Dave Matthews Band's 17 Best Songs Ever, Ranked
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.
17. "Where Are You Going"
Featured on 2002's Busted Stuff as well as the Adam Sandler flop Mr. Deeds, "Where Are You Going" is yet another DMB track touting the "wounded woman" theme. "Where are you going, with your long face pulling down?/Don't hide away." The song ultimately redeems itself with the lyrics "I am no Superman/I have no reasons for you/I am no hero, oh that's for sure/But I do know one thing/Is where you are, is where I belong." A touching reminder that Dave, like us, is but a human looking for answers. Much like the audience after watching Mr. Deeds.
16. "Big Eyed Fish"
This is a decidedly underrated DMB song and arguably the best track on Busted Stuff. At face value, this upbeat jam is about appreciating what you've got, but dig a little deeper and you'll see it's a song about suicide. The fish, the man, the monkey. They all make decisions to end their lives, one way or another. "No matter how his friends begged and pleaded the man would not concede/And now he's dead, you see, the silly man should know you got to breathe." Though he's practically the spokesman of chill summertime fun, Dave isn't afraid to get dark.
This track is a big winner for a couple of reasons: We've got the illustrious Alanis Morissette lending background vocals, Bela Fleck noodling on the banjo, and Dave oscillating between stirring his coffee and seeing himself as Jesus. "Spoon" is rarely -- if ever -- played live. Dave and Alanis don't tour together, but are (probably??) good pals.
Ah yes. "Satellite," both overrated and overplayed. "Everything good needs replacing." What? Seriously, what the hell is that supposed to mean? It's the antithesis of "It if ain't broke, don't fix it." Honestly, if you think this song has depth, you're wrong. Sure, it's catchy, but it's also the song your college roommate tried over and over to master on the guitar only to realize his hands were too small before moving on to Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here."
13. "Crash Into Me"
What might be Dave Matthews Band's most popular song ever is also its most creepy. The song, which many will recall from two of the most important scenes in Ladybird (or Excess Baggage), is about a man peering in on a woman in her room without her knowledge. I would go on, but Amanda Petrusich of TheNew Yorker cares way more about this song/subject than I do.
12. "The Dreaming Tree"
A sleeper hit on the No. 1 album Before These Crowded Streets, "The Dreaming Tree" is an underrated gem that tells the story of an old man who, before the streets became crowded, used to sit for hours at a time under a tree in the city. The tree, however, is dead and the old man remembers his mom telling him he'd always be her baby. It's poetic, confusing, and almost nine minutes long, ending with a solid three-minute jam sesh.
11. "So Much to Say"
This song won a Grammy in '97 but no one could really tell you why, and if they try, politely ask them to stop. It's a relatively nonsensical, but extremely catchy track. It jams. It's got a danceable beat. It's got Dave singing the line "Little feet, little hands, little feet, little feet, little BAYBAY," which you probably read in his voice. At the same time, the song's only really appreciated by fair-weather fans.
10. "Proudest Monkey"
The story goes like this: Dave and Co. were on their way to a show and got lost in a snowstorm. Upon reaching their destination, they busted out their equipment and started to jam during the sound test. "Proudest Monkey" was the result. The song eventually found its way onto Crash in '96 and boasts one the more impressive flute solos on any late '90s Adult Contemporary album. The most resonating verse is "Then comes the day/Staring at myself I turn to question me/I wonder do I want the simple, simple life that I once lived in well/Oh things were quiet then/In a way they were the better days." In this current climate, these lyrics have never been more applicable.
9. "Stay (Wasting Time)"
Look, this song fucking rules. When Before These Crowded Streets was released, people were excited. It was the band's third album and DMB fever had stricken colleges coast-to-coast. That said, the album was Not Great and ultimately fell short of expectations. Of the 11 songs, only four are worthwhile: "Crush," "The Dreaming Tree," "Spoon," and "Stay." I don't think any of this is that significant, but then again, I'm ranking DMB songs. This song could have been ranked higher, but it was used in a 2005 Virginia Tourism commercial and I can't justify a sellout in my top-eight.
