Joup Friday Album: The dB’s “Like This”

Db'sI remember 1984 like it was yesterday. I was already into music and I had an old Sony combo stereo system it had a radio, record player, eight track and I plugged into the auxiliary channel an after market Realistic tape deck I bought at garage sale. It was fifteen watts per channel, wow! I had just bought Van Halen’s record 1984; The Police album Synchronicity and I had all my parents’ records at my disposal. The Stones, the Kinks, the Beatles, the Band, Johnny Winter, Mountain, Neil Young, the Temptations, Sam and Dave, Marvin Gaye, Frank Sinatra, Dave Brubeck, Van Morrison and George Carlin (they had a few comedy records). I was amerced mostly with the older music not so much of the current top forty stuff like Madonna and Duran Duran. It’s funny I’m still kinda the same way. However along the line of musical immaturity or neglect I seemed to have missed a lot of groups that were of that era, the early to mid 1980s that were more underground so to speak. Groups like the Fleshtones, X, the Nerves, the Jam, or the dB’s were not in heavy rotation on the Chicago rock stations. WXRT a progressive Chicago rock station dabbled in this sort of music but was most likely featured on an over night, “stoner shift” radio program (I was not a midnight toker at that point, yet). Chicago rock and pop radio was all Journey, Def Lepoard, Toto, Pat Benatar, The Thompson Twins and other stuff like that. I was eight years old I did not know about the punk scene that was waning by then or the amazing power pop bands that were sprouting up in the wake of all the new wave bands. I was eight, it was 1984 and had no internet. The dB’s flew right by me.

The dB’s were a band I had often read about in alt-rock books and magazines but I never really checked them out. One name that kept popping up in relation to the dB’s was Chris Stamey. In 1977 Stamey was playing bass guitar with Alex Chilton of Big Star (guitar, vocals) and Richard Lloyd from Television (guitarist) along with Stamey’s band-mates collectively called the dB’s Will Rigby (drums) and Gene Holder (guitar). Chilton was in his transition period after Big Star split, he was out of his bubble in Memphis, recording music and living in New York City. Stamey, Rigby, Holder, Chilton and Lloyd recorded a few singles “I Thought You Wanted To Know” and “If And When”. Chris Stamey and the dB’s were credited for their contributions on the singles. Other than those singles being big collectors items the songs did not quite take off but not because of the quality of the work, the songs are amazingly arranged and the vocal harmonies are spot on. They were simply just indie records that had a limited pressings and distribution. They have become lost jems today but for them at that time it was just what they did. They made music.

The dB’s were all originally from Winston-Salem, North Carolina but formed the group officially in New York City in 1978 after working with Chilton and Lloyd. They added a new member Peter Holsapple (guitar, vocals) also an old buddy from North Carolina and they began writing songs and gigging around New York. The dB’s first record “Stands For Decibels”, on Albian Records was released in 1981 and was very well received by the music writers but sales of the album fell short. The Trouser Press (who I disagree with in this review) was one of the music magazines that loved the dB’s debut record but also stated that (Stamey, Holsapple) chief songwriters were drawing too much off of their 60’s influences as well as their connection to Alex Chilton’s former group Big Star. So the review in the Trouser Press was good and bad at the same time, what the hell do you do with that? Make another album, right? Fuck the critics. The 1982 dB’s record “Repercussion” was much like “Stands For Decibels” and the critics loved it and slammed it all over again and it sold very poorly, except in England (where their record label was based) the dB’s had sort of a cult following, mostly by dudes in bands and rock writers. I personally like the first two records but they are an acquired taste. You have heard the term applied to comedians “he or she is a comedians comedian”; well the dB’s had the same sort of appreciation from those in the music world. Stamey left the band around 1983 to peruse a solo career and to try his hand at being a producer. So the dB’s were now a three piece with Holsapple being chief songwriter, guitarist and lead vocalist, Holder was now on bass and keyboard. Holsapple was the more straightforward songwriter as apposed to Stamey who could be more experimental and now that Stamey was gone a new sound kind of emerged from the new batch of tunes the dB’s would record on their 1984 album “Like This”.

“Like This” is a funny title it says many things. Hey you like this? Or maybe more of…oh, like this? Or maybe it was like third time is the charm you will like this one? Whatever the case I do indeed like this album and it was the first dB’s record I got into and it really clicked the moment I heard it. The opening song “Love Is For Lovers” has a big guitar hook at the beginning but the song jumps right in after the drums start up. “Everyday is like summer vacation, Christmas and birthday all rolled into one day”, Holsapple sings of how powerful the feeling of love can be and that love is exclusively for lovers. It is a great catchy opening song.

