Let’s start here: The Dave Matthews Band are not a jam band. Maybe they once were, back in the day when they were traveling up and down the east coast in the early to mid-90s, cruising in the same circles as bands like Blues Traveler, Phish, and Widespread Panic. But at some point along the way, things changed. They went from a jam band to a great live band. It’s not a knock against them and certainly isn’t any kind of slight. It’s really just a minor change in distinction; a clerical matter.
Now, I became aware of this issue over the past couple of months courtesy of listening to the DMB channel on Sirius. The channel has become a go-to mainly because of its reliability and hey, anytime they play a version of “#41,” I’m down. The station naturally relies heavily on live shows and as a longtime fan of the band, it’s interesting to take note of the differences between a version of “#41” from 1997 and 2007 and 2017. Youthful energy and swagger eventually give way to more polished, veteran savvy, which of course is to be expected once a band gets a little long in the tooth. But it’s through that lens that it became apparent that The Dave Matthews Band doesn’t really jam in the way jam bands jam. They ride vamps and outros, trade solos, and such, but they don’t really jam.
So yeah, The Dave Matthews Band isn’t a jam band. The Dave Matthews Band is a great live band. Case closed.
The Dave Matthews Band have also been around forever and recently they announced the upcoming release of their tenth album, Walk Around the Moon. It’s their first new album in four years since they released Come Tomorrow in 2018. The band has also changed personnel too, something that most likely contributes to their moving away from jam band territory. Following the death of saxophonist LeRoi Moore in 2008, the band essentially replaced him with a two-man horn section and when violinist Boyd Tinsley stepped away following some unsavory allegations, a keyboardist was brought in. Matthews’ longtime collaborator, guitarist Tim Reynolds was made a full-time member in 2008. Whereas when the band first emerged in the early 90s, they were a lean, yet massive-sounding five-person outfit, they now are an 8-man band that can be just as massive sounding, but not nearly as lean and spry.
With a new album coming out and another summer tour mapped out, it felt like as good a time as any to tackle a ranking of Dave Matthews Band songs. I had already ranked their albums, so songs seemed the next logical move. Limiting a ranking of songs to studio versions also felt logical because come on now, we’re trying to keep this manageable, and with all due respect to the version of “The Maker” from the Live in Chicago album, it being left off this list would be one of the first of many tough decisions to be made. It should also be noted that any of the songs on Matthews’ solo album were left off. I’m a stickler for fairness, fam.
You can check out a playlist of all these songs and a handful more HERE.
Okay, let’s do it to it, kids.
40. “Why I Am” (2009)
This song just drives. It never gives up or lets up. You think it might but no, you’re wrong. It’s okay. We’re all wrong once in a while. I once thought there was an opening act for a Widespread Panic show and ended up showing up at the set break. See, it happens.
39. “Dreamgirl” (2005)
Matthews has a knack for writing a tune like “Dreamgirl,” a whimsical little romp about a lady love, and in my younger days, I had a knack for dropping this little ditty on a mixtape for a lady love of my own. Do people make playlists for people now? How does that work? I kind of feel that you lose some of the magic of the whole process doing it that way. You can find this and other similar questions on my podcast, Fuck, I’m Old.
38. “Digging a Ditch” (2002)
Before there was The Snyder Cut, there was The Lillywhite Sessions. Both projects eventually saw the light of day largely due to fans clamoring for them. I would argue that Busted Stuff has the edge on Zac Snyder’s version of Justice League, but I’ll leave that one for the courts. As for “Digging a Ditch,” it’s like a rocking chair; easy to groove with.
37. “The Space Between” (2001)
There was one night in college, maybe it was junior year and my buddy and I were sitting in my car, getting blazed and listening to Everyday, the new DMB album that had recently come out and was admittedly a little off-putting at first. It sounded like Dave Matthews Band run through a computer program. Anyway, that wasn’t what we talked about. No, we were talking about “The Space Between” and what it meant. I don’t remember specifics beyond us being stoned and sitting there kicking around ideas and frankly, that’s all that matters to me. Dave Matthews Band songs have been in my life for so long that they almost all have anecdotal memories attached to them, so more fleshed out than others.
