For the past several weeks, an election has been unfolding without most of us realizing it. As it has each year since 2012, the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame has hosted a fan vote on its website, allowing regular people to have a say in who gets inducted in the (sort of but not really) venerable museum. While the fan vote doesn’t technically count for much — it’s tabulated as just one vote amid more than 1,000 ballots – all previous seven winners have eventually been inducted. After all, who wants to stand up against an angry mob of rock fans?
The current fan vote will conclude this Friday, January 10, and unless something dramatic happens, the winner will likely be the most commercially successful jamband of the 1990s, Dave Matthews Band.
Given the Rock Hall’s infamous pro-boomer bias, there is already concern that DMB actually won’t make it, in spite of the public decree. This institution does have a terrible track record with recognizing landmark bands from the ’80s and ’90s. (Not even Radiohead entered on the first ballot.) While DMB might as well be a classic rock band for anyone under the age of 35, the oldsters who run the Rock Hall might still view them as hippie upstarts.
But let’s set all that aside for now and ask the larger question: Should DMB make it? Do they deserve to be immortalized with the most famous names in popular music from the past 60 or so years?
Admittedly, I’ve never been a fan of DMB. As a music critic, I have written some harsh, borderline mean things about them. However, I am interested in legacy rock bands, as well as the jamband world. I understand the idea of DMB, even if the music leaves me cold. I get why they’re theoretically good, no matter my own opinions.
Therefore, I feel I am qualified to make both a pro and anti-DMB case for the Rock Hall. Please join me as I have a conversation with myself.
Pro-DMB: Before we begin, let me say something I think we’ll both agree with.
Anti-DMB: Let me guess: The Great Chicago Waste Dump of 2004 is Dave Matthews’ greatest release.
Pro-DMB: Be nice.
Pro-DMB: I think we can both agree that the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame is a deeply flawed institution. Nobody really knows what purpose it serves, and the number of great and important artists and bands who haven’t been inducted — who haven’t even come close to being inducted — is very long and exceedingly shameful.
Anti-DMB: You are a very smart person.
Pro-DMB: But we both know what the Rock Hall is and isn’t. It is not an institution that cares exclusively about artistic quality. What the Rock Hall is is an invention of the mainstream music industry. Which means that commercial performance matters at least as much as acclaim or even lasting influence on other artists. You can’t be a complete critical embarrassment — unless you’re Bon Jovi — but it’s ultimately more important for voters that you have had a quantifiable impact on the culture. And that is typically measured by album sales, streams, ticket sales, and so on.
Anti-DMB: I don’t like where this is going.
Pro-DMB: Of course not, because you know that by this metric — which clearly is the standard by which the Rock Hall operates — Dave Matthews Band is a slam dunk.
They are unquestionably one of the most popular bands of their era. Their first four albums — 1994’s Under The Table And Dreaming, 1996’s Crash, 1998’s Before These Crowded Streets, and 2001’s Everyday — each went at least triple platinum. The most successful of those records, the seven-times platinum Crash, spawned a top 20 single, “Crash Into Me,” that became one of the rock standards of the time. Since their ’90s prime, DMB has continued to do well on the charts, with their past seven albums dating back to Crash debuting at No. 1. Arguably more than Radiohead or Pearl Jam, DMB is the more enduringly popular rock band to emerge during the ’90s.
By the way, I’m not even counting the many multi-platinum live records that DMB has put out, which bolstered their rep as one of the most successful concert attractions of the ’90s and beyond. According to Pollstar — who named DMB its top touring act of the aughts in 2009 — the band grossed more than $530 million from the road that decade. DMB still tours regularly, and they continue to play arenas and stadiums. None of their peers have that kind of track record.
Anti-DMB: So you’re saying that DMB should make the Rock Hall because they’re ubiquitous? I hate them because they’re ubiquitous. I went to college in the late ’90s, when DMB was at their peak, and their first two albums were inescapable on campus. Let me tell you something: Constant exposure does this band no favors. They have so many elements that quickly become grating over the course of many listens: The violin, the smooth-as-a-sleeping-pill-coma sax, Matthews’ laughably hammy and bombastic vocals. Plus, the more you hear DMB’s songs, the plainer Matthews’ pedestrian songwriting seems. If I heard “Proudest Monkey” once in 1996 when I was stoned out of my mind in a dorm room, it might’ve registered as profound. But having “Proudest Monkey” shoved down my throat on multiple occasions made that primate metaphor seem pretty damn stupid.
Can I complain some more about Matthews’ vocals? It’s one thing to maul your own mediocre tunes. But I’ll never forgive him for absolutely destroying — not in a good way! — “All Along The Watchtower” at Farm Aid in 2010. You can’t defend this horsesh*t, dude.
Pro-DMB: You need to calm down. May I suggest the delectably mellow tunes of the world’s most famous South African-born singer-songwriter?
Since you’ve opened the door, let’s talk about the art. We can disagree about the merits of DMB’s records. But that boils down to a matter of taste. What can’t be disputed is that DMB emerged at a time when their kind of music was hardly considered standard for mainstream rock. They weren’t grunge, pop-punk, or nu-metal. They were … unclassifiable. Seriously, in what genre would you place DMB? They utilize elements of folk, rock, jazz, R&B, and jamband music without fitting comfortably in any one area. Regardless of whether you like DMB’s music, you can’t say that they’re derivative. They are wholly unique — and, yes, that also applies to Matthews’ vocals, which are an acquired taste. But, again, given that he regularly performs for tens of thousands of people, it’s safe to say that many music fans find his voice palatable.
So: DMB made original music. They built their following on the road, and wowed audiences with their peerless musicianship. And they’ve sustained a long, successful career as many of their peers have faded away. These are all indisputable facts. And they make DMB induction-worthy.
Anti-DMB: I’ll give you this: Carter Beauford is a sick drummer. I have heard the drum solo on “#36” from Live At Red Rocks 8.15.95, and it definitely did not put me to sleep.
Here’s an admittedly weird beef I have with DMB: They don’t have a lead instrumentalist. Typically with jambands, there is a hotshot guitar player who acts as the musical focal point. But DMB doesn’t have a hotshot guitar player. It’s possible that Beauford is the lead player, given that the drums are so prominent in DMB’s sound, both on record and live. Though that doesn’t seem to be actually true, since Beauford isn’t really the “star” of this band. Ultimately, DMB has no focal point. It’s just this tinny, treble-heavy mass of sound.
Even if DMB is original, what does that mean? Original can still suck. DMB proves that.
It’s true that DMB doesn’t conform to any one genre. But when you put all of those different influences together, it sounds like the boring-as-sh*t boomer music that grunge and punk was supposed to displace. DMB makes Sting sound like Slayer.
Pro-DMB: Can we try to end on another note of agreement?
Pro-DMB: If DMB doesn’t make the Rock Hall in spite of winning the fan vote, it will be because the voting bloc remains overstuffed with the very boomers you claim have unduly influenced this band. Bands from the ’80s and ’90s continue to be a hard sell with this organization. If a band as popular as DMB can’t get in, that doesn’t bode well for lesser-known but artistically vital acts from the era.
Anti-DMB: Agreed. Boomers blow. I might hate DMB, but our generation’s overblown arena bands deserve to be immortalized just as much as theirs.