No Doubt – From Dairy Queen to the Grammys

Turn on any 90s station today, and after “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” you’ll be likely to hear No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak,” the one-time record holder for time spent atop the Billboard Hot 100 Airplay list. Some music critics say that Nirvana opened the door for alternative sounds in America’s music, like No Doubt. However they managed it, Gwen Stefani, Tom Dumont, Tony Kanal, and Adrian Young of No Doubt became enormously popular by bringing together a fun, energetic fusion of ska punk and pop. Today, nearly 30 years after the band formed, No Doubt is still going and its lead singer, Gwen Stefani, is a recognized pop diva. I saw them in concert in 2009, and it was incredible—especially their encore of “Sunday Morning,” which is my favorite of their songs.

No Doubt started after a 1986 conversation between Eric Stefani and John Spence at a local Dairy Queen, where they came up with a list of friends and fellow ska enthusiasts for an Anaheim-based garage band. While the band became increasingly popular in the SoCal music scene, the original line-up, with future lead Gwen Stefani on back-up vocals, came to an untimely end after the death of Spence. Over the following months, Gwen Stefani moved into the lead vocalist role, and by 1989, the band had come up with its final roster, as well as a few members who would leave the band before it reached its greatest success. With their loud, energetic live shows, No Doubt quickly gained the attention of Interscope Records, which signed the band in 1990.

Unfortunately, the band’s 1992 debut album didn’t do so well, and its mixture of ska and pop basically landed with a thud on the alternative music scene, which was dominated by grunge at that time. Interscope Records delayed the band’s recording sessions until 1994. Gwen Stefani and Tony Kanal, who had been dating, broke up during the delay, and the resulting material Stefani brought to the band led to Tragic Kingdom, the band’s first major success. With songs like “Just a Girl” and “Don’t Speak,” the album quickly became a major hit and earned Grammy nominations. Beyond being commercially successful, the entire album is great; almost 19 years after hearing it for the first time, I still find myself putting it on rotation, and rarely skip a song.

No Doubt followed up on its success with Return of Saturn in 2000, after several years of touring and extensive solo work on the part of Gwen Stefani, who became the band’s breakaway star after the success of Tragic Kingdom. Return to Saturn, unfortunately, didn’t earn the same popularity as its predecessor, and despite releasing The Singles 1992-2003 and Rock Steady (which won two Grammy awards), No Doubt seemed a bit overshadowed by Stefani’s greater success as a solo artist. The band went on hiatus in 2004 and didn’t return until 2008 with a tour and a new album, Push and Shove, in 2012.

Today, despite some limited communication from the band as a whole, No Doubt appears to once again be on hiatus, which is a shame. While the other members of the band have relatively small public profiles, Gwen Stefani is pretty much everywhere—she owns two clothing labels, L.A.M.B. and Harajuku Lovers, and her work on television will continue with a role on season 7 of The Voice.