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“Dolby’s Top 25 311 Songs”

25 “Full Ride” (From Chaos)

You could probably with some authority dub 311’s two-album stint of Soundsystem and From Chaos as their “metal phase” — Tim Mahoney seemed to graduate from distortion pedal to straight-ahead rock-rap Marshall stabs and both the volume and intensity seemed bolstered on a significant amount of these cuts. Along these lines, the band seemed fully themselves and to be having some of the most fun in this period, too, with “Full Ride” weaving in some LA energy of “freaks” and “mountainside” while being almost charmingly aimless and becomingly forceful without a cause.

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24 “Sweet” (311)

In my opinion one of 311’s prouder reggae numbers of their career, “Sweet” finds lead singer Nick Hexum pouring on the suave-guy syrup big-time: “I don’t mean to brag and I don’t mean to boast / But I am the guy that could give you the most”. This romantic swagger is one of 311’s feathers in their cap but also tying this sucker together is a noodley and gorgeous guitar solo at the end by Tim Mahoney, proving in hypnotic lockstep that this band was really more well-rounded than a lot of people gave them credit for.

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23 “Eons” (Soundsystem)

1999’s Soundsystem showcases a band that was in LOVE with metal grooves — it’s hard to imagine that they weren’t incorporating at least a little Korn and Limp Bizkit into their listening pallettes around this recording. “Eons” is sort of public enemy number one in this department, with a slight proclivity toward randomness and aimlessness, though that’s part of why we like these guys, too, isn’t it? It’s like this music is more journey than destination.

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22 “Guns (Are for Pu**ies)” (311)

“Guns (Are for Pu**ies)” was I think a pretty semantic statement on a high-profile LP that featured their breakthrough single, down, and a lot of otherwise “random” moments, drug references and goof-offs (each of which can also be kind of charming in its own way, of course). Check the groovy chorus on this number with the jittery mind-fu** of a drum beat and the verbose, call-and-response vocals by Doug Martinez and Nick Hex.

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21 “Lose” (Grassroots)

Anybody who’s heard this band cover “White Man (In Hammersmith Palais)” by The Clash knows of their propensity for reggae. On this late-album Grassroots cut, on an album that’s fairly solid but certainly pretty rap-heavy, we get a legitimate amalgamation of dub vibes and MOURNING, in this case mourning and IMPENDING breakup, rather than an extant one, which would seem to bespeak a certain songwriting precociousness on the part of Nick Hex, you’ve gotta admit.

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20 “Beautiful Disaster” (Transistor)

Transistor vies strongly for 311’s most psychedelic album, what with its broad range of musical styles, penchant for slipping into languid noodling and afterlife and supernatural lyrical themes. Oddly, despite being a metal song, “Beautiful Disaster” seems to fit into this category, with its chorus of “Beautiful disaster / Flying down the street again”. The lyrics seem schizophrenic in a way that prioritizes feeling and meaning, too, with a refreshing lack of emphasis placed on explanation.

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19 “Misdirected Hostility” (311)

“Misdirected Hostility” features one of Tim Mahoney’s best intros (remember this is a band with two vocalists and one guitarist, which should give you a sense of the load that dude carries), a memorable, hypnotic riff bled out through some savvy wah-wah pedal. Nick Hex doesn’t skimp on the tough love either: lighting a fire under a self-pitying junkie with the quip: “And you’re sayin’ that you’re tortured / Gimme a fu**in’ break”.

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18 “Lucky” (Grassroots

A mainstay of summer mixtapes for me, “Lucky” is vintage 311 with a meandering metal riff from Mahoney, some sh**-talking from Doug Martinez: “Never take the time to rewind all the weak crap” and a catchy chorus that makes you believe the singer when he says “It’s beginning to look like summer / And I’m down with No Doubt”.

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17 “Give Me a Call” (Evolver)

“Give Me a Call” is my sole selection from 2003’s Evolver which truth be told somewhat belies the fact that this was an album I’d listen to with decent regularity upon its release. Like a lot of music from around this time, though, it’s a little bit epochal and staunchly pertinent to war in Iraq and political themes. I guess it’s no surprise, then, that this complete breath of aside matter is the one that best stands the test of time, maybe even playing with a little more tenderness and meaning, given the circumstances.

