September 27 – Under The Tables And Up The Charts

This day in 1994 was a big one for albums from multi-platinum American groups arriving. Not only did R.E.M. surprise all with their loud Monster album, but near the other end of the rock spectrum, Dave Matthews Band gave us their Under The Table And Dreaming. Both went on to sell over four million copies in the States alone. However, their trajectories were quite different.

R.E.M. were by then of course, a huge band coming off one of the decade’s biggest albums. Matthews on the other hand was basically just starting out. Monster debuted at #1 on the charts, Matthews took months to finally rise to #11.

By this time, Matthews was becoming well-known and had a loyal following due to a couple of years of touring with eclectic, long jam-style concerts. They were unusual for a couple of reasons. They were from Virginia and were bi-racial. More interesting was the lineup. Matthews himself was the singer and main songwriter, and he played acoustic guitar. They had a bass player (Steffan Lessard) and a drummer (Carter Beauford) like pretty much every other band, but instead of a couple more guitarists, they had LeRoi Moore on sax (and sometimes flutes) and a violinist, Boyd Tinsley. It gave them an unusual, folk-rock-Americana kind of sound that stood out at the time. They did have some electric guitars, courtesy Tim Reynolds, but he wasn’t considered a full member, or one would assume, essential for the sound.

They’d put out a live EP early in the year, which drew the attention of RCA who signed them on. Under the Table…was the resultant big-label debut. RCA were high on them, sending them to the well-regarded Bearsville Studios in upstate New York to make the record, with high-profile British producer Steve Lillywhite, who’d done magic with U2 early on in their career. It seemed a good formula. The 12 song album perhaps didn’t capture all of the band’s stage charisma or quirkiness (take for instance the song “34” which is an instrumental here but at times Matthews sings lyrics to when playing it live) but ran over an hour and greatly pleased their existing fans and made them a legion of new ones.

Although the singles didn’t sell in huge quantities – none made the top 40 – they got noticed and played on air. “What Would You Say?”, with a tasty little harmonica bit from John Popper of Blues Traveler (and Michael MacDonald’s voice in the background) made it to #5 on Mainstream Rock charts, and it, “Satellite” and “Ants Marching” all slipped into the Alternative Rock top 20. All three remain among his most popular songs and live highlights. Overall the album rose to #11, and went 6X platinum, setting the stage for a later run of seven-straight #1 studio albums they’d launch starting in 1998.

Fans love them and follow them with a loyalty that might be as close to that of the Grateful Dead’s Deadheads or Jimmy Buffett’s Parrotheads. But the crowds might not be stacked with critics. Under the Table and Dreaming didn’t generate a huge number of ace reviews. The Village Voice gave it a “C+” but thought it “as bland as a tofu sandwich.” Entertainment Weekly gave it the same grade, saying the “fancy guitar-picking and Latin percussion prove these bi-racial Virginian rockers have chops” but called the music “a formless brand of laid-back eclecticism.” Later on, allmusic would offer an opposing viewpoint, rating it 4.5-stars, Matthews’ best of the decade. They thought songs like “Ants Marching” so they “have a flair for catchy hooks” and praised the producer. “Lillywhite…manages to rein in the group’s tendency to meander.”

Matthews is a long-time director of Farm Aid and his band played their latest fund-raising show this past weekend, and is on the road this fall.

24 thoughts on “September 27 – Under The Tables And Up The Charts

    1. yeah, from what I know about Matthews he’s a good person. His music I like in smallish doses… I don’t know that I personally would want to sit and listen to a full album (except maybe a greatest hits) but many people do.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. badfinger20 (Max)

    The Grateful Dead is a good comparison…I like some of his stuff but for the most part…his music…it’s hit or miss…but I do really like some of his stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. same here. I clearly remember though a conversation with a couple of musicians I knew – professional but bar circuit guy and girl in Ontario – and they were talking about how much they and most musicians they knew loved Matthews because of his skill and his quirky little random instrumental bits (which are probably what turn many off the songs) that kind of harken to jazz.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. they got a little radio play in Canada back then (“Ants Marching” especially) but hadn’t yet begun selling well there, so they were only vaguely on my “radar” at that time.


      1. well now I’m going to have to go and google the EP to have a look see! Actually the cover on “Under the Table…” is quite good too… one of the more fun things I did photographically back then was go to a big fair in the evening and try to get some good shots of the rides at night, all lit up and in motion.


      2. 7D…. Minolta Maxxum, or Canon EOS? I’ve always been a big Canon fan for SLRs… I also liked Ricoh way back in the day (early 90s) when I first started working in a camera shop. They were an under-rated brand back then, seem to have largely disappeared in the digital age.


      3. Canon EOS 7Dii. I honestly didn’t know there was a Minolta of the same name lol. Before this I had (well, I still have but the shutter is done) a Canon 40D. My first camera (which I also still have) is a Yashica 35mm I used for the photojournalism component of my college journalism program. I figure my next will be mirrorless but that’s way down the road when this 7Dii eventually craps out. Cool you used to (or still do?) work in a camera shoppe!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. no…I worked in two for a combined 18 years, first in a mall 1-hour photo lab (which sold some point & shoot cameras) for about 7 then in a pro shop and lab for the rest of the time, which was very interesting. But left in ’08 when that store’s customer base was quickly eroding and they cut back… a lot of their work came from pro wedding/kids sports/corporate photographers and when digital took over, that meant a whole lot less film coming in and more of them doing stuff in house.
        Minolta might had a line of Maxxums with single numbers like 5 and 7, and also ones in the 1000s…. kind of confusing. I never liked Minolta much but the owner of the second store did .


      5. That’s cool, working in photography would be fun (I imagine – who knows, maybe it sucked, although you stayed a long time so maybe it didn’t). Digital really did change things.

        This Can 7Dii is a beast. Weather-sealed, built like a brick shithouse, and takes good enough for me pictures. Way more features than I’ll ever use.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. it was interesting, some days fun but there was also an aspect where for a few years I didn’t feel like taking any pictures myself because it was so much a part of my daily routine. But met some great people and learned cool skills .
        Yep, the pro EOS’ are fantastic. I use some version of the Rebel these days, hope to upgrade some lenses soon… right now the generic 18-55 and 75-300 tele … decent but not top rate. Would like to get a good portrait lens – 60mm or 85 – and a sharper, slightly faster zoom . Back when I was using film SLRs, usually used Canon but I think the best quality lens I had was a Tamron tele zoom for it.


      7. I totally get not wanting to do it anymore. Exactly why I didn’t go into music at college. I didn’t want to kill the magic by seeing how the sausage gets made every day.

        Look at the 50 f1.4. Seriously, it’s a killer. The 50 f1.8 is plastic fantastic but also much cheaper. The 50 f1.2 is the goal but holy expensive, Batman. But the 50 f1.4 is just an incredible all-rounder and great for portraits. I love love love it.

        Liked by 1 person

      8. yeah, that’s got good reviews and on a Rebel it would convert to about an 80mm equivalent (in 35mm film terms) which would be great for portraiture etc.


      9. well, I do remember when the 50mm was THE lens that SLRs came with… generally around 1.8s but if you had the money, you’d go 1.4. It was the “standard lens” on first two or three SLRs I had.


      10. Yes! Exactly! I still says it’s an essential. It’s my main lens unless I know we’re gonna be outside and need to bring things closer.

        Another thing I love about the 1.4: it gives the most beautiful bokeh.

        Liked by 1 person

      11. oh yeah, that’s the big advantage of those fast lenses. If I had lots of money, I’d be buying like 300mm f2.8s and 60mm 1.4s just to get that shallow depth of field.


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