Last November, the nominees for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 2020 class were announced and it was one hell of a list. There was The Notorious B.I.G. and Soundgarden as well as Nine Inch Nails and Whitney Houston. Judas Priest was nominated and so was Pat Benatar, Depeche Mode, MC5, and Motörhead.
Oh. Dave Matthews Band got nominated too.
The inclusion of the legendary jam band was met with a few different reactions ranging from disgust to surprise. The disgust was because the band has been the subject of ridicule and disdain for as long as they’ve been around while the surprise was because (let’s admit it, kids) we’re all getting old. The band’s breakthrough album, Under the Table and Dreaming, came out twenty-five years ago. The passage of time really is a bitch sometimes.
A few days after nominees had been announced, things started to die down and (mostly) reasonable and level-headed discussions of legacies were had. While inductions won’t be announced until the middle of January, it has started to become clear that Dave Matthews Band more than deserves to be inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame despite what the naysayers might say.
Narrator: they weren’t inducted.
However you want to look at it, the band has the résumé to get in, whether it’s based on their music, their career, or their legacy as a phenomenally reliable live act.
Let’s zero in on those factors, shall we? Let’s dive into the band’s discography—specifically their studio albums because no one has time to dissect the way too many Live Trax they’ve put out.
Despite being around for over 25 years, the band has released only nine albums, with their most recent being 2018’s Come Tomorrow. It feels like it should be more. It’s okay, though, because they’ve released 85 live albums so I think we’ll cut them some slack.
Before I start, I want to address a potential issue concerning Remember Two Things. The album, which was released independently in 1993, doesn’t technically count because it was actually mostly live songs even though your memory insists on thinking it was an album comprised of studio tracks (only “Minarets” and “Seek Up” meet that definition).
A consolation prize for Remember Two Things is that it’s definitely in the top three when it comes to the DMB albums that hold a special place in this fan’s heart.
While we are speaking of rankings, let’s rank the band’s nine studio albums.
9. Everyday (2001)
Going into 2001, fans of the band appreciated their sprawling, wide as a prairie sound; they sounded like an international, joy-filled carnival. While the band had yet to fully capture their energetic live show in the studio (and who has?) they had come close with 1998’s Before These Crowded Streets.
That album was then followed up with Everyday, which by all accounts couldn’t have been more different than what had come previously and couldn’t have been further away from what fans had come to love from the band.
Instead of songs that meandered and wandered from section to section and instrument to instrument, the album was tight and constrained. It was as if the studio had drained all of the life from the band and the product was a machine-like copy of DMB.
The album has good bones to it though, and if you squint, you can see the band that existed pre-Everyday.
But it’s a challenge.
8. Away from the World (2012)
Hey, at least this album sounds like Dave Matthews Band. So that’s a positive.
Unfortunately, it’s probably the least known of the band’s studio albums.
Away From the World debuted at number one but it also had the lowest sales numbers of any of their albums since Crash. That stat is kind of bunk, though, because 2012 was around the time people stopped actually buying albums.
We’ll give them a pass there.
The album was a reunion of sorts, as it was their first album since Before These Crowded Streets to be produced by Steve Lillywhite, who had been instrumental in helping hone and craft the band’s sound in their first few releases. However, he could only do so much here.
7. Come Tomorrow (2018)
It had been a while since the band had released a new album when they dropped Come Tomorrow in 2018. Nearly six years had passed since Away from the World had come out, making it the longest stretch for them in between studio releases.
Guess what? It still landed in the top spot on the Billboard 200, making it their seventh consecutive number one album.
Loyalty really is a funny thing, isn’t it? Hang around long enough and your people will stick with you.
Come Tomorrow isn’t a tour down memory lane though (not totally). For an album released so far into the band’s career, it contains a surprising amount of life and definitely comes off as the product of the band taking some time to get a handle on who they were as they entered their third decade together.
Perhaps some of that youthful energy did come from the fact that a handful of the songs on the album had been kicking around the band’s live shows for a few years—especially “Can’t Stop” and “Idea of You,” which had been in the mix since 2006.
6. Stand Up (2005)
Stand Up is the last Dave Matthews Band album to feature their original saxophonist LeRoi Moore and it’s also their funkiest effort, with songs that have a certain spice to them not totally heard before.
It’s also a tight album (but not tight in the way Everyday is).
Stand Up is tight in that it’s a concentrated, streamlined effort. Only two songs pass the five-minute mark, which was a rarity for the band up to that point.
At the time of its release, I think it’s fair to say that the band was kind of in need of a change. Things had maybe gotten a little stale. As a result, they definitely take some swings and big cuts on Stand Up.
Some of them work, some don’t. Such is life.
5. Busted Stuff (2002)
A little bit of history is required here.
Busted Stuff was actually a reclamation project of sorts; a salvaging of material originally written in 1999 and 2000 with Lillywhite for a follow-up to Before These Crowded Streets. Halfway through recording, the project was shelved by RCA, as the label didn’t feel confident in the material, which Matthews later described as “sad bastard songs.”
Matthews admits to drinking pretty heavily during that time, which led to the dark and bleak tone of the album.
It’s with all of this in mind that Everyday kind of makes some sense, as it was an attempt at a course-correction for a band seemingly lost at sea. Everyday is the band exercising demons that might not have been readily welcomed by fans but seems to have been needed by the band to move into the next phase of their career.
