Top 10 Songs From The dB’s presents the best dB’s songs like “Amplifier,” “Black and White” “Espionage,” “Ask for Jill,” and many more. Prior to dB’s debut, Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey were songwriters that were members of Rittenhouse Square, along with Mitch Easter. While Easter moved on to form Let’s Archive and produce R.E.M.’S earliest albums, he and Stamey did form a group called Sneakers. As Sneakers, they had Will Rigby and Gene Holder as part of the roster. When Sneakers broke up as a band, it was Gene Holder, Peter Holsapple, Will Rigby, and Chris Stamey that formed the first dB’s lineup while in New York City in 1978.
Even though the band members hailed from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, it wasn’t until they were in the Big Apple did they actually come together as an official rock band. The dB’s start actually began with Chris Stamey, Alex Chilton, and Richard Lloyd when they released “(I Thought) You Wanted to Know” and “If and When” in 1977 before Chilton and Lloyd moved on. The recording was issued in 1978 and it was the dB’s that were given credit for it. Shortly after this, the group released their second single, “Black and White,” in 1980.
The debut album, Stand for Decibels, was regarded as one of the best power pop albums of the 1980s, despite the fact it didn’t receive as much mainstream attention as it should have upon release. It was first released in January 1981 by the British-based label Albion Records. The music featured on the album was inspired by the combination of 1960s and 1970s psychedelic-style pop. For Holsapple, he didn’t want to merely copy the songs he and his bandmates were fans of. They opted to be more original, which was applauded by the music critics at the time. However, the listening audience had yet to catch on to the band’s quirky sound.
Stand for Decibels saw two distinctly different songwriting styles between Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple. Stamey’s compositions were unorthodox while Holsapple’s leaned closer to more familiar pop sounds. As a combination, this is what made the dB’s stand out. Unfortunately, this album was not released in the United States until long after these two talents went their separate ways to pursue solo careers.
Delays and Departures
In 1982, the dB’s released their second studio album, Repercussion. It experienced the exact same fate as Stand for Decibels. After its release, Stamey ventured on his own as a solo artist and producer. After this the dB’s recorded and released their third studio album, Like This, in 1984. It was at this time the group earned itself a record deal with an American label. However, Bearsville Records had distribution issues that caused a serious delay in the release of the album before it folded as a company. So again, the bad luck streak the dB’s experienced when it came to achieving commercial success with their album recordings continued.
In 1987, the dB’s recorded and released its fifth studio album before the band’s lineup changed again. At the time, Rick Wagner was the bassist while Gene Holder became the lead guitarist. Bassist Jeff Beninato was part of the roster at that time. He was the founder of the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund. After the band finished touring to support dB’s latest album, Gene Holder left to join the Individuals. Taking his place was Eric Peterson. Not long after this, the band broke up and went their separate ways.
After the dB’s broke up, there were a series of compilation albums released. The first was 1986’s Amplifier by Dojo Records. The second featured the musical material from Stands for Decibels and Repercussion, along with two bonus tracks. Labeled as dB’s First/Repercussion, it was first released in 1992 then again as Neverland in 1999. In 1994, Paris Avenue was an album release that featured the final lineup of the dB’s before the breakup.
Although 1991 witnessed Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey team up again to record and release the album, Mavericks, they did so as individuals, not as the dB’s. They were, however, part of the classic lineup when the dB’s performed in concerts held in Chicago, Illinois, and Hoboken, New Jersey, in 2005. They performed in concerts again in 2007, first in New York City, then at the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, North Carolina. In 2012, the dB’s recorded and released their sixth and final studio album, Falling Off the Sky. There is also an EP, Revolution of the Mind, that was recorded and released in 2013.
The dB’s were among the spawns of the Beatles that found themselves not able to earn the big commercial breakthrough they worked so hard to achieve. Despite this, they were among the pioneers of powerful jangle-style rock that was perfected by bands like R.E.M. and Let’s Active.
Top 10 dB’s Songs
#10 – Judy
The song, “Judy,” was about a love interest the narrator realized too late was the right woman for him all along. As he lyrically anguished over what was, this song became an impressionable favorite among the music critics and fans who were fortunate enough to hear it. Released in 1981 from the dB’s debut album, Stands for Decibels, it was one of those missed hits that could have likely made a solid impression on the music charts if it was released through a stronger label. “Judy” shared the same characteristics as some of the popular hits that came from The Beatles’ repertoire.
