Monday, September 10, 2012

The Replacements Are Better Than You Know

I first heard of the Replacements in the pages of Rolling Stone. I hadn't heard their music, to the best of my knowledge it didn't get played on regular radio until Don't Tell A Soul, unless 96 Rock was doing Smash or Trash, which if so they would have probabaly gotten trashed - which is perhaps fitting.  What I read was here was a new album from this great band that so many people had never heard of. The article went on to talk about how they never really get into band practice and sometimes stop their shows in the middle of songs and other tales that to a 17 year old with Rock Star Dreams made it seem like, here's a band I can relate to. Also hearing that Tommy Stinson started at the age of 13 in the band was exciting and interesting. Apparently  I could not relate enough to engage myself to go out to Turtles Records & Tapes to get this new release though.

I actually heard the band my freshman year of college. I really don't remember if I heard a song from Don't Tell A Soul first or heard one of their songs from a friend's mix tape. I want to say "I Don't Know" might have been the first listening experience. Holy crap. What a great introduction if it was. "One foot in the door, the other one in the gutter." That line really sums up their career. They were always there at the door of success, but I guess they felt the need to keep themselves away from the middle of the road.  It's like Neil Young said, you meet some nice people in the middle of the road, but you meet a lot more interesting ones off the side. I bought the cassette of Don't Tell A Soul and liked it. Later I bought the cassette of Tim. (I kind of cringe now thinking of all those cassettes I bought when records were still readily available) "Left of the Dial", "Kiss Me On The Bus", "Bastard of Young", and "Waitress in the Sky" are the songs that stand out most to me. I had forgotten about "Hold My Life". From there I went straight to Let It Be and Hootenanny.  "I Will Dare" off of Let It Be is such a great, great song, and at the time I loved to associate it to myself and GQ b/c she was so much younger than me. Westerberg said they were going to name the next album Let It Bleed just to show that nothing's sacred in rock 'n roll.

I didn't get into them in time to know the whole Bob Stinson story, so Slim Dunlap coming on with Don't Tell A Soul didn't mean much to me.  Listening now to the transition from Tim to Pleased to Meet Me to Don't Tell A Soul I definitely see the difference Stinson made in the band. In my opinion, he kept Westerberg not just grounded, but also tethered. It was Bob's foot that was 100% in the gutter. He didn't want to be in, or go through the door. Again, my opinion. Paul's songwriting and ability to create a melody was so strong, (and probably still is) but Bob's influence over him was so strong that that ability had to be tamped down. I've read several articles about how Paul would bring stuff in to the band only to have Bob tell him to "get out of here with that".  Westerberg must have had either extreme patience and durability or the elder Stinson had extreme charisma or or something to influence him so strongly. As I said, that transition of sound between those three albums is significant. Then to the almost acoustic All Shook Down, I'm surprised it wasn't put out as a Westerberg solo album.

Hearing that "I Will Dare" is the first song that Westerberg wrote on the acoustic guitar makes me question what took him so long to arrive at that spot.  I guess the idea of being a rock 'n roller was stronger than being a singer-songwriter. I wonder if he were just coming along today if he would have done it differently now that there are so many Jack Johnsons, Jon Mayers (regardless of your feelings about him, he is quite a gifted songwriter), and Jason Mrazs out there that are popular and accepted.  At the time he was coming up though it was a rock 'n roll world being injected with the punk rock ethic.  

Listening to the early Replacement recordings you definitely hear that punk rock influence. Loud, fast rules. That was an early name of Soul Asylum, one of The Replacements peer bands who have some great music of their own. A main difference between the two was that Westerberg had three other guys to present material to by himself while Soul Asylum had Dave Pirner and Dan Murphy as a team of songwriters that could play off each other.

After they kicked Bob out of the band and made Pleased to Meet Me and Don't Tell A Soul a lot of long time fans grew disenchanted with the group. Don't Tell A Soul was a polished, late 80s record. I don't remember who they had produce the album, but it was slick. Either they, or their record company was trying to get them on the radio and get the recognition that they deserved. I don't think it worked like they hoped it would. That article that I first read had a quote from Westerberg on his hopes of it getting picked up by the radio along the lines of, "Well, if this doesn't work we'll just go and do it again next year." I think that must have been how it was with each release for them.  That would have to get tiring.

