Double Nickels on the Dime

Another of the new books in the series for Spring (although good god it’s cold here today! and we’re heading down south tomorrow for a week’s holiday – doesn’t look much warmer even there…) is Michael T. Fournier’s ode to Double Nickels on the Dime.

Here’s an extract from the book’s second chapter, “History Lesson (Part II)”.


It’s interesting to note that the songwriting throughout Double Nickels is cohesive despite the time that passed between the first and second recording sessions. The players have no memory of which songs come from which session – the work was simply done. (There are a few songs that I was able to pin down as being products of either the first or second session due to contextual clues. When such hints come up, I’ve made notes in the entries for the tunes in question.)

So, the challenge the Minutemen faced was to create a concept from a seemingly disparate bunch of songs, recorded months apart in two separate sessions.

They rose to the occasion and came up with interlocking concepts. The first was a reaction to the popular music of the time: a pre-Van Halen Sammy Hagar had scored a big pop hit with “I Can’t Drive 55.” The Minutemen thought it would be funny to comment on the nature of Hagar’s little ditty by letting listeners know that driving fast wasn’t terribly defiant. “So to wear red leather and say that you can’t drive 55 like that’s the big rebellion thing…to us, the big rebellion thing was writing your own fuckin’ songs and trying to come up with your own story, your own picture, your own book, whatever. So he can’t drive 55, because that was the national speed limit? Okay, we’ll drive 55, but we’ll make crazy music,” says Watt.

The cover of Double Nickels on the Dime spells it all out: Watt driving his VW Beetle at exactly 55 miles per hour – double nickels, in truckerspeak – on California’s Interstate 10, affectionately known as the Dime. Minutemen buddy/contributor Dirk Vandenberg snapped photos from the backseat as Watt piloted the Dub under a sign for San Pedro, the Minutemen’s hometown. It took three circuits around Los Angeles to get the photo right, but they got it.

“We had to drive all over Los Angeles and whenever we found a San Pedro freeway sign we took a shot,” says Vandenberg. “There were three elements that Mike wanted in the photo: a natural kind of glint in his eyes reflected in the rearview mirror, the speedometer pinned exactly on 55mph, and, of course, the San Pedro sign guiding us home. There were two separate days of shooting with me smashed up in the backseat of his VW. I had to push myself back in the seat as far as possible to get every element needed in the shot. We finally got lucky and nailed it. The big story to me is how we worked pretty hard to get it right and when the shot was finally presented to SST someone botched the cropping and cut off the end of the word Pedro on the album jacket.”

For their second concept, the Minutemen decided all three dudes in their band would have a solo song on their album sides. Their inspiration was Ummagumma, a double album released by Pink Floyd in 1969. Ummagumma featured solo performances by each band member. In keeping with the automotive/driving 55 theme, each side of Double Nickels would be announced by the particular band member’s car starting (and, at the end of the record, the song “Three Car Jam” – all three engines revving at once – would send things off).

The good songs, Watt realized, should be at the beginning of each side, and the ones that weren’t quite up to par should be “hugging label,” on the inside of the record. The solution, then, was to have a kind of fantasy draft, to draw straws and let each member of the band pick songs in turn, and put the leftovers, the “chaff,” on the final side of the album. That way, says Watt, the songs that weren’t on the band’s top shelf wouldn’t “glob up” and each member’s individuality would show through all the more in the songs that they chose as their favorites. “[Y]ou separate the wheat from the chaff,” Watt explains, “‘cuz that was the side that had the songs that nobody picked.”


23 thoughts on “Double Nickels on the Dime”

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  4. Just finished reading this. Loved it. It mirrored many a late night conversation I’ve had about the merits of this beautiful album. Fournier’s relaxed writing style absolutely fit the very personal nature of The Minutemen’s work and ethos. This was the first of the 33 and 1/3 books I have read (gearing up for Pet Sounds) and I am hooked!!! Just wondering, has it ever occured to the publishers to do any books on seminal Metal or Punk albums? I would love to see Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” get the treatment.

  5. To the guy who ahs about dozen Minutemen tapes. you should upload those concerts to Live Music Archive which already has a decent amount of Minutemen concerts.

  6. I have the original CD mix, it’s an awful mix considering what a brilliant album this is. I should buy the remix but it’s just silly having 2 copies and I don’t want to sell the one I have if it’s a rarity (and I have the double LPs from back in the day, still in good quality). They did release the CD w/out the covers due to time constraints. Covers are Steely Dan, CCR, and Van Halen.

  7. Ordered, received and read it. Excellent read. Read it on the way to and from work while listening to the album. The kind of book I wish I could write. Required for all Minutemen/DNOTD-fans.Guy

  8. I don’t know if there’s anything “wrong” with it. I’m sure it’s just a personal reaction and that others will really love it. I thought it was really overwritten. It read a bit like a really enthusiastic Pitchfork review – lots of “exciting” language, not a whole lot of substance. I felt like I was supposed to be impressed by the writing. I’ve come away with all of the other books in the series with a new appreciation of the album covered, but that wasn’t the case with this one (and I really love “Daydream Nation”). Just one guy’s $.02, of course.

  9. I read “Double Nickels on the Dime” over the weekend. Another excellent addition to the series. (If only I could say the same about “Daydream Nation”…)

  10. Does anybody have a copy of the original Double Nickels CD that Watt remixed? It has since been changed back to the LP mix. Would love to get my hands (ears?) on a copy.

  11. anonymous: Initially, your repsonse sounded like the Minutemen were guilty of typical punk “don’t let the masses in” b.s., but I don’t think so – given the fact that they used the CD medium quite handily to gather up all their pre-“Double Nickels” material on 3 CDs. I’m pretty sure it was a time constraint thing – but that was back when the industry standard was a lesser time amount.

  12. I imagine the Minutemen would prefer cd-only types to not get all the music. Plus, as indicated in the text, they obviously felt that some of this material was “filler” anyway.

  13. Does anyone know if they’ve released a CD version of “Double Nickels” with all 45 songs? My copy has 43 (I think they’re covers, but I’m OCD about these things, at least!)

  14. Are their any plans to publish these books in audio format or in braille? My brother is blind and is a HUGE Stevie Wonder fan. Would love got get him a version of the Songs In the Key of Life book that he could take in.Thanks!

  15. My proposal for this book was rejected in favour of Fournier’s, which was a drag, but I still can’t wait to read this.One possible way to know what songs were written first is through tapes of gigs around that time. I have about a dozen; maybe Fournier has a bunch too.

  16. This looks great. I love these behind the scenes looks at the inspiration for themes and the like. I much prefer this angle than the “I’m going to write a short novel based on the songs” take, though it probably just depends how interested I am in the source album. All in all, this looks like it should be a great one! great job and congrats, Michael F.!

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