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16 “Nix Hex” (Music)

I swear to God no matter how many times I listen to this song I can never truly comprehend it — it’s like I get hypnotized and the whole thing goes by in a blur. It could be that it’s in a sense the quintessential 311 song in that it seems to incorporate the sum total of their musical styles within one session. Something about Hex’s vocal stylee too just takes you right where you need to be, when he proclaims himself as having been voted least likely to turn out like a square and declaring of said verse that he “wrote it while I was loaded”. 

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15 “Homebrew” (Grassroots)

If there were any doubt on 311’s debut album Music that this was going to be an alt-rock group, it got promptly obliterated with the force of Third Eye Blind or Lit on this riffy rocker of an opener. As is usually the case when this band is at its best, too, it can represent one musical style while alluding to another, the latter in this case being the implicit psychedelia in the chorus “Fourth of July / Lucy in skies”.

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14 “Stealing Happy Hours” (Transistor)

Transistor is one of the three 311 albums I still regularly listen to front-to-back (the other two being the one before it and the one after it) and “Stealing Happy Hours” seems like this impossibly triumphant closeur, for its pseudo-funky stylistic nonchalance and the fact that it verbally suggests a malady, the lack of happiness and levity within in the everday, but is able to turn this quandary into a successful musical catharsis and also play it off with the sangfroid which would suggest it to be an obivous fact.

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13 “All Mixed up” (311)

This song seems to go hand-in-hand in a sense with “She” by Green Day except that it’s not just directed at one of the sexes — it’s just a universal song about getting up, letting go of your insecurities and learning to just be you, and for this reason was very important to me when I was growing up. Again, notice the wild stylistic array going on in the music, as the noodley, vaguely funky verse gives way to some invigorating, straight-ahead metal. Actually, I asked on this recent Loudwire post why 311 wasn’t considered founding nu-metal (and of course everybody proceeded to laugh at me).

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12 “The Continuous Life” (Transistor)

“The Continuous Life, a song that in style can only aptly be described as “311,” also finds auxiliary vocalist/rapper Doug Martinez coming into his own, lyrically: “It’s not ambiguous to be continuous / It’s all about us it’s for real my mand / The continuous life there is no end / Movin’ through life movin’ through death”. It’s another 311 tune where perhaps the vaguely suicidal allusions seem subservient to the musical whole, which takes such a spiny situation and gleans a distanced, overarching truth pertaining thereto.

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11 “From Chaos” (From Chaos)

From Chaos is not an album I still listen to but all in all, it’s a pretty solid effort — I think it’s pretty similar in style to their self-titled album and I just prefer that one. Maybe they wanted to make a reversion to rock on their first record of the new millennium, which by and large they successfully did, even peppering in some bona fide hooks and melodies as on this handy title track which bridges a nice gap between deilberate and forceful.

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10 “Life’s Not a Race” (Soundsystem)

One thing I keep going back to about this band is the worldview in the lyrics: there’s absolutely nothing contrived or agenda-based in what they say in their messages, with “Life’s Not a Race” being a prime example, a funky and eclectic indictment of capitalistic ambition and time-is-money attitude. The discourse at hand seems like a continuation of hippieness, actually, in a sense, but applied in an unpretentious and authentic sort of way so that it applies to everyone, most of all people who just never thought to relish in their own ease and peace of mind like is now being endorsed. Also don’t forget that groovy salsa outro that nods things off into the night with more than enough character.

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9 “1,2,3” (Grassroots)

The final track on 311’s second album Grassroots is certainly quite a left turn from the rest of the LP, which leans with ham-handed surety on a traditional rock-rap playbook and cutesy, arbitrary hooks. “1,2,3” sidles in with easy, majestic purpose, in reggae form and with some rare sing-song vocals from Doug Martinez, before the sublime and expertly rendered Nix Hex chorus: “It’s alright to feel good / It’s alright for nothing to be wrong / The deepest dream that we have / Could be tomorrow’s song”. 

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8 “Hydroponic” (Music)

As “bad” and gangster as the ’90s were supposed to be, songs explicitly about weed in the mainstream were still somewhat of a rarity (thanks to Nelly for further in part pushing the envelope into pervasiveness in that department), with “Hydroponic” like a multifarious, indulgently self-seeking reincarnation of “Purple Haze” with the trippy observation that “I’m water and carbon / And not much else”. It’s rare to find this level of thoroughness these days in rock lyrics from the standpoint of precisely defining oneself within an existential scope like some veritable stoned Bill Nye the Science Guy.