With the addition of Dunlap, Westerberg finally had someone that would encourage his songwriting over his 'Mats image. A Spin article at the time had Dunlap and Tommy Stinson hanging out talking, and Tommy said something about how All Shook Down could be seen as Paul's solo album to which Dunlap replied, "He's put out six solo albums already." That didn't go over too well, as you may imagine.

I only saw the band one time, and it was to support Don't Tell A Soul.  I was really excited to see them, and was even more excited to see Paul Westerberg out in the audience watching the opening act, Tommy Keene.  I approached him, asked him to sign my ticket and told him that I really liked the new record. He thanked me awkwardly and then took off. I felt a little bad. I don't know if my bothering him while he was watching another band made him leave, or if he just thought he could blend into the crowd, or what. Regardless, I got my ticket signed and watched the band put on a great show as I was right up against the stage, and did more damage to my hearing.

I remember reading something that Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes say about the Replacements along the lines of they could have been the next Faces; Paul Westerberg had the hair, but not the balls to do it. I guess I see his point, but I don't think I could see the Replacements going that direction. The Faces were a great band, but so were The Replacements in a very different manner.

I'm sad that they fizzled out the way they did.  The deserved much more recognition and accolades from people than they ever received. They deserved more of a chance to prove what a great band they could be and less expectation for them to show up completely drunk and put on a sloppy show with unfinished songs, bad covers and verbal abuse to the audience. See that's what some people thought they were supposed to do live. To them I guess it was a comedy routine. That's sad to me. Someone with Westerberg's songwriting abilities deserved more respect from the audience and he should have given more to them as well.

I didn't keep up with his solo stuff other than the two songs that appeared on the Singles soundtrack, which I liked a lot; although they were very different. I have a funny memory of a roommate singing along loudly to "Dyslexic Heart" in the house when she thought no one was there. I heard a lot of disparaging remarks from friends about that song, but you know what, who cares?  I know that he put out several records, and as far as I know continues to release music and tour.

The other Replacements cotinued on their musical paths as well.  Tommy Stinson was part of a pretty good group called Bash and Pop and then went to play some bass with one incarnation of Guns 'n Roses. I think it must have been his hair that got him that gig. Chris Mars put out a number of solo albums after he left/was fired from the band. He was quite prolific. I don't know if it was a George Harrison type of thing where he had been writing all these songs and wasn't given the opportunity to put them out there, or was intimidated to put them up against Westerberg's songs, or what, but he he put out several releases all with his bizarre artwork on the covers.  He didn't have that great of a voice, but I admire that he put his stuff out there and didn't just bow out.

Here are my top Replacement songs. Some rocking, some not, but all with great songwriting - regardless of the seriousness of the subject, or lack thereof.

Within Your Reach
Kiss Me On The Bus
Anywhere Is Better Than Here
Color Me Impressed
I Will Dare
Left of The Dial
Waitress In The Sky
Can't Hardly Wait
I Don't Know
My Favorite Thing

Do yourself a favor and go check the band out if you haven't already.  If you already know them go back and listen to  some of those tracks and see what memories it brings back for you.


Bob Stinson said...

Bob Stinson. He wasn't merely the founder and leader of this band. Bob Stinson was the Heart and Soul of The Replacements. And from 1980's "Sorry Ma . . ." through 1985's "Tim" The Replacements were pound for pound the best rock band in America. (Ask Peter Buck, he'll tell you.)

After Paul engineered Bob Stinson's removal it was all down hill. I'll never forgive Westerberg for that. He ruined my favorite band.

Slim Dunlop is a great guy. I totally respect him. But Tom Petty was right in the song he wrote about Westerberg (after they toured together).

YerLifeguard said...

You're right. Sadly Paul did engineer Bob's removal from the band. I understand the grudge you bear.

I'm not familiar with Tom Petty's song about Westerberg.

YerLifeguard said...