“She Got Soul” is a swinging song about girls. “Every girl I know is not your average girl”, “she got soul but I don’t know, every girl I know has got some soul”. It is a strange song lyrically but it swings so hard I can’t get it out of my head. It’s a toe tapper! “Spitting Into The Wind”, track number three is a very clear tale of a relationship that is turning sour, a far cry from “Love Is For Lovers” he asks his woman “if you want a better man why do you have to make him out of me”? “Lonely Is As Lonely Does” has a beautiful chorus just wait it out. It is a slower song that is one part sonic time clock, one part story and three parts beautiful chorus. “Not Cool” one of the funnier songs on the record, has a really hillbilly telecaster sound to it, great guitar work and the subject matter is about how strange people act when a relationship is in flux. It simply states that the defendant character in the song does not deal with conflict very well and what was said and done in the whole debacle was simply “Not Cool”. The closing track on side A is “Amplifier” another funny song but with a more dark subject matter, suicide. The lyrics are blunt, “Danny went home and killed himself last night, she’d taken everything, and she’d taken everything”. “She took his cash, she took his checks, she took the soda pop there was nothing left, she took the love letters out of his desk”. “She took his car, she took his bike, she took away everything she thought he liked and what she couldn’t take she found a way to break”. The only thing she leaves untouched is a guitar amplifier. Fucking brilliant! It hits a little too close to home for me but I still laugh when I hear it. Poor Danny!

Side B opens with a song called “Spy In The House Of Love”. This song is a great get pumped up and move anthem when you are getting out of the shower and you are getting ready to go out for the night. It’s a catchy, danceable fun song that could have very easily been a single or the B-Side to “Love Is For Lovers”. The second song on side B is called “Rendezvous” which I believe has an Alex Chilton connection to it. It is about going to Memphis to meet the King. The back story is fuzzy I think I remember reading a story about Chris Stamey getting drunk with Alex Chilton in Memphis one night and eating Taco Bell on the hood of a car across the street from Graceland hoping to catch a glimpse of the King. I get the feeling the song was written around that story somehow but I’m not certain. It is not the strongest tune on the record but not a bad one either. The next song is called “New Gun In Town” and it is a straight forward rocker that kind of has a modern twist on an old western theme in which it states if you want me out of your town you will need to get the new gun in town because I killed the old one. It could also be perceived as a statement about the old guard stepping down to let the kids play now. “On The Battle Front” in my opinion is the weak link song on the record. I don’t hate it but it has a meandering quality to it and it almost sounds like they were trying too hard to make a serious song. You decide what it is but I just feel like the song kind of missed the mark of what it could have been. Who knows maybe they were running out of songs for the record and that one was shelved oldie they tried to revive? The Last song on the record is called “White Train” and it reflects the dB’s North Carolina roots. It is a country song about the white train that is supposed to take us all to heaven. It reminds us that the devil roams the earth and temptation is part of his bag of tricks. So beware but don’t be late for the “white train taking me to heaven, white train shining like a sword, the white train is the only good train so everybody get on board”.

The dB’s album “Like This” has become a favorite album of mine because it marked a turning point for me musically. I would have never known about it in 1984 when it was released for a few reasons. I was eight years old. I was listening to a lot classic rock and I would not be able to comprehend the excellent songwriting craft and musicianship that is demonstrated on “Like This” because one of my favorite songs at that time was “Big Balls” by AC/DC. Do you see the gap here? Also and very sadly Bearsville Records finally folded up and the distribution of the album was cut short. Bearsville Records and Studios were owned and run by Albert Grossman who was a mega figure in the music business from the mid 60’s and onward. He managed Bob Dylan, the Band, NRBQ, Paul Butterfield, Fog Hat, Felix Cavaliere (of the Rascals) and Todd Rundgren and that is for starters. However by the mid eighties the record business had changed and the indie labels were selling out to the majors just to recoup their losses and get little extra money to walk away with. Bearsville was no different and unfortunately it impacted the sales and distribution of the album “Like This” severely, and it also cast the dB’s into limbo for a few years. However Rhino Records had issued a dB’s compilation record in the 1994 called “Ride The Wild Tom Tom” (most material from the first two records) and deservingly it gave the band a second wind. Give the dB’s album “Like This” a good honest listen. I think you might find you will “Like This”.

Sonny Vitkauskas

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