This is Flashbackwhere we’re reminiscing about some of the most iconic and obscure moments in alt-rock history. This week, we’re looking at when No Doubt covered Bad Brains on MTV Beach House in 1996.
During the early to mid-’90s, it felt as though the music industry had no other direction to look but toward grunge. The once-underground art form had elbowed its way into the mainstream with fierce determination, and succeeded with such force that there was little room for much else. However, in that very same era, behind an Anaheim Dairy Queen, nine kids found each other through a love for ska music — the Specials, Madness, Bad Brains — and formed a group.
Their dedication from the start to emulating and venerating Bad Brains’ lead singer H.R. was so true that they named themselves after his trademark phrase, “No Doubt,” and wrote a tribute track to the legendary frontman, known for his musical prowess as much as unruly stage antics. The band, which would shift in lineup over the years, eventually settled on Gwen Stefani as frontwoman, a configuration that would lead them to a new level of success with their third album, Tragic Kingdomwhich featured iconic hits “Just a Girl” and “Don’t Speak.” Though they won awards for this album in “rock” and “pop” categories, their ska roots were very much the foundation of all they produced, and amid said grunge pandemonium, No Doubt were an influential power in ska’s third wave — and arguably the 21st century post-third wave, with their fifth album, Rock Steadyrecorded in Jamaica, as well as the recent resurgence of their hit tracks on TikTok.
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While not all other bands were incorporating the ska element of Bad Brains in such an on-the-nose manner as No Doubt, the list of legends who have cited H.R. and the band as inspiration goes on to infinity. From Foo Fighters and Pharrell to Rage Against the Machine and Green Day, the insightful blend of heavy metal, hip-hop, and soul has proven to be an unparalleled champion in music history. Whether it’s in the thrashing stage presence or a surprisingly jazzy nü-metal rhythm, if one listens or looks closely, the Bad Brains stamp will start to show. And sometimes, it’s not so hard to find. Many of these bands have done covers, and a few collaborations, with the beloved D.C. band over the years — from Henry Rollins to Ice Cube to Lamb of God.
However, there is one cover performance that stands out in our memory, and it goes back to Stefani. As the Anaheim group crossed over from playing in Stefani’s garage to winning Grammys, all the while fielding the immediate distaste the mainstream audience had for their unique ska-pop-punk sound, they made a pit stop at MTV’s beach house to perform a cover of Bad Brains’ classic “Sailin’ On” from the M.O.M. compilation album. Though you’d be hard-pressed to find a mosh pit like this one at a Gwen Stefani concert these days, in bondage pants and a white tank top, leaning into Tony Kamal, in a crispy white tracksuit — this is how we like to remember her.