36. “The Song That Jane Likes” (1993)
I like this song too. It should be called “The Song Jane and Ryan Likes.”
35. “When the World Ends” (2001)
Everyday was and still is such a weird album from the band. It’s a given that something gets lost when a band that is dynamic live enters the studio but on Everyday, so much life was drained from the band’s sound. It was jarring. However, what didn’t get lost in translation was the band’s strong songwriting. “When the World Ends” should be brighter and louder but there is some beauty in the restraint shown in this particular version and some solace in knowing the band could really rip in concert when needed.
34. “Samurai Cop (Oh Joy Begin)” (2018)
Listen, by 2018, Dave Matthews Band had hit that point of their career where anything new they released was just gravy. We had our hits, our songs we still listened to on a regular basis and hoped to hear when going to see the band live. Anything they released that was even close to fine was a win. It’s a low bar but it’s also a reality when a band has been around as long as they have. With that being said, “Samurai Cop” is a dope song with a cool title and boring subtitle and I’m not sure why it’s called what it’s called but I’m here for it, in the same way, I decided not to be here for that show “Tokyo Vice,” which just wasn’t as good as I was it’d be. But we can talk about that later.
33. “Seven” (2009)
It’s weird to say that in the band’s second decade, DMB decided to start getting weird with things because let’s be honest, DMB had been getting weird with things from the jump. I think by the time decade number two rolled around, they just continued being weird and wrote songs like “Seven,” which is a weird song and yes, I used “weird” a lot here but I think it’s okay. It’s all justified.
32. “Recently” (1993)
I’ll never get sick of summer. I’ll never get sick of cereal. I’ll never get sick of watching episodes of The Office (only ones with Michael Scott) and I’ll never get sick of listening to “Recently.” I Iike it when the song sounds like a honky down ho-down on the top of speeding locomotion. It’s fun. Thank you for listening to my Ted Talk. Get home safe.
31. “Ants Marching” (1994)
Shit, man. I feel like this song should be higher. Oh well! No turning back now.
30. “The Best of What’s Around” (1994)
“The Best of What’s Around” is one of the best opening tracks ever. According to who, you ask. Me. That’s who. That snare fill. The groove. The way the chorus explodes into an ocean of happiness and sunshine and fucking rainbows. It’s beautiful.
29. “Funny The Way It Is” (2009)
“Funny The Way It Is” is a top-notch pop song and in an alternate universe, it has the feeling that the band should have tried to get to when recording “Everyday.” There’s no flash, and there are no funky time signatures. It’s straightforward, catchy, and has a delightful chorus that gets stuck in your head for at least three hours after listening to it. It even has a soaring guitar solo instead of a sax or violin solo. Is this when it all changed for Dave Matthews Band? Sure, maybe. Does this song mark the line in the sand that separates old-school Dave and new-school Dave? Well, I’ve thought about it for (checks watch) eight seconds and yes, I think it is.
28. “If Only” (2012)
Away From The World is something of an afterthought when taking stock of the band’s catalog but it’s not without a few gems. “If Only” is soft, tender, and simple. It looks deep into your eyes, takes you by the hand, buys you a drink, complements you on your shoes; really wines and dines ya. And a bonus is the drums. Carter Beauford isn’t known for showing restraint when it comes to his drumming but he’s perfect on this song.
27. “Satellite” (1994)
If this song wasn’t included, I’d feel dirty. Like I was trying to pull one over on myself. Oh and if you’re curious, “Crash Into Me” is not on this list and I felt nothing about that being the case.
26. “Mercy” (2012
“Mercy” feels like a spiritual cousin of “Funny The Way It Is.” Both songs are observations of the world, with both having tinges of optimism to them, optimism coming from the hope that things can be better. Dave can go dark at times but can also take swings at being the high tide of good feelings that rise all the boats.
25. “Pantala Naga Pampa”>”Rapunzel” (1998)
The one/two punch that opens Before These Crowded Streets, arguably the band’s best album, can’t be separated. They work in tandems, like peanut butter and jelly, or sleep and my bed. “PNP” is as delicious as an intro one could come up with and the world music vibe of it serves as a nice appetizer to the globe-trotting undertaken by “Rapunzel.”
