Listen to this track by power-pop freedom fighters the dBs (stands for decibels, kids). It’s ‘Feel Alright’, a latter day gem , from the band’s 1987’s The Sound of Music album. This was the band working at less than full steam without founding member and key songwriter Chris Stamey. Yet, the joy in this song cuts through the trouble this band was in at the time.
Losing a member for most bands is like losing a limb. And losing a songwriter is like losing an organ. By 1987, The dBs had lost both when Chris Stamey left the band by 1984. Also around this time, the band’s record label went out of business, which killed what little momentum they had of promoting their Like This record, their first as a trio.
So, with co-songwriter Peter Holsapple now defacto leader, the dBs had their work cut out for them. The success they’d had by the early 80s with their best known record, Stands For Decibels in 1981, was still not enough to get them to mainstream radio.
In some ways, the band plays it safe with this song, and in a wider degree on the album on which it appears. And yet, to me that power pop sound has a certain universal appeal that would have been a path worth pursuing. Even without Stamey’s influence, this song shines with pop optimism and rock attack.
Yet, power pop’s a tough row to hoe, there being so many examples of great bands taking their cues from early ones like The Raspberries, Badfinger, and Big Star (Stamey actually played bass with Alex Chilton in 1977), who in many ways shared those older bands’ fates. This of course means that they were championed by the critics (like Robert Christgau in the dBs case), and largely ignored by the record-buying public. This record was their last ditch attempt, which ended with the band fragmented, and two albums of unreleased material (Ride The Wild Tom Tom in 1993, and Paris Avenue in 1994) being the last under the dBs name.
The members each had solo pursuits, mostly as session men with sporadic solo and duo outings (Stamey and Holsapple’s Mavericks record in 1991, for instance), with Stamey being the most high profile as a record producer (Whiskeytown, Le Tigre). But, in 2005 at the time of Hurricane Katrina, the band reunited, releasing a version of ‘What Becomes of the Brokenhearted’ as a fundraiser for the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund.
Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple released a record hERE and nOW in 2009.
For more information about the dBs, check out thedbsonline.net
And also, check out holsapplestamey.com for Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple news and releases, too.