Sunday, April 29, 2018
Dischord 3 - Minor Threat - 'Filler'
Recorded April 1981 - Inner Ear Studios, Arlington, VA
Released June 1981
Ian MacKaye - vocals
Lyle Preslar - guitar
Brian Baker - bass
Jeff Nelson - drums
I Don't Want To Hear It
Small Man, Big Mouth
Screaming At A Wall
I'm not even sure I know where to begin when talking about records like these. I'm talking about records that have gone into the history books, have been hailed as all-time classics, and have been written about endlessly.
There has probably been more written about Minor Threat than any other band on Dischord, with the possible exception of Fugazi. I can point you to Michael Azerrad's essential "Our Band Could Be Your Life", which devotes about 40 pages to the history of Minor Threat. There is Scott Crawford's 'Salad Days' documentary from 2014, and Paul Rachman's 'American Hardcore' from 2006, based on Steven Blush's book. All of these are recommended and will give you far more insight into the history of Minor Threat than I could ever hope or want to.
From my point of view, Minor Threat are in the upper echelon of the most important American hardcore bands, joining the ranks of Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains and The Misfits.
Among those bands, Minor Threat formed the latest (1980) and broke up the earliest (1983). They had the fewest amount of releases, in fact, their entire body of studio work can probably be listened to in about an hour. They are also the only band in that list who do not have a modern day presence in the live arena, even if in some totally bastardized form.
But Minor Threat weren't a band that needed to hang around too long, or put out record after record, or engage in reunion shows that would have earned its members a small fortune.
What Minor Threat brought to the table was a higher level of musicianship (even if we're not exactly talking about the most complex of musical styles), songwriting chops, the ability to write incredibly hooky, yet ferocious songs, and lyrics which showed a deeper introspection than before.
This first Minor Threat record, which I've titled 'Filler' because that's the title that I've always grown up with, although I've also heard it titled 'Bottled Violence' and simply, 'Minor Threat', stays mostly true to the simple songwriting conventions we've seen before: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, end. Although, "Screaming At A Wall" does insert a breakdown part and the song "Minor Threat" even includes a pre-chorus. Baby steps in songwriting advancement, but steps nonetheless.
Every song on the record features hooks and anyone who knows this record simply needs to scan the song titles for the song to immediately pop into their head. "I Don't Want To Hear It" is both incredibly melodic AND filled with piss and vinegar.
Lyrically, we also seeing a reach inward rather than a punch outward.
Although "Filler" might be directed at Teen Idles guitarist Geordie Grindle, it's not specifically stated and can be interpreted as being towards anyone who has been twisted around by manipulative forces.
"Bottled Violence" is a continuation of S.O.A.'s "Lost In Space", punishing commentary on tough guy drunks just looking to fight.
But "Straight Edge" is something different. Rather than being a direct critique on inebriation, it is a promotion of a lifestyle not involving intoxicants. Rather than screaming at you to not do something, it's screaming at you to perhaps try something different. "I'm a person just like you / but I've got better things to do."......"Always gonna keep in touch / Never want to use a crutch."
What "Straight Edge" does that "Lost In Space" and "Bottled Violence" didn't do is create a term for the lifestyle - "I've got the straight edge", and so, singlehandedly, the song created a classification - a subset of hardcore that still exists. A branch of hardcore that promotes clean and healthy living, but, unfortunately, also has the stigma of violence attached to it.
MacKaye has spoken about this song and the movement it generated. In an interview I heard recently (not sure when it was recorded), MacKaye makes it clear that he never intended to start any type of movement with the song. In fact, the song was about individual choice, which is antithetical to the entire idea of a "movement". It's clear he's uncomfortable with the idea that people used this song to start something which often resulted in violence....stories of straight-edge hardcore kids knocking beers out people's hands and much worse.
I can't close out the discussion without a mention of the cover - also iconic in hardcore history and which has been aped by so many others. The photo is not of Ian MacKaye, as I think many probably believe, at least at first, but rather of his younger brother, Alec, who will we meet up with as he also fronted some great bands whose records would be released on Dischord.
Unlike the first two Dischord releases, we do not need to have a sense of history to fully appreciate this first Minor Threat record. It is the first record in the Dischord catalog that only needs to look upon itself for its legendary status.
BANDCAMP - Minor Threat - 'First Two 7"'s' (this first Minor Threat 7" are tracks 1-8)