On September 24, 1994, Dave Matthews Band released Under the Table and Dreaming, their first major label record, to mixed reviews. Entertainment Weekly gave it a C+, calling it a "formless brand of laid-back eclecticism, tainted by smarmy inner-awareness poetry." My older cousin Tevin called it "the bomb" and said it was "way better than what Hootie's puttin' out." No matter how you felt about the album, there's no denying it paved the way for the unassailable and irrefutable success of DMB -- Crash (1996) peaked at No. 22 and Before These Crowded Streets (1998) debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200). Since then, you've undoubtedly listened to "Crash into Me" approximately 300 times, no less than six of which come from watching Joe Dirt and/or the 1997 sleeper crime/comedy Excess Baggage; last year, Lady Bird relegitimized the song as a valid cultural marker, a renaissance beyond a punchline defining the taste of bros in cargo shorts and flip-flops.
From then until now, Dave has written and recorded approximately 200 songs, and he'll add another 10 to 16 to the total count via the June release of his recently announced record, Come Tomorrow, the band's first studio album since 2012. But which songs are his best, the ones that start as earworms and steadily transmute into earnacondas? With the help of my noise-canceling headphones and moral support from cousin Tevin, I listened to every major DMB album from 1994 to 2002 to glean the 17 absolute best tracks the group's ever made. Why 17? Ten seemed too limiting, and 20 was too generous. I had to ask myself, does "Don't Drink the Water" deserve to make this list? The answer was, of course, no.