5 Don’t Speak – Tragic Kingdom (1996)
Don’t Speak ranked number one on Billboard’s Hot 100 Airplay for 16 weeks – and for good reason. In stark contrast to the typical No Doubt sound, Don’t Speak has a softer, meandering beat throughout that builds and builds. Gwen Stefani’s voice is almost a wail, adding to the deep sadness of the song. It is a universal feeling that No Doubt captures so perfectly. The purposefully melody of the guitar is hauntingly beautiful and honest and quite aptly juxtaposed to the rest of the album. All in all, it is a brilliant four-and-a-half minutes of musical expression of one of the most universal feelings for human kind.
4 Open the Gate – The Beacon Street Collection (1995)
Off of their second album, Open the Gate is a great representation of No Doubt’s punk undertone and influence. The beat is heavier, and gives the song a much more grounded feeling than the airy, pop-punk the band would later adopt. Gwen’s unique timbre has a punk power to it that proves she is no wannabe teenybopper. Amidst the grunge world of the mid 90s, Open The Gate provided the decade with a more energetic type of music that still had the same honesty grunge professed. Not one second of this song leaves you wanting, and the ska influence is poignantly placed throughout the track. The lyrics are second to the overall power of the song, which does not cease to pound through your ears until the abrupt and hard hitting last second. A truly powerful ska/punk song, Open the Gate was a breath of fresh air to the musical world of 1995, and remains to this day a great song.
3 Hella Good – Rock Steady (2002)
For a while you couldn’t go two inches without hearing Hella Good on the radio, and for good reason. Every second of this song was catchy, powerful, melodic, and sexy all at once. With a sound reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s powerful pop songs, Gwen Stefani’s unique voice is showcased exceedingly well. There is no way to stop when Gwen feels “hella good, so let’s just keep on dancing”. The only option is to do just that. Moreover, Hella Good proves that No Doubt had undeniable musical sensibility. They adopted a funk guitar and a classic 80’s pop beat, melding them with their own brand of pop-punk making it a unique hybrid that has yet to be repeated successfully. Put this song on the radio anywhere, and a significant number of people will jump up in unbridled excitement.
2 Underneath It All – Rock Steady (2002)
For the first five seconds, you think you’re listening to a contemporary reggae/ska band. Then you hear Gwen Stefani, and you know that you’re about to hear something unquestionably unique. A strong love song, Underneath It All does not make any one party better than the other – in fact, it charts the true complications of a relationship. Her voice regains its power. While the tempo and structure of the song are not unique, what makes it stand out against all the other songs of that year is the honesty Gwen Stefani professes. There is no pining, no wistfulness typical of “girliness”; it is more about taking your place in a relationship, and coming to terms with all of the complexities that realization comes with.
1 Just a Girl – Tragic Kingdom (1996)
Just a Girl represented a huge change for No Doubt. After Eric Stefani (Gwen’s brother) left the band, the role of songwriting fell to her – and for the first time, Gwen Stefani was signing about her own experiences. Frustration with the female stereotype is the theme of Just a Girl, and with its fast-punk-pace and purposeful lyrics the song’s message is clear. It is a singularly empowering anthem for girls growing up everywhere. The dynamic music highlights Gwen’s unique and powerful voice. It is about a problem inherent in our society that we haven’t quite solved yet. So any time someone talks about how No Doubt’s sold out, or Gwen Stefani’s a fake, tell ‘em to shut it and put on Just a Girl. No Doubt’s power will shine through as blindingly as the California sun.