November 23, 2002
I never like when things end. That's human nature, I suppose. But you don't think like that when you're 16 years old. When my parents divorced, I had a decision to make: move with my mom to New Jersey, or my dad to Washington state. I chose my dad. Even though it meant turning my life upside down.
I realize this doesn't have a lot to do with "No One Knows", other than that it was my number one song when I made that fateful move across the country. Music was one of my few constants during this time. It's disingenuous for me to say, however, that I'd write the same paragraph regardless of what song was #1. "No One Knows" brought me a lot of joy in the fall of 2002. It spent an eternity on my top 40 as well. Perhaps it's fair to say I couldn't have gotten through that move if "No One Knows" wasn't around for me to listen to.
Josh Homme was born in Palm Springs, California, in 1973. He started playing in bands at the age of 12, and soon joined a band called Kyuss in 1987. The band gained a cult following in southern California, and released a few albums that are apparently considered influential to the stoner rock subgenre. But by 1995, Kyuss broke up, and Homme moved to Seattle to study at the University of Washington.
During his time in Seattle, he joined the band Screaming Trees as a replacement on 1996's Lollapalooza Tour for rhythm guitarist Mike Johnson. Homme declined to join the band full-time in favor of forming his own band, one that would eventually become Queens of the Stone Age. The band would sign to Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard's Loosegroove Records and release their self-titled debut album in 1998. (Pearl Jam with eventually appear in this column.)
QOTSA followed that up with Rated R in 2000, which saw the band's first impact on mainstream charts. First single "The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret" peaked at #36 on Billboard's Modern Rock chart. The band had enough goodwill to recruit Judas Priest lead singer Rob Halford, who happened to be recording in the studio next to them, to sing on the record. Homme also got his former Screaming Trees bandmate Mark Lanegan to join the band as a full-time member.
At the end of 2001, Dave Grohl, on a break with previous Number Ones artist Foo Fighters, joined the band to record drums for QOTSA's third album, Songs for the Deaf. The band also got A Perfect Circle members Troy Van Leeuwen and Paz Lenchatin to join at various points on the record. (A Perfect Circle's biggest hit on my chart, 2003's "Weak and Powerless", peaked at #5.)
Songs for the Deaf plays like something out of a time capsule. The album features several breaks that sound like someone turning the dial of a radio, trying to find a song or station that fits their vibe. It plays heavy at times, but not enough to alienate someone who wasn't quite into heavy metal music. It fit very well into the alternative zeitgeist of 2002, which is to say that there was no discernible zeitgeist in alternative rock in 2002, giving the band ample room to rise to the top.
"No One Knows" was the first single from the album, released to radio at the end of the summer in 2002. It's a song that doesn't have a discernible plot, but the band makes sure that it doesn't need to have one. From what I can gather reading the lyrics, the song gives the sense that world is chaotic and you just have to embrace it. "We get some rules to follow/that and this, these and those/no one knows". Perhaps Homme's peripatetic past is rearing its head through the lyrics. "I journey through the desert/of the mind, with no hope/I follow".
Given Homme's laconic singing voice, it's easy for me to remember why I was as into the song as I was. As someone who's rarely partaken in cannabis, I have a hard time understanding what the term "stoner rock" actually means. But I know a song that fits my personality when I hear it. And Queens of the Stone Age's brand of dry subversiveness struck a chord with me at a time when I needed someone or something that I could turn my mind off to. I remember coming home one day in September 2002 feeling really depressed, only to turn the TV on to the video for "No One Knows". I don't know what exactly the song did for me in that moment, only that I wanted to chase that feeling as long as I could.
Let's talk about the video for "No One Knows". It's honestly a classic, in my mind. The band initially recruited Michel Gondry, a prolific French video director at that point, to direct the video, but Dean Kerr took over midway through filming. The band (minus Dave Grohl) are driving down a dark road when they hit a deer. It seems like the deer is dead, only for it to come to and take the upper hand, knocking out the members of the band. It ties them to the front of the car, and drives them to its house, where it mounts their heads on its wall.
It's fucking brilliant. Everything from the way the band members stare at the deer as it bitch-slaps them into unconsciousness, to the neutral expressions they have as trophies on the deer's wall is just some kind of deadpan comedy. As someone who was feeling quite uncertain about his future, a video like that made a world of difference in my life.
"No One Knows" proved to be the biggest hit of Queens of the Stone Age's career. The song topped the Modern Rock chart, and peaked at #51 on the Hot 100. On my top 40, the song spent a ridiculous 41 weeks on the chart; it was only the second song to break the 40-week mark to that point, after Lifehouse's "Hanging by a Moment".
The song helped do some serious business for Songs for the Deaf. The album reached the top 20 of Billboard's album chart, and ultimately moved over a million copies. It wasn't done cranking out songs that I enjoyed, either. We will see Queens of the Stone Age again in this column soon.
In 2007, Mark Ronson recorded a cover of "No One Knows" with the singer Domino, and released it as a B-side to his cover of The Smiths' "Stop Me if You Think That You've Heard This One Before". Here it is:
(Mark Ronson's biggest hit on my chart, his 2019 Angel Olsen collaboration "True Blue", peaked at #3. Angel Olsen will eventually appear in this column.)
Here's English indie rock band The Vaccines' 2021 cover of "No One Knows":
THE NUMBER TWOS
Audioslave's bombastic debut single, "Cochise", peaked at #2 behind "No One Knows". I've been drinking life, while you've been nauseous; and so I drink to health.