In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week: songs with the word “hit” somewhere in the title.
Even though they don’t hold the world record for the shortest song ever—that designation goes to Napalm Death—California’s Minutemen were punk’s test case for economical songwriting. Though often lumped in with hardcore, the Minutemen were unto themselves. Instead of succinct slams of anger, the trio cut the fat from rock music’s bloated corpse and offered songs short, fast, and wildly diverse.
Minutemen’s opus—the 1984 double record, Double Nickels On The Dime—is the apex of the trio’s ambition. Spread across four sides of vinyl, the band offered its answer to their labelmates in Hüsker Dü, whose double album Zen Arcade was the impetus for Minutemen trying its hand at it. But while the Hüskers built an overarching concept about broken homes and broken hearts, Minutemen retained a more modest goal: to write songs inspired by their cars. From that experiment came the band’s only “hit” song, though that designation is in name only.
The song’s title is clearly cheeky, as “#1 Hit Song” sees the Minutemen approach the concept of popular music with utter disdain. After some aimless sputtering, the band revs itself up and launches into a punk-gone-funk jam that fits snugly in the band’s canon. Atop that groovy riff and lazy bass line, vocalist D. Boon is able to wage war against popular music and all its say-nothing lyrical tropes. When Boon sings, “Love is leaf-like / You and me, baby,” that final word comes spitting out as if it were a foul taste resting on the back of his tongue. It’s followed by a play on “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” only with a disdainful “Blah, blah, blah” inserted to sum up Boon’s feeling about all that glitz and glamor.
“#1 Hit Song” would ultimately prove to be anything but, yet that didn’t stop another Minutemen song from gaining a bit of cultural capital. In 2000—15 years after Boon’s death—MTV debuted Jackass, the show that saw Johnny Knoxville and co. enduring various feats of stupidity all for the public’s entertainment. The song’s opening credits featured “Corona,” a Minutemen tune in which Boon was wistful about the state of the human race, now altered to be the introduction to a show about grown men punishing themselves in all manner of ways. The heavily edited version of “Corona” omitted all of Boon’s lyrics, putting the emphasis on its twangy riff and hoedown-ready rhythm. In a way, it’s cruel that Boon’s legacy is linked to Jackass’ simple pleasures instead of his politically charged creations. But at least it finally gave him that hit song.