The band members often did not play their standard instruments when working on the songs for Rock Steady. As a result, the album's instrumentation contains less guitar and bass guitar than the band's previous work. Many of the album's sounds come from electronic keyboard effects, which bassist Tony Kanal called "Devo-y bleeps and Star Wars noises". Dumont commented that many of the effects came from being unfamiliar with the equipment and "just twiddling knobs". Dumont created an effect similar to that of an echo chamber by placing a microphone inside a metal garbage can with the can's open end facing a drum kit. Richard B. Simon of MTV News asserted that the sound of Rock Steady was part of the decade nostalgia of the 1980s retro movement.
"Hey Baby" (2001)
The album's lead single, a ragga song about the band's groupies.
"Underneath It All" (2002)
The third single, a slower reggae song with a toast from Lady Saw.
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Rock Steady maintains many of the styles present in No Doubt's previous work, while introducing influences from the music of Jamaica. "Hey Baby", "Underneath It All" and "Start the Fire" all feature dancehall and ragga, an electronic-oriented subgenre, as well as guest toasters. The latter, written using backward string samples, also contains the band's traditional ska and reggae sounds. Ocasek produced the New Wave-influenced tracks "Don't Let Me Down" and "Platinum Blonde Life", the former of which was described as sounding "more like the Cars than the Cars". "Platinum Blonde Life" was so strongly influenced by The Cars' work that Kanal apologized to Ocasek, though Ocasek apologized back that he hadn't seen the similarity. The synthpop ballad "Running" was composed on a Yamaha keyboard purchased for Kanal in the 1980s and drew inspiration from the Thompson Twins. Its simple keyboard riff drew comparisons to the work of Depeche Mode, Erasure, and Yazoo.
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