10 Best Replacements Songs
There are so many legends about the Replacements, it's hard to separate fact from fiction. Did they wreck a super-important record-executive showcase by playing drunken cover songs all night? Probably. Did they piss off everyone from PR reps to 'Saturday Night Live' suits with their anti-heroic displays of unprofessionalism? Most likely. Did they kill their chances at huger success by constantly halting their career momentum every step of the way? Definitely. But because they had Paul Westerberg, one of indie rock's all-time great singers and songwriters, leading them, the Replacements were revered by people who didn't give care if the band was never heard outside of its rabid cult. And that was good enough for them, at least until Westerberg realized that attitude was preventing him from selling millions of records. The Replacements are one of rock's great tragedies. But they're also one of the best bands of the past 30 years. Our list of the 10 Best Replacements Songs proves why.
By 1989, Westerberg had enough of the self-sabotaging roadblocks the Replacements had laid down over the past decade. So on the band's sixth album he decided to make them rock stars. And while 'Don't Tell a Soul''s first single, 'I'll Be You,' became a radio hit (see No. 8 on our list of the 10 Best Replacements Songs), the relatively glossy new music alienated many of the group's longtime fans. Still, songs like the sensitive 'Achin' to Be' reveal their hard-won maturity.
The Replacements finally started to get some attention for their third album, 1984's great 'Let It Be.' No longer content to just play loud and fast punk songs, Westerberg filled the record with everything from plaintive piano ballads to a Kiss cover to something pretty close to pop -- like 'I Will Dare,' which features a mandolin-strummed rhythm and R.E.M.'s Peter Buck on guitar.
The Replacements were three albums into their major-label record deal when they finally started to take it somewhat seriously (see No. 10 on our list of the 10 Best Replacements Songs). They polished their sound, tightened their songs and abandoned, for the most part, the spit-and-chew punk of their early days. 'I'll Be You,' 'Don't Tell a Soul''s first single, hit No. 1 on both the modern and mainstream rock charts, and reached No. 51 in pop, their only appearance there.
The band paid tribute to one of their musical heroes on this 1987 track. Chilton was just 16 when he led the Box Tops to No. 1 with 'The Letter' in 1967, and in the '70s he fronted cult band Big Star. By the mid '80s he was a solo artist with a small but devoted following of fans. Chilton produced some abandoned tracks for 'Tim,' the Replacements' major-label debut in 1985. This is Westerberg's thank-you note.
'Can't Hardly Wait' had been kicked around for a couple of years before the Replacements finally released it on 'Pleased to Meet Me.' Over the course of two years, the song went from a scrappy post-punk number with a killer guitar riff to a peppy pop tune with soulful horns punctuating the verses and choruses.
Westerberg's wistful ode to sad, lonely bar patrons doubled as a cautionary tale to himself and his fledgling band. And it wasn't just booze that linked the Replacements (who'd get so drunk before shows that they'd often play cover songs all night, swapping instruments and even handing them over to audience members) and the acoustic 'Here Comes a Regular.' Westerberg was beginning to identify with the has-beens and also-rans whose opportunities had passed them by.
For the most part, the Replacements' 1981 debut, 'Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash,' is indistinguishable faster-louder punk with a few traces of maybe-there's-something-here inspiration. By the followup, Westerberg was growing enough as a songwriter that he started to stray a bit from the band's sloppy two-minute punk songs. 'Color Me Impressed' is his first great cut, a stony (and stoned) yawn -- with a massive hook -- aimed at scenesters.
One of Westerberg's best tracks is an autobiographical love song about missed connections, rigorous road life and college radio. 'Tim' was the Replacements' major-label debut, and Westerberg stepped up with his greatest and most personal set of songs. 'Left of the Dial' is one of his most enduring. That's Alex Chilton (see No. 7 on our list of the 10 Best Replacements Songs) on backing vocals.
Westerberg began to lower his guard on 'Hootenanny.' By the time the Replacements made 'Let It Be,' it was down almost all the way. There's still plenty of snot-nosed punk on the band's beat album (see 'Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out'), but there's also Westerberg opening up on meditative songs like 'Sixteen Blue,' 'Answering Machine' and 'Unsatisfied,' a scarred confession of insecurity, unhappiness and uncertainty.
After 'Let It Be' made the Replacements critics' darlings, and the big record labels came knocking, Westerberg wrote this generational anthem that had been brewing inside him for more than five years. It's a defiant, and definite, statement from one of rock's greatest singer-songwriters of the past 30 years. The raging guitars, gigantic hook and powerful performance don't merely drive 'Bastards of Young.' They live, breathe and inhabit it.