24. “Tripping Billies” (1996)
“Eat, drink and be merry/for tomorrow we die” no doubt was featured in plenty of high school yearbooks back in the day and for damn good reason. It’s a great lyric and great way of looking at things. And this is fun: what exactly is the song about?
Well, appearing on VH1 Storytellers a long time ago, Matthews said the song was about the first time he took acid. Like some of us out there, he took it and then immediately was struck with regret, crippled by not wanting to trip. But hey, once the wheels are in motion, there’s not much you can do, which is the stance he took. Dude ended up having a great time. Yet in another instance, when being interviewed by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Matthews elaborated some.
“Well, see, you’ve got billy goats,” he said. “A herd of billy goats. Tripping goats. Hillbillies on acid, maybe that’s another possibility. Maybe there’s a party and maybe everybody’s venturing into the shadowy corners of their mind, and maybe someone at the party is upset about what they find in the recesses of their mind. And other people say, ‘Look, we’re at a party, you should enjoy things, forget about those dark, little corners in your head.'”
Goats are cool. “Tripping Billies” is cool. I think we’re good here.
23. “Grey Street” (2002)
“Grey Street” is one of those songs that really makes you question the thinking behind shelving the Lillywhite Sessions. Were the label executives worried the songs were maybe too good? I don’t know how you listen to a track like “Grey Street” and think, yeah, we’re good, let’s do something else instead. The song stomps, hums, soars, and marches along as the band plays in perfect unison. I mean, did the original get weird and metal or maybe feature a strange flugelhorn part that no one really understood? Cause I don’t understand it and doubt I ever will.
22. “Smooth Rider” (2005)
Sure, “Smooth Rider” might sound a lot like Blackstreet’s classic “No Diggity” but it could be worse, it could sound like Blackstreet but not “No Diggity.” Life is all about perspective, kids.
21. “Too Much” (1996)
Walk with me, won’t you? You’ve been enamored with Under the Table and Dreaming since the fall of 1994 when you first heard “What Would You Say.” You’ve listened to the record countless times and naturally went and picked up Remember Two Things and Recently. You’ve been listening to those albums non-stop as well and you even bought a DMB t-shirt. You, my friend, are a big-time Dave Matthews Band fan.
1996 comes, the winter trudges on and finally, spring starts to break. Around this time, something big happens. DMB release a new song, “Too Much,” the first single off of their new album. It’s loud and wild and massive and fun. You, as a newly minted big-time Dave Matthews Band, are living the dream, kid. You’re pumped. This song is fucking sweet and summer is coming and it’s going to be the summer of Dave! Just don’t forget the sunscreen. You will still get sunburned, no matter how much Dave Matthews Band you are listening to.
20. “Everyday” (2001)
It’s not like the album Everyday is a complete wash. It’s definitely not and I imagine if you’re a younger DMB or someone who wasn’t in the trenches when it came out, you most likely view it differently than I do or others like me who were big DMB fans at the turn of the century. But generational differences aside, the album’s title track is delightful. It sounds like flowers blooming or how nice weather feels when you have the windows open. It also sounds like “#36,” which makes sense because “Everyday” essentially evolved from “#36.”
19. “Don’t Drink the Water” (1998)
This is somewhat related, but did you know that in the summer of 1999, there were riots outside of a DMB concert? True story. The band was playing two shows over a lovely August weekend at the Meadows Music Center, just outside of Hartford and while the shows themselves were wonderful, the scene in the parking lot after both shows was not. Shit was gnarly. I know, I was there.
Actually, I only kind of know but yes, I was there (and perhaps too drunk) and I walked by, stopped, looked, and was told to move along by cops in riot gear. Then I think I went to MacDonalds along with everyone around who wasn’t partaking in rioting. It was a surreal experience and sometimes I think back to that weekend and laugh, laugh not at the riots but at my buddy Wilson getting way too fired up about the band using a trio of backing singers on the tour. I thought they were fine. He did not. Also, don’t fucking riot after a Dave Matthews Band concert, ya jabronis.
18. “What Would You Say” (1994)
The one that started it all for so, so many of us. There was a world before this song and a world after.