In March of 2001, the sessions done with Lillywhite magically appeared on the Internet and that— coupled with the lukewarm reception Everyday received—created a hunger for those songs to be officially released. Internet leaks weren’t going to cut it. Fans wanted the real deal.
And thus we have Busted Stuff, which consists of nine tracks from the ill-fated Lillywhite sessions and two new songs. More importantly, the album sounded like a Dave Matthews Band album whereas Everyday sounded more like a Matthews’ solo project.
4. Crash (1996)
Regardless of how it actually sounded, Crash was in a tough spot when it was released in 1996.
It had been two years since the release of the band’s major-label debut, Under the Table and Dreaming, an album that proved to be their breakthrough record. As a result, much was expected of the follow-up. At this point, all of the years later, we are very familiar with what Dave Matthews Band sounds like, but back then, there was a lot on that first album that legitimately sounded like nothing people had ever heard before.
A screaming violin? Wild drumming? Is it rock? Is it folk? Is it South-African-inspired jazz by way of Virginia?
It was a confusing time, but also a fun one. Under the Table and Dreaming had introduced the world to a band that was very much unlike any other band out there.
So with that being said, it’s then completely reasonable to realize that following up such an album would be a nearly insurmountable task.
Crash wasn’t a stinker but the vibe of the album is different than Under the Table and Dreaming. You can almost feel the pressure the band was under and the oversight that comes with raised expectations.
Of course, the album also features a handful of songs that would become classics for the band, so you know, they got that going for them which is nice.
3. Big Whiskey & the GrooGrux King (2009)
2009’s Big Whiskey & the GrooGrux King was Dave Matthews Band emerging from the wilderness to remind their fans (both young and old) why they had fallen in love with them in the first place. It was the band loudly declaring that they weren’t done yet.
Most importantly, it was the first time in almost a decade that the band produced an album that actually sounded like fans wanted them to sound. Yes, things had changed for both the band and their fans, but as time goes on, when do things ever stay the same? College and high school reunions are weird for a reason.
Big Whiskey & the GrooGrux King is an album that sounds alive. It sounds as if the band had suddenly been rejuvenated and had found a renewed reason for doing what they do in the wake of Moore’s sudden death in August of 2008.
Moore was replaced by members of the band’s touring outfit (with Jeff Coffin on saxophone and Rashawn Ross on trumpet), and as a result, the horns sounded bigger than they had before. It was a testament to Moore’s presence in the band and role in their sound that he had to be replaced by two people in his absence.
Released fifteen years after Under the Table and Dreaming, the album ends up being an impressive feat of reinvention and rebirth for a band that could have rested on its laurels but instead strove to prove to the world that it still had some gas left in the tank.
2. Under the Table and Dreaming (1994)
When ranking a band’s albums, it’s common that their big debut finds itself at the number one spot. I think a lot of it comes down to deference and acknowledging that whatever came after that particular album wouldn’t be nearly as important if not for the existence of said album. Therefore you can’t rank anything above it. It wouldn’t be fair.
That isn’t the case here.
It’s almost the case though.
Before These Crowded Streets and Under the Table and Dreaming are essentially 1A and 1B here.
When it was released in 1994, Under the Table and Dreaming was a breath of fresh air and a shot across the bow of the last few days of grunge and the heyday of the gangster rap era. Everything was just serious back then. It was as if all of music had looked at the rampant absurdity of the 1980s and collectively shaken its head in disbelief and vowed to be better and more mature than those that had come before.
Which is fine, to an extent.
At some point, though, it should be noted that music should be fun and serve as a release and that is two things that Under the Table and Dreaming proved to be.
The joy kicks into gear from the jump, starting right out of the gate with a dynamic album opener in the form of “The Best of What’s Around.”
There are so many great songs on this album, whether it’s the kick-your-shoes-off “What Would You Say,” the meditative “Satellite,” the iconic “Ants Marching” or the legendary “Jimi Thing.” This was a statement release by Dave Matthews Band and it’s a statement that will no doubt live on long after they finally hang it up.
1. Before These Crowded Streets (1998)
Before These Crowded Streets is a massive album. Listening to it is akin to going on the best magical journey imaginable with some of your dearest friends under the best of conditions.
The album smoothly travels through moods, atmospheres, genres, and inspired choices. Its sheer force of will is only magnified when compared to the Crash that came before it. Crash is buttoned-up and stiff, formal and withholding. Before These Crowded Streets is the weekend, Mardi Gras, festive shirts, and drinks with umbrellas in them.
Ah, but it’s also an album whose greatness transcends the need for context. It’d be amazing regardless of what came before it or what would come later.
The album’s heart lies within the sprawling opus “Crush” but its pulse can be taken in the joyous “Stay (Wasting Time,)” a song that will always have a place in the world as long as there are summers to bask in, backyards to chill in, cold beverages to enjoy, and good friends to surround yourself with.
The band’s long career, legendary live shows, and the predictable ups and downs that naturally accompany both have somewhat overshadowed and clouded the legacy of Before These Crowded Streets. But with the album being as confident as it is, it doesn’t need constant adulation to tick. It doesn’t need to remind you of its greatness.
I bet that if pressed, any DMB fan would probably admit it’s their favorite album, even though Under the Table and Dreaming might mean more to them emotionally.
But again, 1A and 1B.