As you may know, I recently finished reading The Replacements' biography. I listened to all of their albums in chronological order as I was reading the book, which was a great way to complement the book. My review of the bio was mainly focused on the band's self-sabotage, but this post will be focused on the band's music.
Comprised of singer/guitarist Paul Westerberg, the Stinson brothers (Bob on guitar and Tommy on bass), and drummer Chris Mars, The Replacements were one of the main players in Minneapolis's punk scene in the early '80s. Westerberg was the main songwriter, and his lyrics were often self-deprecating and relatable. Tommy Stinson wasn't even 14 when the group released its first album, and basically had to drop out of high school to become a rock star. Older brother Bob was kind of a wildcard, and his musical interests trended towards the harder stuff. His issues with drugs eventually go him kicked out of the group, which is saying a lot, given the very low sobriety bar that was set by the others in the band. Mars was the artist of the group, but just as crazy as the others.
The Replacements started off as punk, often bordering on hardcore. But even with their second full-length album, Hootenanny, the band was experimenting with various genres, and experimenting well. By their third album, Let It Be, they were hitting on all cylinders, making great alternative rock, with some punk mixed in. Their latter four albums were what would probably be considered "college rock" back in the day -- songs that were really good, but didn't fit the mold of what Top 40 stations were looking to play in the late '80s. Had the band not broken up, I think they would have flourished in the '90s.
The band was a major influence on alternative bands and indie rock bands from the late '80s until today, including Goo Goo Dolls, fellow Minnesotans Soul Asylum, Nirvana, The Hold Steady, and The Gaslight Anthem, among many others.
Like I did a couple months ago with another Minneapolis-bred band, The Hold Steady, I'll give you my favorite song off of each of the band's seven studio albums (and an EP), as well as a couple wildcards.
Favorite song off of each album
1. "I'm In Trouble" (Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash, 1981)
The band's debut album was an energetic mix of straight punk and hardcore, but there is still something below the breakneck pace that gives you a hint of what's to come with Westerberg's songwriting. There are a lot of great punk songs on the album, but my favorite is "I'm In Trouble," which is a two-minute frenetic number about a guy who is trying to avoid a woman (and perhaps his own feelings). "You're in love / And I'm in trouble." We've all been there.
2. "Kids Don't Follow" (Stink, 1982)
Technically, Stink was an EP because it only had 8 songs on it, but I'm including it on this list because I can. I'm going with the opening track, "Kids Don't Follow," not only because it's a great punk song, but also because the beginning of the track features audio of the Minneapolis police breaking up a party at the band's record studio that was apparently too loud. The cop speaking into the mic has a great Minnesota accent, and you can hear someone in the background yell "hey fuck you, man!" Legend has it that was Soul Asylum lead singer Dave Pirner.
3. "Color Me Impressed" (Hootenanny, 1983)
With their second full-length album, the band's direction already started to change. Yes, there are some thrashing punk songs ("Run It," "Take Me Down To The Hospital," "You Lose," "Hayday"), but Hootenanny is an eclectic album. The title track is kind of a bluesy joke track, with Westerberg basically just repeating the word "hootenanny." "Willpower" is a slow, trippy song that sounds like it should be played in a hall of mirrors. "Within Your Reach" is synthed up love song that is pretty much just a guitar and a drum machine. "Buck Hill" is a fun instrumental. "Lovelines" is a tongue-in-cheek, rockabilly song that is basically a reading of the personal ads in a newspaper. But "Color Me Impressed" is my favorite song on the album. It rocks and it's catchy, and I definitely see it as a harbinger of what was to come with The Replacements' sound.
4. "Favorite Thing" (Let It Be, 1984)
This was the first Replacements album I bought, and it's still probably my favorite. I don't remember when I first heard of The Replacements or what prompted me to buy Let It Be, but I did. When I heard the jangly guitar intro to "I Will Dare," I felt like that was exactly what I expected The Replacements to sound like. It was catchy and alternative all at the same time. It all made sense. But that's not really what they sound like all the time. As this album shows, they also had punk chops ("We're Coming Out", "Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out"), but they could write tongue-in-cheek songs ("Gary's Got a Boner"), ballads ("Androgynous," "Sixteen Blue," "Unsatisfied"), and heartfelt, guitar-heavy rockers ("Seen Your Video," "Answering Machine"), and they could cover KISS, quite well at that ("Black Diamond"). It was a schizophrenic album, but it all worked together. I really like "I Will Dare," "Answering Machine," and "Gary's Got a Boner," but my favorite song is "Favorite Thing." It's punkish and edgy, but catchy and has a sing-along chorus -- and it has the fantastic line "rock don't give a single shit."