17. “Here On Out” (2018)
The only bummer about this beautiful tune is that it came out in 2018 and not 1998. If it had come out in 1998, it would have been included in so many mixtapes. So many. It’s a damn shame. Probably would have made the song more popular. Making a playlist for a love interest or special companion just doesn’t hit the same way. Kids these days are missing out. And I know I already talked about that but IT’S TRUE.
16. “So Much To Say” (1996)
“So Much To Say” is one of those DMB tunes that when it comes on the radio, regardless of where it is in the song, I immediately lock into the groove and start singing along. The song is ingrained in me, it’s part of me. I hear it even when I don’t but when I do hear it, I definitely hear it and while that might not make a lot of sense, it does kind of sound like words Matthews would string together in a verse of one of his tunes so ultimately, it’s cool. And so is “So Much To Say,” a song that is something of a forgotten gem when taking stock of the band’s legacy and catalog.
15. “Drive in Drive Out” (1996)
Any live version of this song packs the punch of a thousand stampeding elephants but if you can find one from the late nineties, well you best lookout. The guitar riff is the match and everything else is soaked in gasoline. Once combined, a wild blaze is ignited and can’t stop, won’t stop.
14. “Louisiana Bayou” (2005)
There is a tightness to this song that feels like Everyday but it’s surrounded by a wonderful carefree vibe that is reminiscent of classic, good time having DMB. For DMB in 2005, possibly the best possible outcome of the couple of years that preceded it.
13. “Grace Is Gone” (2002)
“Excuse me please, one more drink/could you make it strong, cause I don’t want to think/she broke my heart, my grace is gone/one more drink and I’ll move on.”
That’s some relatable pain right there and summed up perfectly.
12. “The Last Stop” (1998)
“The Last Stop” opens with a force usually reserved for cowboys kicking open a set of saloon doors and never lets up. Ever. It doesn’t even think about letting up. The thought never crosses its mind. “The Last Stop” is a wrecking ball, it’s shots of Yager chased with Tequila, it’s Fight Milk, it’s bare-knuckle boxing, it’s the promise of excitement and adventure and it’s the reality of adventure and excitement. “The Last Stop” is infused with fireworks, kid. It’s science.
11. “Seek Up” (1993)
So if we were including live versions of songs, “Seek Up” would be higher, especially if you were to take a live version from those golden years in the late 90s. You know, like from Red Rocks.
“Seek Up” is one of those Dave Matthews Band songs that could only be a Dave Matthews Band and couldn’t have been written by anyone else.
10. “Stay (Wasting Time)” (1998)
Flip flops are always comfortable and so is “Stay.” Facts are facts, kid.
9. “Granny” (1994)
For a certain segment of the DMB faithful, “Granny” entered their lives via live shows and live recordings. It just kept showing up but where the hell did it come from? It’s not on anything the band released before Under The Table Dreaming and only emerged in studio form when an extended version of the album was released. Turns out it was recorded during the Table sessions and was even tapped to be the lead single off of the album. Yet at some point, plans changed, and “Granny” was shelved, at least the studio version was. It remained in heavy rotation at shows during this time, which helped boost its myth-like reputation. All these years later, it’s still a favorite at a DMB concert, something of a rallying cry for the old heads and youngsters alike.
8. “Lie In Our Graves” (1996)
“Lie In Our Graves” starts off calmly, smooth like a pond in the early morning hours. But as is so often the case, at a certain point the weather kicks up and the pond begins dancing with the weather as waves form and lovely little ducks run for cover. Nothing stays chill forever, broski, but alas, that’s not a bad thing, and with the weather kicked up by “Lie In Our Graves” once the rest of the band kicks in, excitement enters the picture. But hold on because things do get a little low-key once the song hits the bridge and thinking things are cool again the lovely little ducks return. Old men get their fishing gear out and there is a calmness that surely will stand pat for the remainder of the day. Right?
No and especially when played live, things get all sorts of lively again and fuck those ducks and those old men fishing because it’s time to get nuts.
7. “Jimi Thing” (1994)
Dude, “Jimi Thing?”
6. “Bartender” (2002)
“Bartender” is a massive song, a journey full of perpetual motion and forward trajectory. The music feels like an engine whether it’s the marching percussion or rumbling saxophone. There’s more flash to be found on Busted Stuff but “Bartender” sits there at the end, confident in what it brings to the table and not the least bit concerned it will be overlooked. How could it be? It’s an epic tune that feels as if it could go on forever, never really ending, just fading out.