#9 – What Becomes of the Brokenhearted
In 2005, the dB’s recorded a cover version of “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” as a song to benefit the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund. The dramatic piano opener led to a heartfelt song that was originally a hit for Motown’s Jimmy Ruffin in 1966.
#8 – Neverland
Although there was a music video for “Neverland,” it was not released until 2008. The song itself was recorded and released in 1982 with the album, Repercussion. The appeal behind “Neverland” was the smoother sound that came from the dB’s as a band compared to the recordings from their debut album, Stands for Decibels.
“Neverland” was jangle pop at its finest, long before it became a popular sub-genre that made bands like R.E.M. household names. Unfortunately for the dB’s, they didn’t luck out with a strong enough recording label that could give the band the same level of commercial success. It wouldn’t be until long after the dB’s broke up that North American fans would hear this gem of a tune.
#7 – That Time Is Gone
In 2012 the dB’s released On Falling Off the Sky as their sixth studio album. From it, “That Time Is Gone” was a song that served as an honest reflection that discussed the reality that once the glory days of someone’s prime are gone, it’s gone for good. The timing of this recording came nearly twenty years after the dB’s recorded and released their fifth album, Paris Avenue.
Part of the heartache behind this song was seeing what could have been for the dB’s if only they were noticed sooner by bigger labels that could have done more for them and their careers as a group.
#6 – Bad Reputation
“Bad Reputation” came from the dB’s debut album, Stands for Decibels, which was released in 1981. Written by Peter Holsapple, the British-style pop influence is what fused this song to become a likable favorite. The song revolved around a high school girl who often found herself on the receiving end of harsh criticism by her peers. The song’s musical influence came from a mix of 1960s and 1970s garage-style pop that made bands like The Beatles and The Kinks famous.
#5 – White Train
Considering the dB’s were best known for the fusion of psychedelic with jangly-pop, “White Train” featured the band’s ability to tap into a bit of country rock. Written by Peter Holsapple, this tune came from the album, Like This, which was released in 1984. As a song, the lyrics were clever as the narrator shared his experience with the devil. What the dB’s noticed as a band was the desire for Christian-themed music by the fans that didn’t make direct reference to Jesus, God, or the bible. As a result, Holsapple applied his songwriting genius and came up with “White Train” as a response.
#4 – Ask for Jill
In 1982, “Ask for Jill” was a catchy tune written by Chris Stamey that somewhat served as a biography of its album, Repercussion. What made this song a gem was the spoken section in the song that was exchanged between Stamey and his fellow songwriter, Peter Holsapple. For Stamey, it was a song he chose to write that leaned closer to jangle pop than the psychedelic tunes he wrote for the previous album.
#3 – Espionage
“Espionage” was an example of Chris Stamey’s quirky writing style. Featured on the album, Stands for Decibels, this 1981 recording saw the earliest examples of jangle rock that became a source of inspiration for aspiring musicians to follow this Southern power pop formula. This unconventional song experimented with guitar sounds that had a psychedelic influence meeting with quirky lyrics.
#2 – Black and White
Released in 1981 as a single, “Black and White” won over the critics that appreciated this retro-style pop number. The fusion of Chris Stamey’s psychedelic Avante-Garde style with Peter Holsapple’s Southern jangle poppers made this song an easy favorite among the fans who could feel the tension explode in the guitar work alone. While neither Stamey nor Holsapple didn’t have the strongest vocals as singers, they made up for it with how well they could pump out a tune that earned the right to become a cult classic.
#1 – Amplifier
Released in 1982 from the album Repercussion, “Amplifier” became the first song recorded and released by the dB’s that became a music video. Written by Peter Holsapple, it was a reflective song sung by a narrator who was contemplating suicide after losing everything he had when his love interest abandoned him. Despite the song revolving around a dark time in a person’s life, it was remarkably bouncy and funky with clever lyrics. Unfortunately for the band, the suicide theme was too touchy for MTV to air at first so it didn’t receive the amount of attention needed for the band’s popularity to finally catch on with the audience at that time.
Top 10 Songs From The dB’s article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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