5. "Left Of The Dial" (Tim, 1985)
Tim is a great album -- and the band's major label debut -- but unfortunately, it was Bob Stinson's last, as he got kicked out after this record was made. It was a tough choice between "Bastards of Young," "Little Mascara," "Left Of The Dial," and "Lay It Down Clown," but I'm going with "Left Of The Dial." It is kind of an anthem for college rock, since the kind of radio stations that would play The Replacements and similar bands were often the college stations to the left of the radio dial. You see, kids, back in the '80s, your car radio had a tuner, with a dial that you would turn, moving the tuner from left to right, until you landed on a station that suited your needs and wants.
6. "Alex Chilton" (Pleased To Meet Me, 1987)
The band made this album as a trio, after kicking Bob Stinson out of the band. I actually just bought this one while I was reading the biography, and it has quickly become my second-favorite Replacements album. Top to bottom, it's solid. "I.O.U" is a great, rocking song that kicks the album off. "Can't Hardly Wait" inspired the title to the 1998 Jennifer Love Hewitt/Ethan Embry vehicle that might be one of the best teen party movies ever. "The Ledge" is a dark song, song from the point of view of a teenage boy standing on the ledge of his school, about to commit suicide. I'm going with "Alex Chilton," the catchy as hell song about former Box Tops and Big Star lead singer Alex Chilton (who played guitar on "Can't Hardly Wait," by the way). Like The Replacements, Big Star was one of those bands who influenced a ton of other bands, but never quite made it as big as they should have.
7. "I'll Be You" (Don't Tell a Soul, 1989)
Topping out at #57 on the Billboard album charts, this was the band's highest-charting album. It was the first album and only album with guitarist Slim Dunlap, who joined the band after they recorded Pleased To Meet Me. I also bought this one while reading the band's biography, but unfortunately, the CD (yes, I still buy CDs) didn't upload to iTunes well, and most of the songs are scratchy to the point that I can't really hear them. Thus, I have the least familiarity with this one. As a result, I'm going with "I'll Be You," which was the band's only song to chart on the Billboard Hot 100 (#51) and also hit #1 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks and Album Rock Tracks charts.
8. "My Little Problem" (All Shook Down, 1990)
For all intents and purposes, All Shook Down was a Paul Westerberg solo album. The band was all but broken up at this point, and while some combination of Mars, Tommy Stinson, and Dunlap played on most tracks, there was only one song on the album on which all four of the band played ("Attitude"). It's pretty stripped down and acoustic-heavy, but it does have it's moments of rock, one of which is "My Little Problem," on which Concrete Blonde lead singer Johnette Napolitano shares the vocals with Westerberg.
It was difficult to narrow it down to only two songs, so I didn't. I'll go in chronological order.
9. "A Toe Needs A Shoe" (Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash, 1981)
This is an outtake that was a bonus track on the reissue of Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash, and it's really a great instrumental, showcasing Bob Stinson's guitar skills. Also, when this song plays at home, my kids can't help but stop whatever they're doing and start dancing. Son, particularly, just gets into the rhythm and shakes his ass like he just don't care.
10. "Within Your Reach" (Hootenanny, 1983)
I mentioned this above, but it's just such a mesmerizing song that I can't leave it off the list. It's unlike anything else in the band's catalog. And apparently, it was used in the movie Say Anything.
11. "I Will Dare" (Let It Be, 1984)
I discussed this song above, as well. It's just a great pop song, and R.E.M.'s Peter Buck lent his guitar to the jangly guitar solo in the middle of the song. Like I said above, I think this song kind of epitomizes '80s "college rock." If this song was released six years later, it probably would have been a Top 10 song.
12. "Answering Machine" (Let It Be, 1984)
The riff of this song grabbed me the first time I heard it. It's loud and distorted, and then the lyrics kick in, and it's quite heartfelt. Those of us who grew up before voicemail and text messages can relate to the sentiment of the song: "how do you say 'good night' to an answering machine?"
13. "I.O.U." (Pleased To Meet Me, 1987)
This is the first track off of Pleased To Meet Me, and it was inspired by Iggy Pop, who was said to have signed an autograph "IOU Nothing." The song is a blistering rocker, and the message of the song is pretty in tune with the band's attitude towards everyone and everything ("I owe you nothing").