Prior to forming Minor Threat in 1980, vocalist Ian MacKaye and drummer Jeff Nelson had played bass and drums respectively in The Teen Idles while attending Wilson High School. During their two-year career within the flourishing Washington D.C. hardcore punk scene, The Teen Idles had gained a following of around one hundred fans (a sizable amount at the time), and were seen as only second within the scene to the contemporary Bad Brains. MacKaye and Nelson were strong believers in the DIY mentality and an independent, underground music scene. After the break-up of The Teen Idles, they used the money earned through the band to create Dischord Records, an independent record label that would host the releases of The Teen Idles, Minor Threat, and numerous other D.C. punk bands.
Eager to start a new band after The Teen Idles, MacKaye and Nelson recruited guitarist Lyle Preslar and bassist Brian Baker. They played their first performance in December 1980 to fifty people in a basement, opening for Bad Brains, The Untouchables, Black Market Baby and S.O.A., all D.C. bands.
The band's first 7" EPs, Minor Threat and In My Eyes, were released in 1981. The group became popular regionally and toured the east coast and Midwest.
"Straight Edge," a song from the band's first EP, helped to inspire the straight edge movement. The lyrics of the song call for abstinence from alcohol and other drugs, a novel ideology for rock musicians which initially found a small but dedicated following. Other prominent groups that subsequently advocated the straight edge stance include SS Decontrol and 7 Seconds.
Another Minor Threat song from the second EP, Out of Step, further demonstrates the belief: "Don't smoke/Don't drink/Don't fuck/At least I can fucking think/I can't keep up/I'm out of step with the world."
The "I" in the lyrics was usually only implied, mainly because it did not quite fit the rhythm of the song, like the version on the 1984 album Minor Threat. The version on Out of Step is slower, allotting a bridge where MacKaye explains his philosophy of straight edge, explaining that straight edge "is not a set of rules; I'm not telling you what to do. All I'm saying is there are three things, that are like so important to the whole world that I don't happen to find much importance in, whether it's fucking, or whether it's playing golf, because of that, I feel... (chorus)". Some of the other members of Minor Threat, Jeff Nelson in particular, took exception to what they saw as MacKaye's imperious attitude on the song.
Minor Threat's song "Guilty of Being White" led to some accusations of racism, but MacKaye has strongly denied such intentions and said that some listeners misinterpreted his words. He claims that his experiences attending Wilson High School, whose student population was 70 percent black, inspired the song. There, many students bullied MacKaye and his friends. Thrash metal band Slayer later covered the song, with the last iteration of the lyric "Guilty of being white" changed to "Guilty of being right." In an interview, MacKaye stated that he was offended that some perceived racist overtones in the lyrics, saying, "To me, at the time and now, it seemed clear it's an anti-racist song. Of course, it didn't occur to me at the time I wrote it that anybody outside of my twenty or thirty friends who I was singing to would ever have to actually ponder the lyrics or even consider them."
In the time between the release of the band's second seven-inch EP and the Out of Step record, the band briefly split when guitarist Lyle Preslar moved to Illinois to attend college for a semester at Northwestern University, Preslar was a member of Big Black for a few tempestuous rehearsals. During that period, MacKaye and Nelson put together a studio-only project called Skewbald/Grand Union; in a reflection of the slowly increasing disagreements between the two musicians, they were unable to decide on one name. The group recorded three untitled songs, which would be released posthumously as Dischord's 50th release. During Minor Threat's inactive period, Brian Baker also briefly played guitar for Government Issue and appeared on the Make an Effort EP.
In March 1982, at the urging of Bad Brains' H.R., Preslar left college to re-form Minor Threat. Shortly afterwards, the cuts Minor Threat and In My Eyes were rereleased as Minor Threat in 1984. The reunited band featured an expanded lineup: Steve Hansgen joined as the band's bassist and Baker switched to second guitar.
When "Out of Step" was rerecorded for the LP Out of Step, MacKaye inserted a spoken section explaining, "This is not a set of rules..." An ideological door had already been opened, however, and by 1982, some straight-edge punks, such as followers of the band SS Decontrol, were swatting beers out of people's hands at clubs.
Minor Threat broke up in 1983. A contributing factor was disagreement over musical direction. MacKaye was allegedly skipping practice sessions towards the end of the band's career, and he wrote the lyrics to the songs on the Salad Days EP in the studio. That was quite a contrast with the earlier recordings, as he had written and co-written the music for much of the band's early material. Minor Threat, which had returned to being a four-piece group with the departure of Hansgen, played its last show on September 23, 1983, with go-go band Trouble Funk and the Big Boys at the Lansburgh Cultural Center in Washington, D.C They ended their set with "Last Song", which was the original title of "Salad Days".
Alternatively, MacKaye stated that he did not "check out" on hardcore, but in fact hardcore "checked out". Explaining this, he stated that at a 1984 Minutemen show, a fan struck MacKaye's younger brother Alec in the face, and he punched the fan back, then realizing that the violence was "stupid", and that he saw his role in the stupidity. MacKaye claimed that immediately after this he decided to leave the hardcore scene.
Source : Wikipedia