If you've stopped in to listen to Lillywhite chat more about BTCS, know that I've got a story about the album over at Relix Magazine, too.
The podcast with Lillywhite is posted below. If you're here not only because of that, but because you also consider yourself a music lover across a variety of genres, I do think this podcast and its other episodes are right up your alley. If you could be so kind, subscribe to Records & Riffs in iTunes as well? Rate, review, do it real quick right off your phone and help this thing grow. Plus, I'll make DMB fans a deal: You get me to 100-plus rates + reviews, and I'll turn that Lillywhite Sessions podcast sooner than later. As in: much sooner.
As for Before These Crowded Streets, a few additional thoughts:
There are a handful of records we all have that have the power not only to transport us back to a certain time and place, but also grow with us as we get older. This record is one among the fan base that means so much, and it's a record that so many fans of the band have memories attached to it. I'm the same way. I remember small things about the record's release, like randomly deciding to go to my high school's computer lab with a couple of friends and bringing up Netscape to try to find out anything about the album a week or two before it came out. I remember seeing the tracklist and wondering what in the world these odd one-word song titles like "Pig" and "Spoon" would sound like.
I was just getting into the band in that head-over-heels way back in early 1998. A few days before the album came out, MTV aired a special to promote the record. I had no idea this was airing on television and serendipitously stumbled onto the show midway through the telecast.
I can trace the exact moment I was hooked forever with this record, and this band, because it came while watching the "10 Spot" special. I didn't know any of the Streets songs except for "Halloween," so I listened to every minute of the show intently. Then came this song with a chorus so catchy and uplifting I kept the melody in my head in the days after, before I could buy the record.
I bought the album at a Barnes & Noble a few days later. I didn't have a license, so I sat in my parents' 1994 Ford Aerostar (which could not play CDs in 1998, of course) and appraised the lyrics. I didn't remember any of the words to the new songs I'd heard on the "10 Spot" show, other than that chorus melody (still stuck in my head) that had the words "upside down" in it. So I combed through the liner notes. Oh, there it is! "Crush."
Once I got home, I carefully put the CD in our three-disc player and put on headphones. "The Last Stop" and "Crush" were my two favorites by far, but overall the record blew my teenage brain away. I had found my band. "Halloween" was the only song I didn't immediately like (and it would take me about 30 listens before coming around).
I didn't realize for a few weeks just how polarizing it was for the fan base and drive-by DMB fans. It's obviously aged for the better, and now it's considered their most vital contribution in the catalog. I get the sense the band knows this, but also knows it can never get back to this songwriting place and space. At least they hit these heights in the first place.
This 20-year occasion also prompted me to list off the album's tunes from strongest to weakest. Accounting for studio production technique and sonic quality, Dave's songwriting, and the band's musicianship + inventiveness, here’s how I rank the songs off BTCS:
- The Dreaming Tree
- The Stone
- Don’t Drink the Water
- Pantala Naga Pampa —> Rapunzel
- The Last Stop
It's fairly ridiculous that "Pig" is eighth on that list, but that speaks to how deep the album is.
OK, Let's get to Lillywhite.