10 Best Dave Matthews Band Songs
Unlike so many of their jam-band peers, going all the way back to ’60s acid-heads to ’00s revivalists, the Dave Matthews Band know the value of song. Many of their numbers find new lives onstage, where the group’s celebrated interplay thrives in places that could never be fully explored in the studio. But many of them work on record too, riding a solid groove through various twists and turns that take even more off-course trips in concert. Matthews rarely forgets that it all starts with songs — their melodies, their hooks and their grooves. Our list of the 10 Best Dave Matthews Band Songs features plenty of each.
‘Before These Crowded Streets,’ the group’s third album, may be its most definitive (three of its tracks make our list of the 10 Best Dave Matthews Band Songs). Working a balance of stage-ready jams and groove-focused highlights, the record peaks when the music flows naturally. ‘Rapunzel’ includes one of the album’s easiest grooves — and a perfect setup for onstage exploration.
‘The Space Between’
One of Matthews’ loveliest melodies leads this first single from the 2001 album ‘Everyday,’ which reflected a few changes. Longtime producer Steve Lillywhite — who was working on another album with the band before it was scrapped — was replaced by Glen Ballard, who gave the record a glossy coat. It’s not always an easy fit, but ‘The Space Between’ stands out.
‘Two Step’ didn’t make much of a presence at radio when it was released as the third single from ‘Crash,’ but — like so many tracks on our list of the 10 Best Dave Matthews Band Songs — it’s become a popular concert jam, often extended way beyond its six-minute studio length onstage. It’s pretty much made for jamming.
This ballad from the group’s debut album showed that they could do more than just throw around complicated time signatures in a jam setting — they could also throw around complicated time signatures in slow songs too. Like many cuts on our list of the 10 Best Dave Matthews Band Songs, ‘Satellite’ remains a staple of the group’s celebrated live shows.
This love song from the group’s third album, and one of their best, stretches out for more than eight minutes, which gives Matthews and the band plenty of time and room to flex their musical muscles. The song takes its time building to the liberating rush of the final couple minutes, but the payoff is well worth the wait.
This popular cut from the group’s second album in a way sums up its entire musical aesthetic. Built around a tricky drum pattern that makes it a concert favorite, ‘Tripping Billies’ features one of the Dave Matthews Band’s slipperiest grooves, which almost seems like it’s lost control near the end of the song before falling back into place.
‘Don’t Drink the Water’
The first single from the band’s third album is darker and moodier than what fans were used to. It also takes on a political tone that many of the group’s earlier songs, especially those released to radio, eschewed, But ‘Don’t Drink the Water’ earns its place among Matthews’ all-time greats. The sinister vibe shows a whole other side of the band.
‘What Would You Say’
The band’s mix of radio-friendly melodies and stage-bound jams was already firmly in place on their debut single. They’d open up more on later recordings and let some much-needed air into the breathing space between the grooves. But they’re tight and focused on ‘What Would You Say,’ slipping in and out of the rhythm with slippery ease.
‘Crash Into Me’
Matthews’ best ballad and most popular songs is pretty creepy, no matter which angle you view it from. Still, it features one of his all-time greatest melodies and a soft, slightly haunted vocal by the frontman. ‘Crash Into Me’ is a love song at its core, and Matthews sings it like one. But there’s that malicious undercurrent flowing beneath it all. Which takes it to a whole other level.
Matthews has gotten better over the years at crafting his music for record. But at first the songs were mostly vessels for his group’s onstage blossoming. They didn’t come to life or reveal their full intentions (or potential) until they were played live. ‘Ants Marching’ features the earliest balance of that tricky mix. It’s a concert showcase, but it also works on record as a song spilling with life and energy. This is the Dave Matthews Band at their very best.