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(Credit: Courtesy of UME Records)

Music

The sample that almost sunk a classic Sublime song

@TylerGolsen

It had been perhaps the most difficult birth a ban could experience, but it was done. The self-titled third studio album from Calfornia ska-punks Sublime was brought to the finish line in May of 1996, and not a moment too soon: Sublime had tour dates to fulfil. Their first major-label album, Sublime was intended to catapult its already-popular namesake band into the stratosphere. It eventually did, but with a bittersweet reality attached to it.

That’s because lead singer Bradley Nowell had died of a heroin overdose just days after the final recording sessions for the album. Nowell had actually been sent home to California while the rest of the band and producer Paul Leary finished the tracks in Austin, Texas. Despite his dependence on drugs, Nowell had just entered into a period of massive creativity, compiling lyrics and melodies that were freely mixed with other songs and samples.

That process lead to some difficulties getting the album finished. Of the album’s 17 tracks, only a few are completely original – most songs feature either samples or interpolations of other tracks in them. That required quite a bit of finagling from MCA Records in order to get the various songwriting royalties correctly doled out, but as they approached the end of the recording process, it looked as though Sublime would make it to record shelves in one piece.

Then came the call that the band did not get permission to use the George Gershwin sample at the centre of ‘Doin’ Time’. A similar block caused the band to drop their cover of Bob Marley’s ‘Trenchtown Rock’, and so Nowell sequenced the album without ‘Doin’ Time’ as well. It was only after Nowell died that the Gershwin estate agreed to clear the song, with one caveat: the “Doin’ Time” phrase had to be replaced with “Summertime” to more accurately reflect the interpolation.

This became a problem, considering how Nowell had recently died and would subsequently be unable to record the new line. The other band members insisted that ‘Doin’ Time’ be featured on the final album, so close friend Michael Happoldt recorded the replacement lead vocal line instead. With the song being cleared at the last minute, ‘Doin’ Time’ was sequenced onto the end of the album in order to make the scheduled July 30th release date.

The final version of ‘Doin’ Time’ features Happoldt singing the opening “summertime” line while Nowell takes on the rest of the song. For the tenth anniversary deluxe edition of the album, however, Nowell’s original “Doin’ Time” line is reinstated, along with the cover of ‘Trenchtown Rock’. The two songs are sequenced at the very front of the album, an order that was originally intended by Nowell before his death.

Check out ‘Doin’ Time’ down below.