A small but very vocal group of critics think Dave Matthews Band is one of the worst things to ever happen to music. Millions upon millions of fans disagree. Since the band emerged from the 1990s jam movement, they’ve become one of the biggest acts on the planet, selling over 38 million records and a whopping 20 million concert tickets. The reason for their popularity is simple enough – they make great music. They’re also consummate live performers, never boring their audience by playing the same song the same way twice. Here, we take a deep dive into their incredible career as we rank the 20 best Dave Matthews Band songs of all time.
20. Stay (Wasting Time)
Dave Matthews Band’s third album, Before These Crowded Streets, was a major hit, taking the band to No.1 on the Billboard 200 and ending the “Titanic” soundtrack’s 16-week stranglehold on the top spot. For all that, it’s not without its critics, who’ve claimed the album falls substantially short of expectations. But even critics can’t call Stay anything other than an awesome song. Released as the second single off of the album, it peaked at No. 8 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart and No. 20 on the Adult 40.
19. Best of What’s Around
Dave Matthews Band couldn’t have picked a better way to introduce their debut album than its opening track, Best of What’s Around. With a strong sax, understated guitar, and terrific vocals, it’s a gorgeous tune, with just the right blend of melancholy and positivity to keep things interesting.
As Thrillist writes, a lot of the old favorites from Dave Matthews Band’s debut, Under the Table and Dreaming, have become live warhorses over the years. Warehouse is one of them. An adventurous, ambitious song that bounces effortlessly (if slightly disorientingly) between moods and styles, it’s been a highlight of almost every live show the band has ever played, becoming a firm fan favorite in the process.
17. Too Much
As Stereo Gum says, when Dave Matthews gets a little carried away with his vocals, he can sometimes sound like Kermit The Frog cracking open a second bottle of whiskey. Which is exactly what happens on Too Much. But while it might be one of the goofiest songs in the band’s catalog, it’s also great… and much, much too fun to be left off our list.
16. The Last Stop
It’s almost impossible to pick the best song from Before These Crowded Streets, but if push came to shove, The Last Stop would be in with a very good chance. Boyd Tinsley’s menacing violin sets the tone, with Béla Fleck’s banjo providing just enough light relief to stop the song from falling into utter despondency. It’s bleak, but brilliant.
The titular track from the 2001 album Everyday is the kind of song that’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face no matter how tough your day has been. It’s a little more streamlined and a little less eccentric than their earlier efforts, but it’s also irresistibly joyful. We all need to be uplifted from time to time, and this is exactly the kind of song that will do just that. Since hitting the No. 8 spot on the Adult Top 40 chart, it’s become a staple at the band’s live performances
14. Time Bomb
On 2009’s Big Whiskey And The GrooGrux King, Dave Matthews Band attempted to get back to the sound of their 90s hayday. The fact that they had Tim Reynolds back on guitar after 10 years helped a lot, as did the inclusion of the lovely Time Bomb. A slow-burning classic, it starts off at a simmer before rapidly reaching boiling point. Although the whole band does a fine job, Matthews’ bombastic vocal performance deserves a mention all of its own. The album went on to debut at No.1 on the Billboard 200 and pick up two Grammy nominations. Not all of the credit for that lies with Time Bomb, but it still deserves a hearty amount of praise.
Dave Matthews Band’s multi-million selling, six-time platinum debut album gave us a heap of fine songs, not least the wonderful Satellite. Combining intricate arrangements with restrained performances, it’s a masterful demonstration of the band’s talents, both as individuals and as a collective. Released in 1995 as the final single from Under The Table And Dreaming, it peaked at No.18 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart and No. 55 on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s since been covered by several artists, including Josh Groban and Mika, although so far, the original still has the edge.
12. The Stone
Very few songs, either in Dave Matthews Band’s catalog or anyone else’s, manage to switch things up quite so well between verse and chorus as The Stone. The lyrics are so obtuse, it’s doubtful even Matthews knows what they’re about, but ultimately, when the riffs are this spectacular, the melody is this nagging, and the orchestrations are this lush, it doesn’t really matter anyway. Since its inclusion on the 1998 album Before These Crowded Streets, it’s been featured on no end of live albums, including The Gorge (Special Edition), Warehouse 5 Vol. 2, and Weekend on the Rocks.
11. Jimi Thing
As Louder Sound notes, Warren Haynes, Trey Anastasio and Dickey Betts have all joined Matthews on stage to flesh out Jimi Thing over the years, but the studio version takes some beating. The song addresses the dangers of using substances as coping mechanisms – hence the Jimi Hendrix allusions and hence lines like “Staring up at the ceiling/You take a drink sit back relax/Smoke my mind make me feel/Better for a small time.” Released as the second single from Under the Table and Dreaming, it barely left an impression on the charts. It’s redeemed itself in the years since though, becoming one of the band’s most popular songs at concerts.
