My brother is a junior in college, at the age when passion naturally flows into debates about which band is the greatest ever, speculations on eschatology, and the like. He's a connoisseur of contemporary music, and puts Radiohead at the top of the pile. I have been since adolescence and remain today a dmb votary, so when he baited me by asserting that Radiohead is the better band, I bit. I asked, "Who's going to be remembered a generation from now?"
His arguments for Radiohead: The songwriting is cohesive and credited to all five members (dmb's is mostly to the band's eponymous lead singer), band membership has been stable for three decades (dmb saxophonist Leroi Moore died in '08 and there have been both previous and subsequent member acquisitions and resignations), the band is album-focused and albums are what last through the years (roughly half of dmb's song library has never been recorded in studio), they show up on many contemporary lists of greatest active bands (dmb never does), they've pushed the envelope musically more than just about any other major act has over the last couple of decades, and they don't make anything of suboptimal quality (dmb has Stand Up).
Mine: The top grossing and ticket selling musical act of the 2000s. Beat Kenny Chesney, Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, Celine Dion, Madonna, Elton John, the Eagles, Jimmy Buffet, and anyone else you can think of (no Radiohead here--this is the majors, not the farm league). If that's not enough, they've had the most consecutive #1 Billboard album debuts in the chart's history, ahead of the likes of Metallica, Eminem, Madonna, and U2. They've got Radiohead on the diversity front--four black guys (including Rashawn Ross) and a native African beats a bunch of white guys from England. They've got them on musical diversity as well--mainstreaming the fiddle, horns, saxophones, and soul vocals isn't an easy task. Dmb's appeal is wider--women listen (they don't really to Radiohead) and the age range is wider. When it comes to improvisation, there's really no contest:
Another factor, however, that suggests posterity might favor Radiohead is that music critics adore them while having never embraced dmb (Jim DeRogatis' 1998 review in Rolling Stone magazine epitomizing this) for a host of speculative reasons: The band's diversity integrates in the wrong direction--it features black guys doing 'white' things (playing instruments but not singing) and draws overwhelmingly white crowds who are, contrary to uninterested conventional belief (that pegs them as hippies), primarily frat boy yuppie types who grew into accountants and financial advisers; Dave's voice is an acquired taste; the music isn't tight enough to fit the three-minute-ditty template and, at least from afar, the atmosphere feels too much like the one the Grateful Dead inhabited a generation before; and the focus is on making stuff that is euphonious rather than novel, experimental, or danceable.
Since I've lost all but those who happen to share my enjoyment of dmb, a suggestion for a group that rumor and speculation suggest might be on another precipice--bring to studio the golden stuff that has never found its way into the studio (loosely including RTT). How about this for a prospective album (produced by Lillywhite, without negotiability)?
Granny (opening lines are perfect to open an album)
Idea of You
Sweet Up and Down
#40 (the first nine being something of a story of the initial meetup that turned into a lifelong relationship)
Toy Soldiers (these two because they're poetically great)
Blue Water Baboon Farm (fits the same mold as Bartender, Spoon, Proudest Monkey, and Drunken Soldier as album sendoffs)