10 of the Best No Doubt Songs Spanning 20 Years of Albums

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

After six years together and several lineup shifts, in 1992, No Doubt released their eponymous debut, followed by the more ska-fused The Beacon Collection in 1995. That same year, No Doubt made their mammoth splash into the 1990s with their third album Tragic Kingdom, and hits “Spiderwebs,” “Just A Girl,” and “Don’t Speak.”

Forged straight out of their horn-filled ska-punk roots of bands like The Specials, Madness, and The English Beat and into the mainstream, No Doubt became one of the biggest bands of the era and continued through Return of Saturn and the more dancehall electro-pop of Rock Steady, released in 2001—which picked up two Grammy awards—through their sixth album, Push and Shove, in 2012.

Here’s a chronological look at 10 No Doubt songs over the band’s 20-year span of albums.

1. “Trapped in a Box” / No Doubt (1992)
Written by Gwen Stefani, Eric Stefani, Tony Kanal, and Tom Dumont

No Doubt’s debut single “Trapped in a Box” started out as a poem Dumont wrote in school. Founding member and keyboardist (and Gwen’s brother) Eric Stefani later broke it down so everyone could contribute lyrics, resulting in an enigmatic tale of getting trapped in the star-struck vortex of television, influenced by the actors, commercials, and commercialism of what’s presented on the small screen.

Trapped in a box, four walls as sky
Got a screen for a window about two feet wide
My mind rides and slides as my circuits are fried
No room for thought, use the box as my guide

2. “Open the Gate”/ The Beacon Collection (1995)
Written by Gwen Stefani, Eric Stefani, Tom Dumont, Tony Kanal, Adrian Young

The Beacon Collection was a snapshot of No Doubt at the cusp of their groundbreaking Tragic Kingdom from the opening “Open the Gate.” Self-produced by the band and recorded in a garage at the Beacon Street house in Anaheim, California, the rawer punk and ska-drenched album was “b-side” to the more polished and produced Tragic Kingdom, according to bassist Tony Kanal.

“We were making Tragic Kingdom, and we were kind of battling with the record company,” said Kanal. “There were a lot of songs that we knew weren’t going to make Tragic Kingdom so we were like, ‘We can’t waste these songs, we got to put these out.’ So we’re just like ‘Fuck it, we’re putting this record out ourselves.’”

Though “Open the Gate” or singles “Doghouse” and “Squeal” never hit the charts as hard as Tragic Kingdom, it featured some musical beacons, including the pulsing “Total Hate ’95,” featuring the late Sublime singer and guitarist Bradley Nowell (1968-1996), which he co-wrote with No Doubt’s original singer John Spence, who died in 1987.

I see you from the distance
From beyond the fence you made
Hiding all your feelings
Behind your barricade
Oh, have you been invaded
Is this the reason why you hide?
I know just how you’re feeling
I know let me inside

3. “Just A Girl” / Tragic Kingdom (1995)
Written by Gwen Stefani and Tom Dumont

The lead single off Tragic Kingdom, “Just A Girl” was also the first song Stefani wrote for No Doubt after her brother left the band. Stefani wrote the song after her father lectured her for driving home late one night from her bandmate (and then-boyfriend) Tony Kanal’s place. “I can remember thinking, ‘Wow, I’m in the car right now, I’m driving home, it’s like one in the morning and if something did happen to me, I’m vulnerable because I’m a girl,’” said Stefani in a 2017 interview. “And you start to think, ‘Wow, maybe people actually look at me differently because I am a female’”

A power anthem for disenchanted young women of the ’90s and one that yelled back at the imbalances of the sexes, “Just A Girl” is a song of liberation. It’s about becoming a woman, and no longer being just a girl.

“I was in this all-guy band and all my friends were guys,” said Stefani. “I just had this point of view and I wanted to play on that. I thought it was really appropriate and really real to who I was.”

Take this pink ribbon off my eyes
I’m exposed and it’s no big surprise
Don’t you think I know exactly where I stand?
This world is forcing me to hold your hand

Read the full story behind “Just A Girl” HERE.

4. “Spiderwebs” / Tragic Kingdom (1995)
Written by Gwen Stefani and Tony Kanal

When keyboardist and main No Doubt songwriter, Eric Stefani, left the band in 1994 to pursue a career in animation (including working on The Simpsons), Gwen Stefani was finding herself as a lyricist in the band. Tasked with writing the other half of Tragic Kingdom, two of the first songs she wrote following her brother’s departure, “Just A Girl” and “Spiderwebs”— the latter about a girl who is trying to escape an obsessed admirer — were two of the band’s biggest hits.

You’re intruding on what’s mine
And you’re taking up my time
Don’t have the courage inside me
To tell you please let me be

Communication, a telephonic invasion
I’m planning my escape

5. “Don’t Speak” / Tragic Kingdom (1995)
Written by Gwen Stefani and Eric Stefani

Written around the time Gwen Stefani and Tony Kanal were breaking up, after seven years together, “Don’t Speak” is about their split as a couple. Once the song was released on Tragic Kingdom, it pulled the bandage off a very difficult time for the bandmates.

“The whole purpose for Tragic Kingdom is the breakup, the heartbreak,” said Stefani in 2021. “There’s a lot of feelings. Even in that record, when you say the words ‘tragic kingdom,’ my heart still kind of is broken, because those songs were about a really sad time for me.”

