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Twenty-five years ago, America's most polarizing jam band became a household name.
Dave Matthews Band released its breakthrough second album, "Crash," on April 30, 1996. The funky, freewheeling soft rockers had already gained fans on the college circuit with their 1994 major-label debut "Under the Table and Dreaming," which spawned set-list staples "Ants Marching" and "Jimi Thing."
"But in terms of real bona fide stardom, 'Crash' was the beginning of it," says music journalist Grayson Haver Currin, who's attended upward of 40 Dave Matthews Band shows as a fan. "It really elevated them to a band that my mom knew without me having to talk to her about them. She heard that song on the radio."
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"That song" was "Crash Into Me," Dave Matthews Band's lovelorn signature hit that reached No. 9 on Billboard's Adult Top 40 airplay chart. Nominated for a Grammy Award for best rock performance by a duo or group, "Crash Into Me" has been described as everything from "schlocky and largely irredeemable" by The New Yorker to "a deftly-paced, rain-soaked ballad" with "not great" lyrics by Stereogum.
Lead singer Dave Matthews told VH1 in 1999 that the song was written from the perspective of a Peeping Tom watching a girl through her bedroom window. "Who's got their claws in you my friend?" he softly sings in the first verse. "Into your heart I'll beat again / Sweet like candy to my soul."
"The track is transfixing with its melodic innocence, which juxtaposes nicely with kinda pervy lyrics about voyeurism," says Alex Robinson, an editor at Thrillist and self-proclaimed Dave Matthews Band historian. "It's lovely and weird and iconic."
On a more wholesome level, "Crash into Me" is about unrequited feelings and a high school crush.
"I don't think you can rightly talk about the song without saying it's a little creepy because it's certainly a little creepy – there's this weird entitlement aspect," Currin says. "But to me, it's a song about being a sexually frustrated teenager who has this object of desire and knows there's no way in hell that'll ever happen. So what do you got then? You've got dreams, you've got fantasy. And that's a pretty classic (theme).
"The sentiments the dude is writing about aren't that far removed from the sentiments that Nirvana or Pearl Jam were writing about," he adds. "It's just sung and played in a completely different language. It's a little more earnest and a little less angsty."
Like Dave Matthews Band, which topped LA Weekly's ranking of the worst bands of all time in 2012, "Crash Into Me" has become a bit of a punch line. In NBC sitcoms "The Office" and "Parks and Recreation," it's used to represent the sort of treacly, mediocre song that college bros and middle-aged white guys love, but everyone else rolls their eyes at. Even die-hard fans admit its music video – featuring Matthews and a bunch of women dancing in a field – is "really goofy," Currin says.
"I went to college in Florida and wore sandals to class," Robinson recalls. "I'm sure at some point somebody was like, 'I bet if you invited that stoner over, he'd play 'Crash Into Me' on his acoustic guitar but get the chords totally mixed up.' And they'd be right. The song's ubiquity made it low-hanging fruit for jokes like that."
"Crash Into Me" has had its share of marvelous (Stevie Nicks) and mortifying (Darren Criss and Steve Aoki) covers over the years. But its most memorable moment in pop culture was in 2017's "Lady Bird," Greta Gerwig's scintillating high school comedy set in early 2000s Sacramento, California. After Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) discovers her boyfriend kissing another boy, she and her best friend (Beanie Feldstein) sob and hold hands while listening to the song in a car.
"'Lady Bird' made me feel like a kid and made me think about why I spent a good chunk of my life saying, 'This song sucks,'" Currin says. "It's cheesy, but it encapsulates a feeling of your life pretty well. You're just a teenager who wants to have sex or a romantic relationship, and I think that's something most of us experience in our lives."
And in that respect, "Crash Into Me" has never gone out of style.
"I'm not sure the song ever lost its coolness," Robinson says. "At one point something is cool, then it's not, then it's cool again. Iconic songs like 'Crash Into Me' have this cyclical way of making their way back into relevance and our cultural consciousness when the time is right. It's like a cicada: It might take years, but it'll be back."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dave Matthews Band 'Crash into Me': Revisiting the 'creepy' hit at 25