The Roots of Indie: The Replacements – ‘Let It Be’
There exists a handful of albums every music lover should have in his or her stacks. Two of them are named 'Let It Be.'
It really is an indie album, too, the fourth and last record the Replacements released on Minneapolis label Twin/Tone before moving to Warner Brothers subsidiary Sire Records. 'Let It Be' captures the band during several other transitions, too; in fact, Paul Westerberg once said of the album that it's "'Hootenanny' spruced up a bit, with maybe a little more attention to the playing.'"
Their first three albums were fast, loud and punky, driven by Bob Stinson's careening guitar. It was the sound of post-punk, equal parts Ramones and London 1977. 'Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out' falls into this category:
But up front stood Westerberg, a songwriter capable of juggling more than three chords. Beginning with the band's previous album, 1983's 'Hootenanny,' the singer realized that the band needed to change direction. Back in 2008, Westerberg recalled that period for Billboard Magazine:
I guess 'Hootenanny' is the one where we came to the decision -- or, I did, at least -- that this loud/fast stuff is not going to get us anywhere. That was the height of the hardcore movement, and we were on tour, and we were not the loudest, and the fastest, and I figured, "Well, we can't win that way, so we've got to go the other direction, and tap the other vein of our influences and stuff." Not that 'Hootenanny' is my favorite record, but 'Hootenanny' was probably the one where we first started to become unafraid to do things.
Pay special attention to the phrase, "Or I did, at least." Westerberg's other influences included '70s pop among other things -- quite a contrast from Stinson's loud and fast flavor or performing. The two had butted heads for quite a while prior to 'Let It Be,' but this is the album where Westerberg clearly secured control of the band. The album's opening track almost seems like a manifesto:
If that jangly guitar solo reminds you more of R.E.M. than Bob Stinson, there's a good reason: That's Peter Buck in the feature spot. The 'Mats opened for R.E.M. on a 1983 tour and formed a friendship with the guitarist. In his book, 'It Crawled From the South,' Marcus Gray quotes Buck:
The Replacements were friends of mine, and they were gonna do their record, and I really needed a vacation from Athens, so I just went up to Minneapolis and hung out, bought them cheeseburgers. At first they were thinking maybe I'd produce the record, but I didn't have all the material written, so I just kind of was there for pre-production stuff, did one solo, gave 'em some ideas.
What grabs most people about the album is that it captures the transitional period between teenage life and young adulthood. That remains a sweet spot for popular music, but Westerberg managed to handle the topic with a maturity missing from most teen angst songs. "Having [bassist] Tommy [Stinson] be 14, it was easy for me to write kids songs," he told Pitchfork.
But are they kids songs? I'm a shade past adolescent rage, and 'Unsatisfied' still fits me like a glove:
The album contains one cover, and back in 1984 it was quite a shocker: KISS's 'Black Diamond.' Back then the musical cliques were much more insular than they are today. One chose a tribe and stuck with it. You were either, punk, new wave, or a headbanger -- or you fell into the "other" bucket reserved for everything else. At least in public -- in the privacy of our own homes we listened to whatever the heck we wanted.
'Black Diamond' kicked a hole in all of that nonsense: If the 'Mats can play whatever they want, then I can play whatever I want. Within a few years, Nirvana were covering Leadbelly and David Bowie. Replacements buddy Peter Buck was rocking Prince's 'Rasberry Beret' with the Hindu Love Gods ... on and on.
'Let It Be' was the end of the Replacements v1.0.
'Let It Be' was the end of the Replacements v1.0. Bob Stinson played on some demos for their Sire debut, 'Pleased to Meet Me,' but he never recorded with the band again. He died of drug-related complications in 1995.
The band released four albums on Sire before calling it a day. Stinson's younger brother, Tommy, has been Guns N' Roses' bassist since 1998. Drummer Chris Mars released a handful of solo records in the early '90s, but now focuses on his painting career.
Paul Westerberg has quite a solo career and remains an icon of the indie scene. In 2012 he reunited with Tommy Stinson under the Replacements name, and in September 2014 they popped up on 'The Tonight Show' and proved that they can still get it done:
'Let It Be' remains a hugely influential album, popping up on pretty much any "great album" list worth the title. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame even included 'I Will Dare' on its Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll list.