8. "Ants Marching"
The second -- and first widely successful -- hit single off of Under the Table is no doubt an anthemic call to arms to examine your life and its routines through sweet, sweet monotony. If harks back to the late Socratic creed -- "the unexamined life is not worth living" -- sans the allegation of corrupting the youth. It's surely one of DMB's most recognizable songs and likely in the top five of other, lesser detailed lists.
7. "Two Step"
Not coincidentally, the two-step is arguably the most white person dance ever and one you can perform to this song if you consider yourself an "intermediate" stepper, as the pace is a little faster than a beginner two-stepper might prefer. Released in '96, the song reminds us that life is short, but sweet for certain -- a good aphorism to keep in mind as you continue reading this ranking.
6. "Jimi Thing"
This song is about using substances to cope. Look no further than this verse: "Staring up at the ceiling/You take a drink sit back relax/Smoke my mind make me feel/Better for a small time." Though it failed to make even a ripple on the charts as the second single off of Under the Table and Dreaming, there's no denying it's become one of the more popular DMB tracks -- they've played it live more than 1,000 times. Upon listening, it's easy to understand why: the melody is upbeat and the theme is universal. We all need ways to cope with the confusions and sorrows of life, whether that means having a drink or dancing around to "Jimi Thing" like no one's watching.
The third single off of Before These Crowded Streets, "Crush" reminds those who are single how sad being single is. The song is dedicated to Dave's wife, Ashley, and is a loving tribute to their relationship. This is painfully obvious in the lyrics: "Lovely lady/I am at your feet/God I want you so badly." It's also instantly recognizable by the jaunty opening bass line, courtesy of da gawd Stefan K. Lessard.
This might very well be the perfect DMB song. The title refers to its status as the 41st DMB song written, and its lyrics issue an answer to a lawsuit brought by a former manager over money and copyright. The recorded runtime is a nice 6:39, but live, it's the longest song Dave's ever played in concert. In 2002, DMB was touring with the Flecktones, and during a performance of "#41," Dave had all of the members of both bands come out on stage to jam on the song for 32 minutes.
3. "Typical Situation"
As third single from Under the Table and Dreaming, this song really resonated with me as I was narrowing down this wildly unnecessary list the internet didn't ask for, but deserves. It's also a song Dave wrote before he was famous and it proves to the listener that he can cleverly countdown from 10 through song.
2. "The Space Between"
"You cannot quit me so quickly," is a line that aptly describes every fan's relationship with DMB. I'm a sucker for this song. It's sweet, tender, just corny enough, and its music video stars Jamie Presley holding a baby in what appears to be Florida. The message is classic and clear (as it's explicitly stated): Love is all we need here! If you're looking at this in the No. 2 spot and saying to yourself, "This so-called writer is an idiot!" listen to the song again.
1. "Best of What's Around"
This is the very first track on Under the Table, which means it's likely the first DMB song you heard after poppin' the CD into your Discman™ but before asking your mom to buy you tickets to see Forrest Gump in the theater. It sets the tone for the entire album with its strong sax presence, Dave's melodic yet understated guitar noodlin', and an undulating climax of "hey-la's" rounding it out. A melange of instruments play in perfect harmony with Dave crooning out conflicting lyrics that vacillate between melancholy and optimism. It revels in its inoffensiveness with bursts of saxophone and whimsy.
"Whatever tears at us/Whatever holds us down/And if nothing can be done/We'll make the best of what's around."
It's the perfect DMB song and prophetic for the band's career. Through the ups and downs -- whether it was in-fighting or being mocked by media or former fans -- the Dave Matthews Band trudged forward. They've continued to tour, write albums, and somehow convinced people "American Baby" was a good song. With all of the future that is uncertain, I do know one thing about DMB: they'll make the best of what's around.