Bartender was originally intended for The Lillywhite Session, but when the album got dropped, it ended up featuring on the 2002 album Busted instead. As SongFacts explains, the song finds Matthews singing about seeking redemption at a bar in heaven where God is the bartender. Ironically enough, Matthews once served as a bartender at Miller’s in Charlottesville, Virginia – although whether anyone ever asked him for absolution is a question only he can answer.
A firm favorite with fans, JTR proves once and for all what a great bunch of musicians Dave Matthews Band are. Every part is executed perfectly, with enough space given to each player to let them shine. The intro is particularly splendid, although in fairness, not a single second of the song is dead air. Originally cut for the unreleased album, The Lillywhite Session, it’s since found a new lease of life on numerous live albums, including Live at Folsom Field, Boulder, Colorado, Live Trax Vol. 3, Live Trax Vol. 11, Live Trax Vol. 16, Live Trax Vol. 31, and Live Trax Vol. 45.
8. Two Step
When Dave Matthews Band locks and loads on Two Step on stage, there’s nothing quite like it. What took six minutes to wrap in the studio can take them over 30 minutes to finish on stage. If it was a lesser song, that might be a snoozefest. Thanks to the utterly compelling blend of sax, guitar, and drums, not to mention an outstanding lyrical turn from Matthews and an equally mindblowing vocal, it’s anything but. Originally released as the fourth single from Crash, it’s since been included on a bunch of live albums, including Live at Red Rocks 8.15.95, The Best of What’s Around Vol. 1, and The Central Park Concert.
7. Typical Situation
If you ever had any reason to doubt Dave Matthews’ ability to count to 10, Typical Situation should put you right. Written by Matthews several years before fame came a-knocking, its inclusion on the band’s debut studio album Under the Table and Dreaming is just one of the reasons the album has sold millions of albums and been certified platinum a dazzling six times.
6. Seek Up
A frequent set opener at live shows, Seek Up features some of Matthews’ finest lyrics, along with a superbly-paced sax intro that builds into a massive climax. Although never released as a single, it’s become one of the band’s most popular songs since its inclusion on their 1993 album, Remember Two Things (which, coincidentally, is the only album to bill the band as “The Dave Matthews Band.”)
5. Ants Marching
If you ever get to see Dave Matthews Band live, there’s a good chance Ants Marching will be on the setlist. Since it was first released as the second single from Under the Table and Dreaming, it’s become one of their most popular songs – and for very good reason. Often referred to by Matthews as “our anthem,” it’s an insanely catchy song that, in a live setting, allows each band member to step up to the spotlight.
4. Don’t Drink The Water
It’s rare for Dave Matthews Band to get overtly political, but based on how good Don’t Drink The Water is, they should think about trying it more often. Taken from the 1998 album Before These Crowded Streets, it deals a mighty blow at apartheid in South Africa and the injustices suffered by Native Americans. Alanis Morissette is on hand to provide extra help on the vocals. Released as the album’s first single, it peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart and No. 19 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.
Described by mattnorlander.com as a grand slam of a song, Crush has it all: outstanding arrangments, first-rate production, masterful lyrics, and one of Dave Matthews Band’s sweetest melodies. After Stefan Lessard’s opening bass riff sets expectations high, the song doesn’t falter once over the full 8 minutes. Some people might deride it as sentimental, but the raw emotion only makes it even more sublime. Released as the third single from the album Before These Crowded Streets, it peaked at No. 11 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart, No. 75 on the Billboard Hot 100, and No. 20 on the Adult Top 40.
2. Crash Into Me
Crash is Dave Matthews Band’s biggest-selling album to date. Given the strength of tracks like Crash Into Me, you can understand why. Released as the third single from the album, it’s a deeply disturbing account of voyeurism told from the voyeur’s perspective. The stark contrast between the unsettling premise and the uplifting melody is masterful, and fully explains its nomination for a Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals at the 1998 Grammy Awards.
In at No. 1 on our list of the best Dave Matthews Band songs of all time is #41. The title is pretty self-explanatory (it was the 41st song Dave Matthews Band had ever written) while the lyrics, albeit in an obscure, roundabout way, serve as an answer to a lawsuit filed by Ross Hoffman, a former associate and manager of the band, over copyright issues. Live, the band routinely stretch it to over 32 minutes in length, but on the 1996 studio album Crash, they restrict it to a neat 6:39 minutes. Poignant, powerful, and impeccably executed, it captures everything there is to love about Dave Matthews Band in a nutshell.
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