The late seventies/early eighties saw an explosion of punk rock bands come out of the UK. But while this was happening over there, the west coast of the US also saw a number of hardcore punk bands take over the scene. Some of these bands included the Circle Jerks
, The Germs
, Dead Kennedys
, Black Flag
, Social Distortion
and ... the Minutemen
, though the Minutemen didn't sound like any other band at the time. Formed in 1978 under the name The Reactionaries
with four members, the band eventually split by the end of the seventies and guitarist D Boon and friend/bassist Mike Watt formed this new band titled the Minutemen. The band name sort of has a double meaning, first being the military term of the minutemen and the secondly being that they mostly wrote songs that were just under a minute long (with their later material, they would expand their time more). But still without a permanent drummer and after some minor line up changes and live shows, they recruited former their former Reactionaries drummer George Hurley, and he would be their permanent drummer. With the trio now complete, the band recorded an EP titled Paranoid Time
produced by Black Flag's Greg Ginn under SST Records. The Minutemen then recorded this debut studio album in a one night session in 1981. The album was entitled The Punch Line
(with the cover art done by D Boon) and it consisted of eighteen tracks all in an incredibly short amount of time, fifteen minutes.
The sound quality here obviously isn't the greatest since it was recorded under a tight budget and all in one nights take. But nevertheless, the production is not terrible and does not take any value away from the songs, which is very good. Even though the average song is under a minute (the longest song is Tension
at 1:20), The Minutemen know how to make the most effective use of their time as they make eighteen fast, energetic songs. Throughout these eighteen songs, they show a variety of musical abilities that they would later capitalize on with their 1984 masterpiece, Double Nickels on the Dime
. Aside from the basic punk rock, they incorporate funk, hard rock and even signs of jazz and country. In practically every song, the hard hitting creative bass lines from the very talented Mike Watt are noticeable, as well as the funky guitar riffs from Boon. D Boon sings the majority of the tunes, but Watt and Hurley also give their share of lead vocals, more so Mike. Watt still sings a good amount of songs including the album opener Search
, as well as other tracks like Ruins
and also the last three songs on the album, Gravity
. Each have unique voices and at first they may sound similar, but with further listening, they can be easily be distinctable. Boon, the main singer here, has a rawer, more aggressive style of singing that he displays on Tension
, while Watt has a somewhat cleaner sound. Either way, both sing very well and fit the music perfectly. Drummer George Hurley does have a small vocal part, where he partially sings the song Ruins
, along with Mike.
As for the song writing, for the most part it is split evenly between Boon and Watt. Some of these songs were written before George joined the band, but he still managed to co-write a number of songs here including Boiling
. But for the most part, Boon and Watt write and they do an excellent job, even if they are short, as lyrics are a major strength of the Minutemen's music and they show that through witty political songs like Straight Jacket
, as well as covering issues like anti-racial matters (Boiling, Disguises) among other subject matter like war (No Parade, Warfare) and religion (History Lesson). But with this serious subject, the band knows how to add a lighter and humorous side to it, which makes the album fun to listen to. Probably some of the best/funniest lyrics on the album come from the title track The Punch Line
, as Boon sings of George Custer: "he didn't die with any honor, dignity, or valor; I believe when they found the body of general George A. Custer American patriot and Indian fighter that he died with **** in his pants"
It's difficult to pick out any major standout tracks because there are in no way any weak ones, and the whole album seems to flow together, as it if were one long song of changing tempos, which is in my opinion, a good thing. But, if I had to pick out a certain few, they would have to be the title track The Punch Line
, the album opener Search
, and Monuments
. The album opener gives the immediate feel of the album as it demonstrates the bands potential and show that a fifty three second song can still be a memorable one. The song will keep you wanting more, which is good, because there are seventeen tracks ahead. The title track is a very solid track that features rapidly fast instrumental work as well as a strong vocals performance. Monuments
really shows Mike Watt's bass skills as he plays the chugging riff repeatedly as Boon yells over it. This album also has an instrumental, Song For El Salvador
. It has a very catchy riff and innovative guitar, but the song is extremely short, just barely cracking the thirty second mark. But for such a short song, it is done well and to its full potential. No Parade
is another solid track. Although nothing instrumentally stands out, the vocals work quite well as Watt backs up Boon's voice. The album does not have as much diversity as Double Nickels on the Dime
, but still shows early signs of genre exploration. Songs such as Warfare
, and Ruins
show influences of funk with the guitar riffs and just the over all style/feel. The Red Hot Chili Peppers have said that the Minutemen were a great influence on their record, BloodSugarSexMagik
among other earlier albums.
The Minutemen's The Punch Line
is a solid debut album, and I think that things only got better from here, which could be a con for this album because when compared to later albums, it seems less. The chemistry between the band members is excellent and they show a nice blend between various musical styles and tempos. I recommend this album, along with their other releases to any fan of punk rock who likes some diversity in it. You can pick up this entire album, along with their follow up to this, 1983's What Makes A Man Start Fires"
both together in volume 1 of the Post-Mersh
complilations (released in the late 80's). I reccomend getting that because this album by itself will most likely be very hard to find. However, if you are brand new to this band, I would start by picking up 1984's Double Nickels on the Dime
. The Minutemen would continue to release albums following this one, but the band's career would be cut short due to the very tragic automobile accident that claimed D Boon's life in 1985. Still, the Minutemen have left their mark on punk culture and influenced many bands to follow. This album, The Punch Line, is an great album with so much energy and intensity, even if it's too short.
D Boon: Vocals/Guitar
Mike Watt: Vocals/Bass
George Hurley: Drums
The Punch Line