Note: For an index of all articles in this second “Favorite Songs” series, click here. For a summary of all artists covered in the original series, click here.
Who They Are: One of the most original and important post-punk groups in American musical history, hands down. Singer-guitarist D. Boon, singer-bassist Mike Watt and drummer George Hurley released four albums and six EP’s (along with a choice collection of singles) through their real-time creative career, all of them essentially essential, truly. The trio were poised to follow their fellow of-the-era indie heroes R.E.M., The Replacements, and Hüsker Dü into major label stardom, until they were cut down in their prime when Boon died in a tragic vehicular accident in 1985. After a respectful period of mourning, Watt and Hurley continued to work together in fIREHOSE (with guitarist-vocalist Ed Crawford) for a dozen years after The Minutemen’s demise, and Watt then went on to a critically successful solo career, while also playing in a latter day incarnation of Iggy Pop’s Stooges. He’s a bass boss, for sure. I’ve seen Watt in concert several times since the demise of The Minutemen, with one of his shows turning up on my “Best Concerts Ever” list, a summary of which is available here.
When I First Heard Them: In 1983, on the SST Records compilation The Blasting Concept. After that outstanding sampler album came out, I became fully and actively engaged with the emergent and ongoing SST catalog (and, with similar blind loyalty, also with the Alternative Tentacles and Touch and Go catalogs), and in those simple pre-Internet days, I basically bought anything released on any of those labels, confident that they would be outstanding. That was actually a very good gambit in terms of record-buying in an era when my finances and listening time were limited, as the quality of the music being offered by those brilliant labels was consistently high and sound and pure and ground-breaking. I had originally come to the SST catalog as a fan of Black Flag (which featured SST boss Greg Ginn on guitar), but the short and quirky tunes by The Minutemen on The Blasting Concept immediately made me do a hardcore sidestep to investigate their catalog further, and that catalog pleased me to no end with its innovative jazz-meets-punk blend of spazzy chops and smart lyrics, all offered by the trio’s players with joyous aplomb.
Why I Love Them: The Minutemen initially embraced the early punk and post-punk ethos of recording and releasing short, sharp shocks of songs, but as the years went on, the trio engaged and explored various pop-rock idioms with acute skill and an impressive veneer of personal and political maturity. As much as I loved Elvis Presley, John Lennon, and other fallen rock n’ roll heroes who flew away during that era, D. Boon’s death was one of the most significant gut-punches in my formative listening years, and the truncation of what should have been a life-long creative career for The Minutemen made me imbue their extant works with a lot of heft and resonance and meaning. I’m probably a listening anomaly in terms of loving both classic jazz and hardcore/post-punk in equal measure, but it was always a joy to hear Boon, Watt and Hurley deliver delightful high-energy tunes anchored atop rhythmically and melodically sophisticated instrumental tracks. After Boon’s tragic demise, The Minutemen’s essential cuts have become, for this listener, anyway, a fine example of the ways in which post-punk music could eagerly and enthusiastically embrace “uncool” approaches to song-craft, delivering genre-defying blasts of musical brilliance to eager listeners, regardless of the surrounding and adjacent musical ethics of the day. I also must exhort readers here to investigate Our Band Could Be Your Life, the Michael Azerrad book that I consider to be the most essential written document of the era in which my alt-music tastes were primarily forged, for better or for worse. The title of that book is culled from a Minutemen song, and it’s completely apt that that’s the case, as the Boon-Watt-Hurley trio were truly on the cutting edge of independent musical culture in their day, changing the ways in which I heard and perceived post-punk music, deeply devoted and beholden to their clamorous and technical approaches to the riffs they were grinding out, for our pleasure.
#10. “Ruins,” from The Punch Line (1981)
#9. “Paranoid Chant,” from Paranoid Time EP (1980)
#8. “Search,” from The Punch Line (1981)
#7. “Price of Paradise,” from 3-Way Tie (For Last)
#6. “Little Man With A Gun In His Hand,” from Buzz or Howl Under the Influence of Heat (1983)
#5. “Corona,” from Double Nickels on the Dime (1984)
#4. “Joe McCarthy’s Ghost,” from Paranoid Time EP (1980)
#3. “Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing,” from Double Nickels on the Dime (1984)
#2. “Courage,” from 3-Way Tie (For Last)
#1. “History Lesson, Part Two,” from Double Nickels on the Dime