You and me, we used to be together
Every day together, always
I really feel that I’m losin’ my best friend
I can’t believe this could be the end
It looks as though you’re lettin’ go
And if it’s real, well, I don’t want to know

6. “Ex-Girlfriend” / Return of Saturn (2000)
Written by Gwen Stefani, Tony Kanal, Tom Dumont

By the band’s fourth album, Return of Saturn, Stefani was grappling with another love affair, her relationship with Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale, with whom she had been broken up with for six months at the time—becoming another one of his ex-girlfriends. The two first met while No Doubt was on tour with Bush in 1995. Stefani and Rossdale were married in 2002 and had three sons together before their divorce in 2016. Lead single “Ex-Girlfriend” was more of an elegy to Stefani’s relationship with Rossdale, while tracks like the slower ballad “Simple Kind of Life” addressed her feeling torn between her band and a desire to start a family.

I kinda always knew I’d end up your ex-girlfriend
I hope I hold a special place with the rest of them
And you know it makes me sick to be on that list
But I should have thought of that before we kissed
You say you’re gonna burn before you mellow
I will be the one to burn you
Why’d you have to go and pick me?
When you that we were different, completely

7. “Hey Baby” / Rock Steady (2001)
Written by Gwen Stefani, Tony Kanal, Tom Dumont, Rodney Price

Collaborating with Jamaican artists The Neptunes, William Orbit, and Sly & Robbie, No Doubt began melding more dancehall, and electro-pop onto their fifth album, Rock Steady. Lead single “Hey Baby” is a fly-on-the-wall peek at all the backstage shenanigans—the groupies, the parties, the debauchery: I‘m the kinda girl that hangs with the guys / Like a fly on the wall with my secret eyes  / Taking it in, try to be feminine / With my makeup bag, watching all the sin.

The song peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and earned No Doubt a Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.

Rock Steady also features “Waiting Room,” co-written by Prince for the band, along with ska-ballad “Underneath It All,” which Stefani wrote with Dave Stewart and picked up a second Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group.

I’m the kinda girl that hangs with the guys
Like a fly on the wall with my secret eyes
Taking it in, try to be feminine
With my makeup bag, watching all the sin
Misfit, I sit, lit up, wicked
Everybody else surrounded by the girls
With the tank tops and the flirty ways

8. “Hella Good” / Rock Steady (2001)
Written by Gwen Stefani, Tony Kanal, Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo 

Co-written with the songwriting and production duo The Neptunes’ Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, “Hella Good” is a more upbeat pop sizzler about all the good things in life. Hugo and Williams wanted to recreate the dance and band vibe of songs like Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” and 1977 Commodores hit “Brick House” while producing “Hella Good.”

“We were trying to bring No Doubt in the clubs,” said Hugo. Of Rock Steady, Kanal added,  “When we started writing this record, we wanted a record we could fucking groove to and dance to. We wanted to go to dance clubs and hear our stuff played.”

The performance deserving of standing ovations
And who would have thought it’d be the two of us
I don’t know, I didn’t think it was ever gonna happen
So don’t wake me if I’m dreamin’
‘Cause I’m in the mood, come on and give it up

You got me feelin’ hella good
So let’s just keep on dancin’
You hold me like you should
So I’m gonna keep on dancin’

9. “It’s My Life”/ The Singles 1992–2003 (2003)
Written by Mark Hollis (Talk Talk) and Tim Friese-Greene

No Doubt has covered a number of songs in their time, from Adam and the Ants’ 1981 punk anthem “Stand and Deliver” and The Clash‘s “Hateful” to “Monkey Man” (featuring its originators Toots and The Maytals) in 2004, and even The Beatles‘ “Ob-La-Di-Ob-La-Da,” but one of their most memorable covers was Talk Talk’s new wave hit “It’s My Life.”

Bringing more 1930s cinematic scope to the ’80s classic, the video for “It’s My Life” features silver screen-era Stefani on trial for “accidentally” poisoning her husband (played by guitarist Tom Dumont). Recorded for the band’s greatest hits album, The Singles 1992–2003, No Doubt’s version of the ’80s classic hit the top 10 of Billboard Hot 100 and picked up a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.

Funny how I find myself in love with you
If I could buy my reasoning, I’d pay to lose
One half won’t do

I’ve asked myself, how much do you
Commit yourself?
It’s my life, don’t you forget
It’s my life, it never ends

10. “Looking Hot” / Push and Shove (2012)
Written by Gwen Stefani, Tony Kanal and Tom Dumont

Recorded between late 2009 and 2011 and produced by Mark “Spike” Stent, who worked with the band on Rock Steady and three of Stefani’s solo albums, No Doubt‘s sixth album, Push and Shove, had a number of standout tracks, including the catchy pop-driven “Looking Hot,” a song that almost didn’t make the album cut.

“[It] was one of those songs that was almost thrown away,” said Stefani. “It was an end of a song that turned into a chorus that ended up being [a song]. It was one of those weird transitional songs.”

I’m chasing it and I don’t know why
I think about it a lot

Better hurry, running out of time
I think about it a lot
I cant tell anymore
I don’t know what Im looking for

You know what I mean
I think about it a lot
Do you think Im looking hot?

Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

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