Monday, March 17, 2008

No. 411: Double Nickels on the Dime

Band: The Minutemen
Album: Double Nickels on the Dime
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: You'll find few records as smart as "Double Nickels on the Dime" while still being unabashedly punk rock. Between "Anxious Mo-Fo" and "Love Dance," the record spans straight rock and roll to a John Fogerty cover to some songs co-written by punk rock friends like Henry Rollins.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: As all double albums, "Double Nickels" is too long. Too much filler.
Best song: "Corona," "The Roar of the Masses Could be Farts," "Toadies," "Ain't Talking About Love" and "Untitled Song for Latin America" are all great. "Corona," for the uninitiated, is the "Jackass" theme song and "Ain't Talking About Love" is 40-second cover a Van Halen classic.
Worst song: "Shit From an Old Notebook" is basically gutter punk politics.
Is it awesome?: Yes. A classic.

Rolling Stone quotes "Our band could be your life" -- the now famous line in "History Lesson -- Part 2" -- on their page about this record on the 500 albums list. You won't hear me agreeing with the magazine much, but that line has become emblematic of the hardcore movement.

Like the grunge trend that followed, the hardcore scene was populist in its heroes. The Minutemen didn't look like rock stars and, more importantly, didn't act like rock stars. The band's mantra of "We jam econo" became a symbol of the DIY feelings among the punk rock of the time.

Oddly enough, punk rock historian Steven Blush has called the album "either the pinnacle or downfall of the pure hardcore scene" because of its sonic distance from much of the hardcore at the time. Unlike the Black Flag, Hüsker Dü and TSOL records of the time, "Double Nickels on the Dime" finds the band bringing jazz rhythms and more laid-back arrangements, at times. The band's lower-class San Pedro upbringing peppers the album, as class-based political songs make for some interesting, though muddled, messages. Songs like "Maybe Partying Will Help," "This Ain't No Picnic," "The Politics of Time" and others were ways of Mike Watt and company to speak out.

It's an epic record -- 43 songs over two discs -- and has been widely acclaimed from the second SST took it off the presses. It's the point in which hardcore punk rock finally matured out of the adolescent ramblings of the late 1970s. Sadly, the genre reverted mostly to that style, leaving the Minutemen as one of the most unique bands ever and "Double Nickels on the Dime" as the one of the best records as well.


kellydwyer said...

Watt = hero.

It wasn't until years later that I realized that one of my favorite albums from my youth included a Steely Dan cover.

padraig said...

kelly - hell yeah. d boon also = hero, rip. and the drummer was pretty goddamn great too, if I could remember his name.

yeah, this is, predictably enough, one of the few albums (along with a bevy of Crass Records type stuff and some old d-beat and Japanese hardcore records) from my more active punk years that still gets pulled out on the regular. that "pinnacle or downfall" comment, which I'd place much closer to pinnacle, is pretty interesting. I feel like The Minutmen, as well as other hxc contemporaries with avante-garde leanings like The Big Boys, got away with pushing those sonic boundaries precisely because they were so rooted in hardcore's spare frame, which acted as a buffer against self-indulgence. sidenote - I was in Long Beach a couple years ago staying in a punk house and I remember talking to some high school kids from San Pedro who told me that Watt and the other dude are still around, not super often or anything, but they still pop up at shows and stuff every now then. i thought that was cool - they seem like they'd be the most unpretentious guys on the planet

kellydwyer said...

George Hurley, great drummer.

Got to expound upon his rockier talents once fIREHOSE came along.