reasons and more, I am eternally grateful that Tom Dumont, Tony Kanal, Gwen Stefani, Adrian Young, Eric Stefani, John Spence (RIP), Alan Meade, and more, got together, struggled, fought hard, and accomplished all that they have in order for their music to travel over to my small town in Connecticut and seep into my world. I grew up with them, in a sense, and the band’s arsenal of sounds never failed me. Through their music and lyrics, I learned about perseverance, loyalty, dedication and professionalism, and in myself, found strength, inspiration, and happiness.
Here’s to another 25 years, ND!