The group first formed in December 1986 with John Spence as lead singer. He committed suicide in 1988, leaving Gwen Stefani as lead vocalist. The band developed a reasonable live following, mainly in the band's home state of California, but in 1994, Gwen's older brother Eric left to puruse an animating job on the TV cartoon The Simpsons. The release of 1995's Tragic Kingdom and the single Just a Girl ensured the group achieved mainstream commercial success. The second single, Don't Speak (1996), written about the dissolution of Gwen and Tony Kanal's romantic relationship, was a number one hit for 21 weeks on the Billboard chart. Tragic Kingdom has sold over 15 million copies worldwide.
Publicity for the group was mainly focussed on Gwen and her image as a strong woman in the rock and roll industry, her hairstyle and clothing copied by teenage girls worldwide something like Avril Lavigne in 2002-3.
Their most recent album, Rock Steady, featured another hit single, Hey Baby, with a notably more studio-influenced flavour.