No Doubt: Points of Departure
No band is an island. The best songwriters tend to be sponge-like soaker-uppers of music, film, fine art, literature and other forms of culture, be they popular or obscure, and these influences often find their way into the music, helping listeners branch out and develop new interests. With Points of Departure, we use our favorite groups as springboards for broader cultural investigations and highlight some of the cool things you might get into via your record collection. This week: No Doubt.
2 Tone Ska
No Doubt have liberally borrowed from all kinds of genres since their 1992 debut album, including synth-pop, pop-punk, regular pop, New Wave, hip-hop, indie rock and reggae. But they've repeatedly returned to one style of music over the past 20 years: ska. From the majority of songs found on their self-titled first LP to a handful of cuts on their most recent, 'Push and Shove,' the quartet has incorporated the early-'80s blend of ska, punk and New Wave commonly known as 2 Tone, which was named after a British record label that specialized in the music. Take a listen to classic albums by Madness, the Specials and the English Beat, and you'll hear where No Doubt found their groove. (And look for the Specials' singer Terry Hall as Stefani's ex in No Doubt's 'Sunday Morning' video.)
When Gwen Stefani launched a solo career in 2004, she hired a group of Japanese women as backup dancers. They were referred to as Harajuku Girls, named after a street-fashion movement in Tokyo that's sort of a mash-up of various cultures, like goth, anime and schoolgirl (think pedophile-attracting short dresses and stockings). The girls became an identifying part of Stefani's debut solo album, 'Love. Angel. Music. Baby.,' which even includes a song called 'Harajuku Girls.' They appeared in almost all of Stefani's videos (including the hits 'What You Waiting For?' and 'Hollaback Girl'), and a few of them show up in No Doubt's 2012 video for 'Settle Down.'
No Doubt have dabbled in a bunch of different styles on their six albums. Their fifth, 'Rock Steady' (from 2001), taps Jamaican dancehall music throughout. Most notably, Bounty Killer (way popular in Jamaica) guests on the album's first single, 'Hey Baby'; Lady Saw (known as the Queen of Dancehall) appears on the No. 1 hit 'Underneath It All'; and the duo Steely & Clevie (who had worked with the Specials as well as some of Jamaica's most popular artists) produced 'Start the Fire.' There isn't a very thick line separating ska and dancehall (which combines elements of reggae, R&B and hip-hop), so No Doubt eased into the music with little effort.