Thursday, January 20, 2011

January 20: The Minutemen, "Political Song For Michael Jackson To Sing"

Artist: Minutemen
Song: "Political Song For Michael Jackson To Sing"
Album: Double Nickels On The Dime
Year: 1984

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

Though the entire idea of punk rock is to be completely different and free thinking in the musical approach, the fact of the matter is, there is still a rather clear conformity within an overwhelming majority of punk bands.  Whether it is in their tone or the actual arrangement of their music, there are very few bands that truly represent the idea of punk as a formless, anarchic musical style.  Throughout the entire history of what one can see as the "punk progression," there is perhaps no other band that better represented this idea of being completely original and ignoring all previous musical conventions than one finds in the brilliant music of San Pedro, California's Minutemen.  Bringing together elements of funk, blues, and jazz, all under the overall style of punk, the influence of the group can still be heard in today's music scene, yet in the overall history of music, they are often overlooked.  Yet even if one ignores their musical approach, the truth of the matter is that lyrically, the band new few peers, and there are few records of any genre that are as stunning to experience as their 1984 masterpiece, Double Nickels On The Dime.  With forty-four tracks clocking in at just under seventy-five minutes, the group deploys their brilliance with mind-boggling speed and efficiency, leaving no musical thought unexplored.  Though each song on the album as it's own, unique feel, there are few songs in their catalog that better represent their entire ethos as a band than one finds in The Minutemen's 1984 song,"Political Song For Michael Jackson To Sing."

Though it has been said of many songs, there is quite literally no time wasted at any point on "Political Song For Michael Jackson To Sing," as in many ways, the song "just starts."  There is no musical lead-in or introduction, as the entire band drops in at full speed.  Led by the fantastic guitar of the late, great D. Boon (real name: Dennes Boon), there is instantly a sense of urgency and frustration that can be heard.  The soft grind of his guitar sounds perfect with the overall arrangement, and yet there is a unique looseness in his playing that seems to simultaneously play in contrast to the song.  Mirroring the tone and mood of the guitar, bassist Mike Watt sounds as good here as anywhere else in his career.  The fast-paced, winding progression which he plays helps to highlight the almost nervous tension on the song, and it is this aspect that makes "Political Song For Michael Jackson To Sing" such a unique musical experience.  Rounding out the band is drummer George Hurley, and the strict cadence with which be plays helps to give the song a far more imposing sound than the songs of their peers, as at many points, it almost feels like a military-style march.  The combined sound of the trio is far beyond that of nearly any other band at the time, and the group perfectly represents the punk sound as there is only a brief, almost sarcastic guitar solo that breaks up the ninety-three second song.  The fact that The Minutemen were able to accomplish so much musically in such a short song is a testament to their talents, and much the reason they stand so high above their peers.

Along with his amazing work on guitar, D. Boon also stands as one of the most prolific and influential vocalists in the history of punk, and he rarely sounded better than he does on "Political Song For Michael Jackson To Sing."  Though he is almost always speaking the lyrics, even when he pushes into more traditional signing, there is simply no mistaking the sound or urgency within his voice.  Certainly along the same lines as Ian MacKaye or David Thomas, there is a strange tone to Boon's voice that demands total respect, as it is clear that there is always a deeper message within his music.  Though the title may suggest a humorous, almost silly song, the fact of the matter is, "Political Song For Michael Jackson To Sing" is one of the groups deepest and most philosophical lyrical achievements.  Penned by Mike Watt, the song is almost a train-of-thought approach, and it is one of the few songs in history that needs to be listened to a number of times so that even the slightest nuance of the words can be properly processed.  In many ways, the lyrics are like a Shakespearean poem, as they must be completely dissected to be completely understood; and this in itself shows the amazing writing talent of Watt, and the fact that he was able to work such complex thought into such a stripped down sound proves the high level of genius that was at play within The Minutemen.

Truth be told, one can see the overall idea of "Political Song For Michael Jackson To Sing" as a bit of a ploy to see what radio stations might play the song.  Name-checking what was then the biggest pop star on the planet is a perfect representation of the intelligence and distinctive humor that one finds within the music of The Minutemen, and by all popular accounts, their idea worked, as a number of radio stations gave the song airplay.  This idea perfectly mirrors the overall feel of both the band and album, as there are countless juxtapositions at play throughout Double Nickels On The Dime.  Whether it is the succinct, yet amazingly complex musical arrangements or the unassumingly intellectual lyrics, on nearly every level, there is no better representation of the entire punk ethos than one finds in the music of The Minutemen.  Furthermore, the fact that their music was such a far cry from anything else being recorded, yet it is unquestionably catchy, serves as the final evidence that one needs to understand just why the group remains such an important piece in the overall progression of music.  Though they are often placed as a "second tier" group insofar as influence is concerned, after experiencing their music, it is obvious that they were far more important than many bands that gained a larger amount of hype.  Boasting countless examples of true musical perfection, there are few songs that pack a similar punch and overall level of musical achievement than one can experience within The Minutemen's 1984 classic, "Political Song For Michael Jackson To Sing."

No comments: