The dB’s: Albums Ranked from Worst to Best

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.

#1 Repercussion


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.

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Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.


  1. 100% agree. At the beginning of the 80s they were very similar to REM. And they were better than latter. At the mid 80s their sound was more generic. As if they were looking for success, to conquer the crowds. But they didn’t.

    • I think Holsapple is great at hooks and melodies, but isn’t that charismatic or distinctive. I think heading towards generic was kind of inevitable after Stamey left.

  2. I don’t think I’ve ever heard them. I’m gonna have to listen to them later. I know the name and I even recognize all of their individual names cuz I think they all had solo albums. I’ve seen all those names a lot of times.

    • Will Rigby is pretty well-known for a drummer – his ex-wife, Amy Rigby, made an acclaimed album too. Stamey’s made a bunch of solo albums, but Holsapple only has one. He has been part of the Continental Drifters and made some duo albums with Stamey.

      • Oh yeah now I remember Amy Rigby and the album Housewife or something. I think the dBs were one of those bands that you only heard on college radio. Like The Replacements or the Violent Femmes and stuff like that. When I was really young I used to listen to the college radio station all the time. Well, if I happened to be living close enough to the college because it had a really weak signal that you could only get if you lived real close. But that’s where I used to hear all the stuff that you couldn’t hear on regular radio. They used to call it college rock sometimes cuz that’s the only place that played it. But a lot of good stuff though. That was even where I heard all the new electronic dance music from England in the early 90s. I never would have heard it anywhere else. And Britpop and stuff.

        • Diary of a Mod Housewife. No idea why all those bands get pushed out to college radio – kind of seems like a continuation of mid-1960s music like The Beatles, The Stones, and The Byrds, just with a few rougher edges. Lots of Holsapple songs sound radio friendly – like ‘Big Brown Eyes’ or ‘Amplifier’.

          • idk . Hardly any of those bands that were labeled power pop ever really became big. There were a few that broke through to mainstream radio, but it had to be something really spectacular that probably would have been a hit anyway. I remember hearing a few on regular radio, like Dwight Twilley Band or Greg Kihn Band’s The Breakup Song, Marshall Crenshaw, the Romantics. There’s probably more but I just don’t know what they are. But none of them were really as good as the seventies power pop bands like the Raspberries or Badfinger. Or maybe they just got overwhelmed by everything else that was going on in the 80s and they just got overlooked.

          • I wasn’t thinking about power pop as much as college rock as a whole. That first Marshall Crenshaw album is very strong IMO.

          • Yup – lots of great songs on that one. ‘You’re My Favourite Waste of Time’ couldn’t even break onto the tracklist.

      • I always wondered why the word decibel is abbreviated as dB. Wouldn’t Db make a little more sense at least? I mean after all, there’s no capital B in the middle of the word, so why capitalize it? I always thought that was totally weird. lol

  3. I had never heard of them. Based on my initial impression, which mostly stems from the “Like This” album, they sound nice. Unfortunately, except for “Love Is For Lovers”, all songs you highlighted aren’t available on Spotify in the U.S.

    • It’s weird they’re not on Spotify – thanks for listening to what was there. It is a different band with Stamey – nice is a good word to describe Holsapple’s stuff, but Stamey is a bit edgier and weirder

  4. Personally, I like their first two albums more than REM’s first. I know the first two albums well…but not the rest…only selected songs. I really want to listen to their 2012 album now.

    They stand out to me because like Big Star they were more than power-pop…you can tell they soaked up a lot of different influences. Great post Graham.

    • I think they’re maybe the most obscure band I’ve done a best-to-worst list for. Just never hit the big time.

  5. Like badfinger20, I prefer them to R.E.M. I have Repercussion, which is great, but because of limited distribution here in the states could never locate any other albums. “Power Pop” sums them up, I think: strong melodies, hooks, guitars. Are you familiar with the Spongetones or Van DeLecki’s? More superb Power Pop and similar to the dBs. Thanks for featuring this great “cult” band.

    • I’ve had a CD two-fer of Stands for Decibels and Repercussion for years, but I’ve had to wait for the digital age to check out the rest.

      I’ve never heard of Van DeLecki at all, and only know the Spongetones by name. Sounds like I should check out one of their early records?

      • The ones I have are Oh Yeah by the Spongetones and Letters from the Desk of… by the Van DeLecki’s. Both are quality Power Pop, but small labels, so they might be hard to find.

    • Thanks for listening – I think they’re the most niche band I’ve done a worst to best for, although I’ve owned their first two albums on CD for years.

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