The Replacements are a band I started listening to in high school in the 1980s (highly apropos) coming off a time when I’d spent a couple of years listening almost exclusively to Classic Rock. The Replacements were a special band for me because not only was I listening to something current but the cool alternative kids weren’t listening to The Replacements either. Until I got to college where everyone knew The Replacements. And then the band broke up.
Anyhow, I’ve been reading the biography of the band, Trouble Boys by Bob Mehr (review forthcoming), and while I had four of the band’s last five albums, I wasn’t familiar with their early stuff. I figured this was a good opportunity to do a Music Discovery. So crack open a beer, crank up my best of The Replacements playlist on Tidal, and read on.
Album: Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash
Release Date: 25 August 1981
Favorite Tracks: “Careless,” “I Bought a Headache,” “Don’t Ask Why,” and “I’m in Trouble”
Thoughts: This raw debut captures the energy of early 80s punk rock, with The Replacements already showing some of their pop sensibility. 18 songs seems like overkill for a band just starting out, but really there are no stinkers here.
Release Date: 24 June 1982
Favorite Tracks: “Kids Don’t Follow” and “Stuck in the Middle”
Thoughts: This EP or mini-LP (or really “Kids Don’t Follow” with 7 B-sides) is straight-up hardcore punk. With tracks named “Fuck School,” “White and Lazy,” “Dope Smokin’ Moron,” and “God Damn Job,” it seems that The Replacements are a stereotype of white teen boys rebelling against suburban, middle class values. But The Replacements are in on the joke, so that makes it work. And songs like “Go” presage the musical and lyrical complexity of future works.
Release Date: 29 April 1983
Favorite Tracks: “Color Me Impressed” and “Within Your Reach”
Thoughts: I want to say that this is the album where The Replacements found there sound as they moved away from hard punk to something that sounded more like a clearly identifiable Replacements sound, particularly on “Color Me Impressed.” But then again, this album has a little bit of everything – rockabilly, blues rock, and folk particularly – while the drum loop on “Within Your Reach” gives it a contemporary New Wave sound and “Mr. Whirly” is a Beatles’ parody. For an album with a throw-it-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach, it is surprisingly cohesive.
Album: Let It Be
Release Date: 2 October 1984
Favorite Tracks: “I Will Dare,” “Favorite Thing,” “Androgynous,” “Unsatisfied,” “Gary’s Got a Boner,” and “Answering Machine”
Thoughts: Finally up to an album I remember from my youth rather than hearing for the first time. And is this not the perfect encapsulation of disaffected youth in the 1980s, from the pain and angst to the puerile humor? It’s hard to come at an album that’s received such accolades from a fresh perspective, other than to say it deserves all of them.
Release Date: October 1985
Favorite Tracks: “Kiss Me on the Bus,” “Bastards of Young,” and “Here Comes a Regular”
Thoughts: This is another album I didn’t have when younger, although several of the tracks were familiar. There’s definitely a shift in tone on this album as Westerberg’s singer/songwriter talents and pop sensibilities continue to develop, leading to more down-tempo songs and a mix of rockabilly and folk rock instead of the harder punk of previous albums. It’s a good album but it’s still a big step down from Let It Be. This is also the last album for founding member and guitarist Bob Stinson who either had artistic differences with Westerberg, want to stick to only playing rockers, or was fired by the rest of the band because his substance abuse made him too unreliable for even The Replacements (probably aspects of both are true).
Album: Pleased to Meet Me
Release Date: 1985 June 17
Favorite Tracks: “Alex Chilton,” “I Don’t Know,” and “Can’t Hardly Wait”
Thoughts: The band’s only album as a trio is also their major label debut and continues to show Westerberg’s skill as a crafter of pop/rock tunes, in some case even bringing in horn and string arrangements. Despite the departure of Bob Stinson, this album seems to have a harder edge than Tim. This album could’ve been an indication of how The Replacements could’ve matched their earlier punk ethic with a more accessible sound, but with the power of hindsight, we know it’s The Replacements’ last great album.
Album: Don’t Tell a Soul
Release Date: 7 February 1989
Favorite Tracks: “I’ll Be You”
Thoughts: This was the first Replacements’ album I ever listened to, so it breaks my heart to admit that it doesn’t hold up as well as the rest of their work. The production values are very high, but the band’s anarchic brilliance is lost in the process. It’s clear that they were trying to distill The Replacements through the prism of the recent indie rock success of REM’s Document (which is probably why I liked it at the time) but erased The Replacements in the process. “I’ll Be You” is still a brilliant song though.
Album: All Shook Down
Release Date: 25 September 1990
Favorite Tracks: “Sadly Beautiful” and “When It Began”
Thoughts: This album started as a Westerberg solo project and even though the record label insisted it be a Replacements’ recording, the rest of the band merely appears among many session musicians and guest artists. Despite that, it is a brighter and more listenable album than it’s predecessor. It’s a long way in less than a decade from Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash to be at a point where the majority of this album is acoustic, singer/songwriter pieces and the highlight is a track with a cello solo (“Sadly Beautiful”)
While working on this post I found this interesting article by Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! listing her favorite songs by the Replacements.