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7 “Large in the Margin” (Soundsystem)

The greatness of the chorus in this song simply cannot be overstated. It comes wedged between two singles on the album, “Come Original” and “Flowing,” so almost certainly flies under the radar, at least to an extent. This busy sequencing and a fly-through verse, though, bely a deep inner struggle in the chorus on the part of a schizophrenic, on whose inner voices the band finally reflects “It’s easier when you hear it / There’s no reason to fear it / It’s you”. 

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6 “Prisoner” (Transistor)

“Prisoner” is not 311’s biggest smash-hit single to date (that honor probably goes unfortunately to “Amber”) but listening to it it’s certainly puzzling to think of why it wouldn’t be — the chorus is absolutely tremendous, with the band to sort of chance sidelong upon the concept of “love” like a being coming upon it by accident, justifying and obviating the authenticity of the whole thing, in the process.

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5 “You Wouldn’t Believe” (From Chaos)

Another catchy ditty, “You Wouldn’t Believe” shares an album with the venerable “Amber” and graced the band’s first greatest hits album, likewise, Greatest Hits ’93-’03. And usually I’m one to just sit back and enjoy the music and not analyze it too much (no, really) but in this case the message is kind of intriguing: a hopeless romantic fallen prey to a near-deadly love, a victim all the more unlikely for what seemed like his apparent earthly invincibility. 

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4 “Don’t Stay Home” (311)

This band’s classic self-titled album from 1995 seems almost exactly divided into rap songs and “rock” songs in the sense of being sung, with this offering a welcome bastion of the latter category toward the end of the album. It works wonders toward cementing the album’s melodic accomplishments while simultaneously fostering a typically 311, sort of half-cheesy, half-inspirational message of “When you always stay in / Self-incarceration / I think it’s such a shame / Don’t stay home”. They make up for it though with the later admission of “You’ll find me runnin’ around the block / For no apparent reason”, hence validating the famous Doug Martinez quip of “I was warned of your ‘normal’ behavior”. 

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3 “What Was I Thinking” (Transistor)

I’ve been taking a focused proclivity in this top 10 toward the poppy and anthemic so it’s with ardent pleasure that I initiate a complete stylistic left turn with “What Was I Thinking” into an all-out funk-metal onslaught. “What Was I Thinking” was unprecedented and is still singular amidst 311’s discography for several reasons — the treated, muffled voice, the especially self-immolating lyrics and the sheer level of rocking mayhem, which came out yes right when Korn and Limp Bizkit were catching fire, and Incubus as well was cranking up the distortion and rock mayhem to flank some quirky, free-form vocal delivery and lyrics, in a similar vein.

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2 “Flowing” (Soundsystem)

There’s just no describing the beauty of the introduction of this song: I’ve been trying to uncover some clues on how in the world it’s maneuvered, or even who does it or anything (I’d assumed it to be Tim Mahoney on some combination of wah-wah pedal and looping… one guitar tabs page claimed it was a synth but there’s no synth player credited on Wikipedia’s Soundsystem page). I’ll just have to settle for sitting back and enjoying it, with a couple other key points being the video which features Eddie Kaye Thomas from American Pie and the venerable Freddie Got Fingered, according to imdb.com, as well as of course those gorgeous background vocals which govern the chorus. Background vocals are a real lost art these days.

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1 “Down” (311)

“Down” and the self-titled, third LP came out in 1995, a pretty busy time in music, a time when lots of bands were getting record deals, when mainstream music was moving in a lot of different directions (a fact which should be evident from this song itself, arguably the world’s first ever major rock-rap hit) and lots of new sub-genres were popping up. Even as completely divorced from grunge (a separation belied by that incessant distortion pedal, of course), and sidling into the realm of autonomous “alt-rock,” this stuff tended for a while to get buried under the voluminous abrasion of Rage against the Machine and Nine Ince Nails and the punk high jinks of Green Day and The Offspring, so that really it’s hard in a way to recall a first impression of it. At the end of the day, though, it just bleeds originality, from the two-vocalist assault, the fusion of rock rap and again the unscrupulous schizophrenia of the lyrics which seem if nothing else to scream in your ear that life is short: don’t overthink it and get up and start living. 

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