The dB’s came from the same era as R.E.M., and featured a similarly jangly sound. While R.E.M. became one of the biggest bands in the world, The dB’s remained a fringe act with critical acclaim but few sales. Despite forming in 1978, they’ve only released five studio albums.
The band formed in New York, but all four members were originally from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Songwriters Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple played in the band Rittenhouse Square with another Winston-Salem musician Mitch Easter. Easter went on to form Let’s Active and produced R.E.M.’s early albums. Stamey and Easter later recorded an album as Sneakers, formed with the rhythm section of Will Rigby and Gene Holder. After Sneakers broke up, Stamey, Holsapple, Rigby, and Holder formed the dB’s.
The dB’s feature two songwriters who complement each other – the straightforward tunefulness of Peter Holsapple and the quirkiness of Chris Stamey. Drummer Will Rigby and bassist Gene Holder are a strong rhythm section – in particular Rigby is impressive. After The dB’s broke up initially in the late 1980s, Rigby played with Steve Earle while Holsapple was an auxiliary musician for R.E.M. and Hootie and the Blowfish.
The dB’s Albums Ranked
#5 The Sound of Music
Holsapple coped admirably with Stamey’s absence on Like This, but by 1987’s The Sound of Music the well was running dry. There are still power-pop delights to be found, like ‘Change With The Changing Times’ and ‘Better Place’. Problematically, one of the best tunes is an insincere country-tinged number, ‘Bonneville’. The band recorded demos for another 1980s album, but the sessions were scrapped, later unofficially released as Paris Avenue.
#4 Like This
Peter Holsapple copes well with the absence of Stamey on his first album as The dB’s’ only songwriter. There are catchy singles like ‘Love Is For Lovers’ and ‘A Spy In The House of Love’. Holsapple diversifies his songwriting, like the country hints of ‘White Train’, but the key is his consistent tunefulness. Weirdly, ‘Amplifier’ is repeated from Repercussion – I don’t really mind, as I think it’s The dB’s’ best song.
#3 Falling Off The Sky
Falling Off The Sky is the first dB’s album since 1982’s to feature the original lineup, although Stamey and Holsapple recorded Mavericks as a duo in 1991. It’s a surprisingly solid comeback after a 30 year absence – there’s the power-pop you’d expect like Stamey’s ‘Write Back’ and Holsapple’s ‘That Time Is Gone’. But there’s also new ground – Stamey’s dreamily psychedelic on ‘Collide-Ooo-Scope’ and Holsapple delivers gorgeous Americana on ‘She Won’t Drive In The Rain Anymore’.
#2 Stands for Decibels
The Stamey and Holsapple writing partnership arrived fully-formed on their debut. Tuneful Holsapple efforts like ‘Big Brown Eyes’ and ‘Moving In Your Sleep’ balance out Stamey’s quirkier material like ‘Espionage’ and ‘Black and White’. Stands for Decibels was released on the relatively obscure British label Albion Records. This probably limited its potential for commercial success, although the Pazz & Jop poll ranked it as the 26th best album of the year.
The dB’s peaked with their sophomore album, the cleverly titled Repercussion. Stamey’s material is more pop-oriented before – ‘Ask For Jill’ has one of the most enjoyable spoken sections of any song in pop music – “Hey, it’s Chris… what’s up? So I heard…” The horn section on opener ‘Living a Lie’ works well, while the prickly indignation of Stamey’s ‘Happenstance’ is impressive. Holsapple delivers ‘Amplifier’, where the funky rhythm section shine, while ‘Nothing Is Wrong’ is tuneful and dreamy.
Here’s a selection of dB’s highlights – unfortunately Falling Off The Sky doesn’t seem to be on Spotify.