Post-punk pantheon

By PHOENIX STAFF  |  July 16, 2007

It wasn’t lost on the Minutemen, who used “55” as inspiration for the title of their own 1984 album, the remarkable Double Nickels on the Dime. (“Double nickels” is CB-radio lingo for “55” and “the Dime” is a Southern California nickname for Interstate 10 near San Pedro, the Minutemen’s home town.) So Double Nickels was a sly jab at Hagar, boasting that the Minutemen would put their adventurousness into their amps and drums, and that even while driving the speed limit (as bassist Mike Watt is so pointedly doing on the album’s cover), they could break boundaries.

When Double Nickels was released in 1984, no one sounded like the Minutemen — the brilliant interplay between D. Boon’s hyper-treble jagged guitar syncopation, Watt’s full-bodied and melodic bass, and George Hurley’s free-jazz virtuosity on the drums — well, whatever this shit was, it wasn’t punk, hardcore, or New Wave.

In spite of the musical epiphany (“Punk rock changed our lives”) recounted in the song “History Lesson — Part II”, the Minutemen never adhered to the loud/fast/angry template that dominated the SoCal hardcore scene of the early ’80s. Influenced by the brittle minimalism of Wire’s Pink Flag, the cacophonous funk of the Pop Group, and the populist politics of Creedence, the trio began to write their own songs, eschewing traditional verse-chorus structure.

Their artistic vision peaked with Double Nickels. Comprising a jaw-dropping 45 songs (43 on the CD), DNOTD is an encyclopedic onslaught of hardcore, folk, free-form jazz, dinosaur rock, flamenco, and spoken word. Incredibly, the wild eclecticism coheres into a unified whole. The dizzying stylistic diversity continues with the lyrics, which include excursions into Joycean stream of consciousness (“The Glory of Man”), agitprop (“Untitled Song for Latin America”), semiotics (“Do You Want New Wave or Do You Want the Truth?”), and Dadaism (“Take 5 D’s” lyrics are a verbatim recitation of a landlord’s note).

And though this musical sprawl may induce listener fatigue, diminishing the impact of the best songs, Double Nickels remains a monumental work. Its impact can be seen in the music of Fugazi, Jane’s Addiction, the Chili Peppers, and a whole host of post-millennial indie rockers, many of whom also obeyed traffic regulations.
— Bruce Cohen


VIDEO: The Pixies, "Where Is My Mind?"

Pixies, Surfer Rosa (4AD, 1988)
More pilgrims than a pin-up band, the Pixies didn’t need a chart-topper to change the course of music (and ultimately get rich). But even those that missed the revolution that was Surfer Rosa — even those baptized into the indie-rock flock by St. Kurt’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” — still owe alms to Black Francis for creating (in more than seven days) a rarefied record that inspired a glorious rock-and-roll schism.

In 1988, when the band recorded tracks at their hometown Boston’s Q-Division studio, each member was peaking creatively. Frontman Francis (a/k/a Frank Black) wasn’t fat and self-actualized. Drummer David Lovering wasn’t struggling with prescription pills and kept his magic to himself. Far from being a doting dad, Joey Santiago was as black and mysterious as his creepy, distorted guitar wails. And Kim Deal was still on the sauce and never sexier than when her breathy voice teased over the basic bass line of “Gigantic.” Every Chuck Taylor–wearing fan boy (and plenty of lesbians) spent at least a week crushing on her.

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