Friday, February 18, 2011

Music Library: Minutemen

I submit to you that the Minutemen were the greatest of American punk bands.  They were the Platonic ideal of a rock band: three guys having adventures, asking big questions, searching for enough scratch to do it again tomorrow, making music that drew on wildly different sources into something wholly unlike what had come before it.  They traveled the same circuit and played the same shows as hardcore bands, but all their sound shared with hardcore were anger and brevity.  Instead of drawing on metal and the Ramones, the Minutemen built their sound from the angular art-rock of Captain Beefheart, Wire, and The Pop Group, which meshed with their influences from their beloved Creedence Clearwater Revival and Blue Oyster Cult into short, complex songs with passion, humor, and sweet heavens, how much fun.  Dennes "D." Boon on guitar and vocals.  Mike Watt on thunderbroom and vocals.  George Hurley all over the damn drumset. They weren't lying when they sang, "our band could be your life."

Paranoid Time EP, Georgeless EP and "9:30 May 2" from the Cracks In The Sidewalk compilation (1980). No distorted guitars here and a good sense of space, but if D. Boon had owned a Rat pedal, Paranoid Time could have been a Minor Threat album.  The Georgeless EP was recorded before George Hurley joined the band, and has a guy named Frank Tonche on drums.  Not the best stuff, but an auspicious beginning.

The Punch Line, Joy EP, Mabuhay Gardens October 26 1981 bootleg, "Prelude" from My First Bells compilation (all 1981), and Bean-Spill EP (1982). Their first proper album, The Punch Line is a kick in the pants.  Watt's bass skills have improved immensely since Paranoid Time, and the three-piece is already apparently sharing a single brain.  Only two songs top a minute; most are about 30-45 seconds long.  Joy is a three-song EP with excellent rapport between the band.  The Mabuhay Gardens bootleg is rather noisy.  It has an early version of their epic 45-song cover of "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" and a version of "Working Men Are Pissed," which wouldn't appear on an album for three more years.  "Prelude" is a decent song.  Bean-Spill has five songs in six minutes, including the killer "If Reagan Played Disco."

What Makes A Man Start Fires?, Buzz Or Howl Under The Influence Of Heat, and KPFK September 3 1983 bootleg (1983).  While The Punch Line was pretty good, it wasn't very funny.  What Makes A Man Start Fires? kicks off with "Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs," which simultaneously honors and mocks Dylan and includes "The Anchor," a quite touching track that at 2:33 was the longest Minutemen song to date.  The Minutemen followed up this amazing album with Buzz Or Howl Under The Influence Of Heat, which is among the greatest rock EPs ever recorded.  In less than 16 minutes, Buzz Or Howl knocks out eight tracks that veer from among the Minutemen's best ("Cut," "I Felt Like A Gringo," and "Little Man With A Gun In His Head") to very good ("Self-Referenced," "Dream Told By Moto," "The Product") to a little silly ("Dreams Are Free, Motherfucker!," "The Toe Jam"), which provides some welcome relief from the rich tension of the rest of the EP.  Altogether this EP is one of the best things of the punk era.  The bootleg is pretty great, too: the Minutemen playing acoustic for a radio show.  Performances are phenomenal and the sound is ok.

The Politics Of TimeTour-Spiel EP, ...Just A Minute, Men bootleg, Live At Flynn's Ocean 71 bootleg, and "Fake Contest." (all 1984).  The Politics of Time is a compilation of non-album tracks and live tracks.  Even though it has the great songs "Party With Me Punker" and "Working Men Are Pissed," it can be a bit of a crapshoot.  Some of the songs are only ok, and the live tracks were often recorded on someone's personal tape machine, with all the hiss that this implies.  Double Nickels was the next release, but I'll deal with it in a minute.  Tour-Spiel has covers of Van Halen's "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love," Blue Oyster Cult's "The Red And The Black," CCR's "Green River," and the Meat Puppets' "Lost." ...Just A Minute, Men contains the concert these tracks were taken from.  Apparently the Minutemen didn't ask permission to use his recordings before releasing Tour-Spiel, so the guy who recorded them put out released the whole concert as a bootleg. This reminds me: most of these bootlegs are available at the site, which you should visit (and probably have) if you're a Minutemen fanatic.  Live At Flynn's Ocean 71 was recorded three weeks earlier than ...Just A Minute, Men, and has much the same energy.

Double Nickels On The Dime (1984).  Is there a better rock album than this? There is not.  It is sprawling, silly, serious, wise, funny, challenging, effortless, breathless, beautiful, relentless, angry, ephemeral, epic, and I'm not backing down from any of these adjectives.  It is the crowning achievement of punk rock, and it was made by three guys from an unfashionable Southern California town who were all in their mid-20s.

Three-Way Tie (For Last), Project: Mersh EP, Spin Radio August 17 1985 bootleg, Berkeley Square September 21 1985 bootleg, Safari Sam's November 15 1985 bootleg, and "I Felt Like A Gringo" and "Time" from the Radio Tokyo Tapes compilations.  D. Boon died in a car accident two days before Christmas 1985.  Who knows where the Minutemen might have gone if he had lived?  Three-Way Tie suggests that they had more tricks up their sleeves.  While not up to the standards of Double Nickels, it's a fun album with quite a few radio-friendly tracks, although it also has a high percentage of covers.  Project: Mersh came out before Three-Way Tie, and features the Minutemen trying to please a hypothetical audience with longer, more conventional songs.  "King Of The Hill" is a pretty decent track.  The three bootlegs are all top-quality.  The Radio Tokyo tracks are a remixed version of "I Felt Like A Gringo" and an acoustic cover of Richard Hell's "Time."

Ballot Result and Minuteflag EP (1986). The Minuteflag EP is a recording of the Minutemen jamming with Black Flag in 1985.  'Sokay.  Ballot Result has an interesting backstory. After the events of the ...Just A Minute, Men bootleg, the Minutemen planned to hit back at bootleggers with an album to be called 3 Dudes 6 Sides 3 Studio 3 Live.  They passed out ballots at shows during their late 1985 tour.  After D. Boon passed, Watt and Hurley decided to collect the ballots and release the album, anyway.  Many fans sent in home recordings of the band, so the quality is not always there.  But the love is.


My photo
Cary, NC, United States
reachable at firstname lastname (all run together) at gmail dot com

About This Blog

From Here To Obscurity, founded ca. 2003, population 1. The management wishes to emphasize that no promises vis-a-vis your entertainment have been guaranteed and for all intents and purposes, intimations of enlightenment fall under the legal definition of entertainment. No refunds shall be given nor will requests be honored. Although some may ask, we have no intention of beginning again.

  © Blogger templates Brooklyn by 2008

Back to TOP