Image via WikipediaRaise your hand if you knew of and loved any of the following bands: Flat Duo Jets? The Pressure Boys? Southern Culture on the Skids? The X-Teens? The Connells? Let's Active?
If these band names brought a smile to your face and memories of a gloriously jangly, irresistibly catchy, slightly off-kilter pop sound to your mind, then you, my friend, have known the joys of being immersed in the "Chapel Hill" sound. In many ways the lesser-known sibling to the Athens, GA sound made famous by bands like The B-52's, R.E.M. and the like, the Chapel Hill sound burst forth from North Carolina in the 1980s and swept across college radio in a wave of pop-based delight. For a brief period, it seemed as though anyone who lived in or moved to North Carolina was capable of picking up a guitar and making fantastic records. And, just as the band Pylon had been the initial model that all of the Athens bands tried to emulate in one way or another, so too did the Chapel Hill scene have its "blueprint band".
Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple formed The dB's way back in 1978. Their first single ("(I Thought) You Wanted to Know", credited to "Chris Stamey and The dB's") was released in the fall of that year, and quickly defined the band's sound: ringing guitars, upbeat tempos despite downbeat lyrics, and tight, Beatle-esque arrangements. They quickly became darlings of music critics everywhere on the strength of two solid albums, 1981's Stands for Decibels and 1982's Repercussion. These two albums (reissued on one CD in 2001) are must-haves for fans of power pop; not a bad song can be found on either.
Stamey left the band the following year, but Holsapple and the rest of the crew carried on. 1984's Like This continued in a similar vein, although a tinge of country began to creep into the mix and a clunker or two made the final cut. The final dB's album, 1987's The Sound of Music, has its moments but is overall fairly forgettable. By that time, the bands that worshipped at the altar of The dB's had passed them, and their time was done.
An excellent compilation of alternate takes and demo recordings, Ride the Wild Tom-Tom, was put together by Rhino Records in 1993, and is a worthwhile starting point for those wishing to take their first steps into the wonderful world of The dB's. In the meantime, here's this week's New Wave for the New Week entry, the seldom-seen video for the single "Neverland" (1982). A perfect distillation of what made The dB's so wonderful, it may be the most joy-filled break-up song you'll ever hear!