5. “You & Me” (2009)
Dave Matthews Band found themselves in a transitional period at the end of that first decade of the 2000s as they were still reeling from LeRoi Moore’s death and trying to stay fresh and relevant. The band had always had too much fight in them to become a nostalgia act and didn’t seem the type to go quiet into that cold dark night. Amidst this backdrop, they released their last great album, Big Whiskey & the GrooGrux King, an album that concludes with the absolutely beautiful track “You & Me.” Driven by a chorus steeped in positivity, Matthews shouts from the rooftops that “you and me together could do anything, baby” and you can’t but help that it’s in fact true.
The album ended up being nominated for two Grammys, Best Rock Album and Album of the Year, and while it didn’t win in either category, just being nominated coupled with their inspired performance at the show was more than enough to show that the band still had plenty left in the tank and send them into a new decade with some wind in their sails.
4. “Two Step” (1996)
Ah, I wish I could go back in time and listen to this song for the first time again. By now, the hits and booms and bashes – you know they’re coming but to experience them all fresh again would be amazing. We all have songs that we’ll never get sick of and “Two Step” is one of those for me. I may not always listen to it or pick it out of a lineup, but when I do, God I just appreciate the hell out of it.
3. “Crush” (1998)
My relationship with Dave Matthews Band goes back years. We’ve established that by now. What tends to happen when you have such a long relationship with a certain act is that songs become songs you don’t just love, but songs that inevitably have a memory or two associated with them, and then all these years later, long after the memory was first etched into your brain and soul, it still feels fresh. When you hear the song, the memory comes along for the ride. It becomes part of the appeal, not just of the song but of the act itself; a soundtrack of your life thing.
“Crush” is a beautiful song. It’s timeless. It has a life of its own when played live but the original studio version still sounds amazing over twenty years later. And dude, every time I hear it, I think about a buddy from college. His nickname was Porter for reasons that are now not totally clear and towards the end of our freshman year, he essentially decided school wasn’t for him and became something of a passive observer. We would get back from class and you would hear him down the hall listening to “Crush” or Enya (Porter was an interesting dude) and drinking vodka and fruit punch. Memories peel off from that one memory and that’s part of the fun and its part of the reason why I love “Crush” so much.
That and yeah, it’s a great song.
2. “#41” (1996)
As I get older, I tend to rely on the constants in my life. It makes things easier. One constant is that if Dave Matthews Band radio on Sirius is playing a version of “#41,” I’m in. No questions asked. I love how the chorus soars and the whole song has such a joyful bounce to it. Timeless, babe. “#41” is timeless.
1. “Warehouse” (1994)
There has always been a duality to Dave Matthews Band, a combination of light and dark. They have never been just one thing and frequently, aren’t just two things. They have always contained levels. Yes, levels. It goes back to the jump, a result of their unique backgrounds and instrumentation. It was the 1990s for crying out loud and they prominently featured a saxophone and a violin. Their drummer was a madman and their bass player might have been the dude down the hall who sold weed and listened to jazz records. And in front of it all was this lunatic from South Africa whose fingers danced as he played and his vocals bobbed and weaved like a player running for his life toward the end zone.
“Warehouse” is the song that perhaps best exemplifies this duality as it’s a song that starts off so dark and almost ominous but before long it’s as bright as a summer day. There may be better Dave Matthews Band songs but “Warehouse” is musically a mission statement for the band. It’s grand and epic, intense and ethereal. Lyrically, it’s an embracing of the present and opening one’s arms to the current situation, loving that situation and realizing it might be the best of what’s around but it shouldn’t stop you from exploring what’s outside of its walls. Take the chances, open yourself up to new experiences.
“In a corner was wondering/If a change could be better than this/Oh, and then I worry/Maybe things won’t be better than they have been”
Dave Matthews Band has always charted a course of confident certainty coupled with a current flowing underneath of apprehension. To be only one way would run counter to how Dave Matthews Band has always operated and likely always will, regardless of what the future holds.
Dare to get weird, kid. The Dave Matthews Band always have.
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