Under Cover: Joan Jett on the Replacements’ Unisex Evolution
On their breakthrough 1984 album, ‘Let It Be,’ the Replacements told the tale of gender identity on the song ‘Androgynous.’ “Here comes Dick, he’s wearing a skirt / Here comes Jane, you know she’s sporting a chain,” sang frontman Paul Westerberg. It sounded like a quiet revolution at the time.
Early on, the Replacements were better known for their drunken and reckless live performances, which often ended up in a figurative, and literal, pileup onstage. But even then there was more to Westerberg’s songs than the usual punk-rock self-destruction they were tied to.
‘Androgynous’ tackles a sensitive topic, but it does so without an ounce of preaching: “Same hair revolution, unisex evolution / Tomorrow, who’s gonna fuss?” Musically, the song recalls both the Kinks and David Bowie. It’s an acoustic song, with Westerberg accompanying himself on piano only. And the sparseness of the track suits the mood perfectly.
Joan Jett connected with the song and recorded a cover of it on her 2006 album ‘Sinner.’ Previously, she had worked with Westerberg on the 1991 song ‘Backlash’ and a version of Cole Porter’s ‘Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love)’ for the 1995 ‘Tank Girl’ soundtrack.
But Jett takes ‘Androgynous,’ plugs it in and turns up the volume, making it a little less somber and a little more uplifting. She brings out the cut’s singsongy elements and loses some of the original’s charming awkwardness. It’s an integral part of the Replacements version, but Jett finds her own anthemic voice buried in it. And, in a way, her own quiet revolution.