To a certain segment of the college-rock population in the '80s, the Replacements' Paul Westerberg was their poet laureate and reluctant spokesman. More so than any of his peers (no one could understand a single word Michael Stipe was mumbling, and Bob Mould often took the easy way out), Westerberg captured the ups, downs, anxieties and insecurities of an entire generation growing up under Reagan and Thatcher. Here are his 10 Best Replacements Lyrics.
"Something meets boy, and something meets girl / They both look the same, they're overjoyed in this world / Same hair revolution, unisex evolution / Tomorrow who's gonna fuss?"
By 1984's 'Let it Be,' Westerberg was growing tired of writing songs like 'More Cigarettes' and 'F--k School.' While the album has a few punk throwaways, most of its tunes reveal increasing maturity in themes like personlization and alienation. The funny but smart 'Androgynous' nails them both.
"We ain't much to look at, so close your eyes, here we go / We're playin' at the talent show."
Big things were expected from the Replacements after they signed a major-label record deal in 1985. But the band repeatedly sabotaged most efforts to make them stars, from playing drunken, covers-filled shows to pissing off execs. By 1989, Paul Westerberg had enough of it and got serious. On the opening cut of 1989's 'Don't Tell a Soul,' the Replacements give themselves to the star-making machine.
"If it's a temporary lull, why am I bored right outta my skull? / I'm dressin' sharp and feelin' dull."
The Replacements' big grab for a hit single netted them a No. 1 rock-radio hit in 1989. But the record's glossy production and relatively tame tone lost the band some fans, even though Westerberg was still penning lyrics about his insecurities in the rock world. They toured with Tom Petty that year; on his next album, Petty borrowed another line from 'I'll Be You' (the "rebel without a clue" one) for one of his songs.
"Jesus rides beside me / He never buys any smokes / Hurry up! Ain't you had enough of this stuff? / Ashtray floors, dirty clothes and filthy jokes."
'Can't Hardly Wait' was originally going to be on 1985's 'Tim' but ended up on 1987's 'Pleased to Meet Me' instead, with horns punctuating that great riff. The words are more secondary to the music, but this line about the Son of God bumming cigs is golden.
"Children by the million sing for Alex Chilton when he comes around / They sing, I'm in love / What's that song? / I'm in love with that song."
Westerberg pays tribute to one of his influences in this 'Pleased to Meet Me' cut. Chilton -- who started his career when he was 16 singing the No. 1 Box Tops hit 'The Letter' and later became a cult hero in the power-pop group Big Star -- produced some sessions for the band right after they signed with a major label.
"Everybody at your party, they don't look depressed / Everybody's dressin' funny, color me impressed."
Westerberg's first great song -- from their second album, 1983's 'Hootenanny' -- supposedly is about the goth-rock scene. Or is it about the band's own rock-star indulgences? Either way, Westerberg brushes off expectations, fleeting fame and the promises he's told. It's a sign of things to come with the Replacements, who did more to stall their career than anyone else ever could.
"Pretty girl, keep growin' up, playin' makeup, wearin' guitar / Growin' old in a bar / ... If I don't see you in a long, long while, I'll try to find you left of the dial."
Westerberg's ode to college-rock radio is also one of his best love songs. He wrote it about a fellow indie rocker he was dating at the time. But because of their respective bands' touring schedules, they rarely saw each other. He connected by tuning into local college radio stations.
"Everybody wants to be special here / They call your name out loud and clear / Here comes a regular / Call out your name."
The song's opening line -- "Well, a person can work up a mean, mean thirst after a hard day of nothin' much at all" -- sets the tone for this drinking anthem that plays like the flip side of 'Cheers': There's no glory in wasting away days and nights in a bar with people who know your name but nothing at all about you.
"Everything you dream of is right in front of you, and everything is a lie / Look me in the eye and tell me that I'm satisfied."
One of Westerberg's bleakest songs is also the one that set him up as a spokesman of his generation. Before kids pored over lyrics by a bunch of same-sounding emo bands, 'Unsatisfied' stood as an anthem for a legion of depressed and misunderstood teens and college-music fans. It still cuts deep.
"God, what a mess on the ladder of success / You take one step and miss the whole first rung."
If 'Unsatisfied' marked Westerberg as the voice of reason for thousands of displaced kids, 'Bastards of Young' confirmed it. Almost every line in this song from 1985's 'Tim' reads like a T-shirt slogan. The above lyric opens the song, but others -- the chorus, "The ones who love us best are the ones we'll lay to rest and visit their graves on holidays at best" -- work just as well.