Let’s start in late August, 1981, just before beginning my junior year of high school. Staten Island had a new college radio station, WSIA, and it was here that I heard an indescribable amount of music that would go on to shape and inform my tastes and ambitions to develop as a guitarist, singer and songwriter. I was absolutely addicted to WSIA, and while listening one afternoon, I heard this gripping, powerful, brilliant and instantly/insanely catchy song, “Bad Reputation” by a group called The dB’s. I wrote it down; the next day was going to be one of our planned record shopping days in Greenwich Village, so I made it a point to try and track down where this song came from. Sure enough, our first stop was Rocks In Your Head on Prince Street; I asked if they had The dB’s’ album (talk about being vague, yet sounding like you’re in the know!) and there it was – Stands For Decibels; an import from England on Albion Records. The person tending the cash register in the store mentioned in passing, as I was paying, “they’re from right here”, which was an interesting tidbit (we all know now how the band made their trek from the Winston-Salem area to New York City…).

I was floored by the pure, powerful, well-constructed and – at times – quirkiness of the songs contained within. “Bad Reputation” aside, this album was packed with goodness at a time when “abrasive” and “socio-political” was all I knew. This band delivered a smartness and humor that hadn’t been on the landscape for a while. I would go on to buy and devour their second album, Repercussion early in the next year (using it as one of my prime templates for my own ambitions/aspirations as a songwriter/guitarist) and remain a devotee of the group all these years later.

1989 saw both albums briefly available on CD through I.R.S. Records. And now, 43 years after its initial release, Propeller Sound Recordings has lovingly brought Stands For Decibels back to the market in vinyl, CD and digital – and remastered. This remastered edition brings a buoyance and punch to the music that the original didn’t have – and these songs deserved to be a sonic blast from out of the gate.

The opening track, “Black & White” could not have been a more apropos start – one of the all-time, unquestionable and lauded perfect pop masterpieces introduces The dB’s, loud and clear. Hooks; catchy; singalong instant memorability and infectious. It was that breath of fresh, crisp air that was sorely needed at a time when it was all dark and sometimes claustrophobic. The riff and chiming guitars swirl around a very taut rhythm section and (songwriter/guitarist/keyboardist) Peter Holsapple’s vocals are one of those all-time truly great performances – sweet and passionate and reaching unexpected heights of shouting from the gut during the “you don’t like it all” part, especially at the end. “Dynamite” (credited to Holder/Holsapple/Rigby/Stamey) is a bouncy, slightly weird, wryly “new wave”-y track that could have been part of the Peppermint Lounge playlist at the time (and it probably was); an injection of fun/playfulness that I wasn’t accustomed to. “The Fight” is another genuinely funny song, with the hysterical lyrical dialogue:

“…She said, “I’ll give you five minutes to get out of here”
I said, “I’ll give you five minutes just to change your mind”
She said, “Don’t hold your breath, it won’t happen this time…”

And the music fits the temperament of the storyline…

“Tearjerkin'” and “Cycles Per Second” are two Chris Stamey powerhouses, each showing his skill at the unsettled/herky-jerky/experimental like “Cycles…” and the pop mastery of “Tearjerkin'”. Holsapple’s “Bad Reputation” ranks up there in my pantheon of perfection – everything right about a pop song and my favorite. “Big Brown Eyes”, like “Black & White” is another beloved Holsapple track – clocking in at less than two minutes and packing a perfect pop punch in its sweetness and completeness. Pacing along is Stamey’s “I’m In Love” and the album closes with the hauntingly beautiful “Moving In Your Sleep”. An epic, and perfect way to close the proceedings out – gentle; like riding a calm wave. The CD edition includes the single “Judy”, which is another sparkling gem; a tasty pop confection that should have been a hit (at least on the European charts, since it was released there).

This album, like the follow-up, Repercussion, continues to loom large in my musical psyche and my heart. The dB’s have always been an important piece of my musical puzzle and like I said – even after 43 years, I can still marvel at what this album offers – the perfect balance between pop and avant-garde, wrapped in a melodic blanket on all fronts.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED – essential listening.

Stands For Decibels will be re-released on CD, album and digitally as of Friday, June, 7th, 2024.

Pre-Order: The dB’s – ‘Stands for deciBels [2024 Remaster]’ – Propeller Sound Recordings

The dB’s – Official Site (thedbs.com)

By Rob Ross

Rob Ross has been involved in the music industry for over 30 years - as guitarist/singer/songwriter with The Punch Line, freelance journalist, producer, manager and working for independent and major record labels. He resides in Staten Island, New York with his wife and cats; he works out a lot, reads voraciously, loves Big Star, traveling down South and his orange Gretsch. He's pretty groovy!

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