Thursday, September 17, 2009

September 17: The Minutemen, "Double Nickels On The Dime"

Artist: The Minutemen
Album: Double Nickels On The Dime
Year: 1984
Label: SST

Many bands attempt to create music where there is not a moment wasted, and the music is the quickest route to "the point" possible. While many bands make a very noble effort in this pursuit, they are all, at best, striving for second place in this competition. This is because, when it comes down to it, they are all chasing the one band that truly eliminates any and all unnecessary elements from their music, the accurately named, California based visionaries known as The Minutemen. With few of their songs clocking in at over two minutes, the traditional "verse chorus verse" method, or any other similar musical formations simply did not apply to this band who can be seen as an influence on bands from Red Hot Chili Peppers to Jane's Addiction to Fugazi among countless others. With powerful, concise musical arrangements, and wire lyrical themes, there has simply never been another band that even remotely resembles the superb music of The Minutemen. Truly a band that had a ton of creativity to release, the band delivered five EP's and five LP's over a period of just over five years. The fact that, with all of these releases, there is not a band song to be found, serves as a testament to the phenomenal talent of the three band members, and is one of the key reasons why they remain one of the most unique and highly respected bands in history. Perhaps due to friendly rivalry, perhaps due to a change behind the mixing console, standing high above the others as The Minutemen's greatest musical achievement is their 1984 double LP, the magnificent and iconic Double Nickels On The Dime.

Up until this point, SST "house" producer, Spot, had recorded all of The Minuemen's LP's, EP's and singles. After recording a few compilation tracks with former Blue Cheer keyboardist, Ethan James, the band realized there was a very good chemistry, and inisisted that he produce their next album. The resulting session in November of 1983 yielded a solid albums' worth of songs, but when the band heard that labelmates Hüsker Dü were releasing a double album, they became instantly inspired and re-entered the studio with nearly two dozen more songs in April of 1984. With four sides to pick songs for, the three band members "drew straws" as they'd decided to let each band member have their own "side" and choose the songs for that side. On the original double vinyl, the sides are named "Side D," "Side Mike," "Side George," and the final side, which is basically all of the "left over" songs, is titled "Side Chaff." It has been said that this decision for each band member to get their own side was, in fact, inspired by the similar move by Pink Floyd on their Ummugamma album. The album title itself is also a reference to another musician, as it is a slightly veiled response to Sammy Hagar's song, "I Can't Drive 55." As the U.S. government had just proposed making the national highway speed limit 55 miles per hour, Hagar wrote his defiant, while The Minutemen use the title (double nickels = fifty five, dime = Highway 10) for an ironic implication of conservative behavior. What is found inside Double Nickels On The Dime is some of the most amazingly original music ever, and the trio proves that they are easily some of the most talented musicians in history.

Playing a brilliant combination of punk, jazz, funk, and progressive rock, there as truly never been another band that sounded quite like The Minutemen. With compositions that are completely void of filler, standard progressions, and rarely featuring a solo of any type, the trio takes the best parts of the music they love, and boil it down to a stunning, highly concentrated musical assault. Each of the three band members are equally talented, and it is quite clear that the chemistry between them is largely unparalleled across the rest of music history. Guitarist D. Boon remains one of the must underrated players in history, and his tone and musicianship are truly fantastic. At times his sound, in both tone and tempo resembles that of the guitar on The Pop Group's Y album, as Boon was notorious for adjusting his amplifier so that only the treble was audible. Boon's childhood friend, and Minutemen bassist, Mike Watt is easily one of the most important and influential musicians of all time. Flawlessly infusing funk into the punk sound of the bands' music, Watt has been cited as the primary influence of many of the greatest players after him. Truth be told, Red Hot Chili Peppers dedicated their masterpiece, Blood Sugar Sex Magik to Watt and the impact he had on their sound. Rounding out the band, drummer George Hurley is similarly spectacular on every single song. Whether it is a march, a swing, or all out chaos, Hurley is absolutely fantastic on every song, in every style, and it is his ability to adapt that allows the group to have such stunning musical diversity. Double Nickels On The Dime features a myriad of different musical approaches, yet the pure talent within the three group members enables them to execute each style with extraordinary results.

Whether they were more tongue-in-cheek commentaries, or pointed, intelligent political and social observations, the lyrics of The Minutemen is often just as diverse as their musical arrangements. Along with his amazing guitar playing, D. Boon also handles nearly all of the vocals for The Minutemen. With his simple, relaxed, spoken cadence, every song of The Minutemen is far more about "what" he is saying as opposed to the manner in which he delivers the vocals. This is not to say that Boon's approach is not important or substandard; it's quite the opposite, as D. Boon delivers each lyric absolutely perfectly. With a clear understanding of how to best convey the theme and emotion of the song, Boon punches and punctuates the lyrics brilliantly, and his performances are often truly stunning. It is honestly impossible to understate the amount of impact that The Minutemen have had on the music after them, and simply grazing the surface of Double Nickels On The Dime gives a number of clear and undeniably examples. Case in point, one of the most easily identifiable songs found on Double Nickels On The Dime is "Corona," which most EmpTV views will recognize as the theme music to the show Jackass. Later on the album, on the song, "History Lesson Part II, D. Boon's speaks the line, "...punk rock saved our lives..." and most people will immediately recall it as the line that opens Sublime's 40oz To Freedom album. The same song also features one of the most iconic lines ever written anywhere in music history, as the song opens, "...our band could be your life..." Though there are countless other examples throughout Double Nickels On The Dime of how much impact the band had on everyone after their time, it is often due to the subtle manner with which D. Boon delivers the lyrics that makes them so special and iconic.

When one looks back at the history of music, there are very few bands that fuse together so many diverse genres with such amazing results as one finds within the music of The Minutemen. Though punk is clearly the core influence of the band, they blend in strong elements of funk, jazz, and progressive rock, giving their music a sound and feel like no other anywhere in history. Cutting out any and all unnecessary aspects of the songs, the songs are able to be abrupt and concise, without coming off as incomplete. The way in which the three band members interact with one another is truly magical, as they play perfectly off of one another, and the way in which they move as a single musical unit is often stunning to experience. Consisting of three of the most influential musicians of their generation, it is impossible to conceive of the band reforming in any manner following the tragic death of Boon on December 22, 1985. The swinging, yet precise and concentrated manner with which Hurley plays the drums is unlike that of anyone before him, and the scattered, high-treble guitar that Boon adds over them is nothing short of musical perfection. With the meandering, sometimes attacking bass of Watt rounding out the bands' sound, The Minutemen remain a band that must be heard firsthand to truly understand. Presenting a massive, forty-three song set over four LP sides, The Minutemen achieved true musical perfection on their 1984 masterpiece, the unsurpassed Double Nickels On The Dime.

Standout tracks: "Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing," "History Lesson Part II," and "This Ain't No Picnic."

1 comment:

Douglas Watts said...

Well said. Thanks.

It also should be added that some of the lines from Minutemen songs, like, "I must look like a dork," and "We were fucking corndogs" preceded Mike Judge and Beavis and Butthead by 10 years. I personally like:

"If we hear mortar shells
We'll cuss more in our songs
And cut down on our guitar solos ..."

Followed by a ripping solo.