This feature originally ran in August 2013. We’re reposting it in conjunction with Dead Man’s Pop.
Welcome to Dissected, where we disassemble a band’s catalog, a director’s filmography, or some other critical pop-culture collection in the abstract. It’s exact science by way of a few beers. This time, we sort through the best and worst of everyone’s favorite Trouble Boys.
“Whose side are you on?” That’s the age-old question Paul Westerberg asks on “Left of the Dial” off of Tim. While he wasn’t exactly talking to his fans, he just as well could have been. At the time, the Minneapolis bard was already one foot in the door of another new era for The Replacements, a polarizing chapter that would see the band wave goodbye to their blitzkrieg of boozy basement punk and hello to a more endearing sound. It was an evolution that was already well into motion, but would go into overdrive after teaming up with Alex Chilton and introducing some brass.
Since then, there have been two sides to the fan base. Those who would rather crush cans to “Kids Don’t Follow” or “Gary’s Got a Boner”, and those who would rather stomp on cigarettes to “Sixteen Blue” and “Darlin’ One”. There’s an in-between, of course, as there is with any fanbase, but the polarizing bookends have to be addressed, particularly when you’re looking at a ranking. So, which side are we on? We’re admittedly on the latter camp, humming along to “Talent Show” and “Valentine”, though we’d be lying if “Takin’ A Ride” doesn’t still get us going — and we’d also be fools to dismiss any of it.
Stink EP (1982)
Back to Back: 8 tracks / a lean and very mean 15:10
Bullpen: Chris Mars, Bob Stinson, Tommy Stinson, Paul Westerberg, Minneapolis State Police.
He’s Gone … and Calmed Down for a Just a Second: It’s actually harder to find a track on Stink where the ‘Mats haven’t gone mental. The music slows down ever so slightly for the appropriately white-and-lazy “White and Lazy”, but even that’s shortlived by song’s end. Really only the not-so-appropriately titled “Go” is the lone mid-tempo track. Other than those two, get ready for some deep bruising. The band wouldn’t be this consistently fast and furious again.
Tommy Gets His Learner’s Permit: That’s right, kids. Tommy Stinson was only 15 at the time of Stink’s recording and eventual release. Bob’s kid brother couldn’t even smoke and drink with the rest of the band. Well, at least not legally.
“Is the entirety of Stink longer than Pink Floyd’s ‘Dogs’?” Nope. Track two on Floyd’s Animals is one minute and 54 seconds longer.
Number of Forms of “Fuck” in “Fuck School” vs. Number of Forms of “God Damn” in “God Damn Job”: 32 fucks to 25 god damns. *There may be 34 fucks in “Fuck School”, but Westerberg is spitting those words out so quickly and he’s not always up on the mic, so it’s up for dispute. Fuck.
Wait, What Do You Mean the Minneapolis State Police Are on the EP? That’s apparently them at the beginning of “Kids Don’t Follow”, telling the kids to disperse during an actual Replacements’ show.
I Hate Music: “Gimme Noise” is the last track and…I was going to say how it’s an example of how the EP begins to drown in repetition before the band bows out, but honestly, if they play this live in Toronto, Denver, or Chicago this year, the audience will likely go batshit. Songs are gone before you know it; too harmless to harp on.
Best Outtake: The Bob Stinson-disapproved “You’re Getting Married”. It’s a Westerberg solo demo on acoustic guitar that could never have fit in with the rest of Stink, but a precursor of future ballads from the other Sir Paul (ex: “Here Comes a Regular”).
Beer Me: The mix sounds cheap, but serviceable for the time being while we wait for the greater work to come. Please, have a Pabst Blue Ribbon on me!
Analysis a.k.a. “Does it Stink?” A polarizing release to fans of classic-era Replacements, and understandably so. Nearly every song repeats its title dozens of times before its two minutes are up, and it’s all a sloppy, inebriated affair. To some, this is great. To others, it can be grating. Count me in with the former. What separates Stink from its predecessor is that it’s over way before its repetition becomes annoying. It’s just good, messy, fun in 15 minutes.
Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out the Trash (1981)
Back to Back: 18 tracks / 36:47
Bullpen: Chris Mars, Bob Stinson, Tommy Stinson, Paul Westerberg. The classic lineup. The ’91 Chicago Bulls of music. Sort of?
He’s Gone Mental: “Rattlesnake” is the fastest. “I Bought a Headache” is (appropriately) the most annoying. But “Customer” is downright schizophrenic. A then-20-year-old Westerberg can’t decide how he should act when talking to a female convenience store clerk. He starts off by shouting for random merchandise (Wondermints! Sunglasses!) before awkwardly asking for change, then quietly professing his love. The rest of the band stays revved, but underneath the noise, their frontman is sweet. And sad. And snotty. In other words, they were The ‘Mats.
Expected Johnny Thunders tribute: “Johnny’s Gonna Die”, written after Westerberg attended a show only to watch his drunk and high idol insult the audience and pass out. PW’s prophecy proved right a decade later. What’s sad is that the song could have been about founding guitarist Bob Stinson. And, in a way, it was. Stinson died in 1994.
Unexpected Fleetwood Mac tribute: “Johnny’s Gonna Die”. Just listen to Tommy’s bass line, pulled almost directly from “Dreams”. John McVie would be proud. Eh, probably not.
Best Studio Banter: “Banter” is almost a euphemism. This category should be called “Most Memorable Moment Where Paul Westerberg Acts Like A Dick To The Recording Staff”. Here, it’s on “I Hate Music”, where he responds to Engineer Steve Fjelstad’s warning of “Tape’s rolling” with a disaffected “So what.”
I Hate Music: Some of Sorry Ma‘s… weaker tracks are saved by humorous studio glitches and titles (particularly “Something To DÃ¼”), but “More Cigarettes” is a bit of a dud, simply because we can never remember what it sounds like.
Best Outtake: “If Only You Were Lonely”, which appeared as the B-side to the “I’m in Trouble” single, then resurfaced on the deluxe edition of Sorry Ma… nearly 17 years later. As close as a country ballad as The Replacements came to in those days, the pining romanticism is offset by Westerberg’s literal potty humor. Best line? “Tonight I’ll be doing pull-ups on the toilet bowl.”
Beer Me: This was the band at their sloppiest and most unrefined. Let’s go with Coors. Better yet, the Minneapolis version of Coors. Actually, what is the Minneapolis version of Coors? Grain Belt? Yeah, Grain Belt. [Ed. Note: Confirmed. It’s Grain Belt.]
Analysis: The sameness of some of the tracks and strength of The Mats’ later albums admittedly makes Sorry Ma… feel a little long these days, but it’s still somewhat of an anomaly, and we mean that in the best way possible: it’s by far their funniest album while also containing one of their saddest songs. And hearing Westerberg fight against his undeniable hook-writing skills gets more fascinating every year.
Back to Back: 12 tracks / 31:06
Bullpen: Chris Mars (drums), Bob Stinson (guitar), Tommy Stinson (bass), Paul Westerberg (lead vocals/guitar). However, the boys picked up different instruments for the opening track: “Hootenanny” features Westerberg on drums, Bob Stinson on bass, with Mars and Tommy Stinson on guitars.
He’s Gone Mental: The teases of speed metal in between Westerberg screaming “You/You lose” in, you guessed it, “You Lose”.
Tommy Gets His Driver’s License: The littlest Stinson was legally allowed to drive a car on his own (if passed the test) during the recording of this album. If he was drinking with the rest of the gang, he’d surely have to slow down at this point, right?
Number of Specific Beatles References: 3. At the tail end of “Take Me Down to the Hospital”, Westerberg cracks himself up, screaming, “I’ve got blisters…I’ve got blisters on my palms!” It’s only appropriate that the following track is “Mr. Whirly”, which starts off with a straight rip-off of “Strawberry Fields Forever” before eventually sliding into an “Oh! Darling” melody. They even claim the song is “mostly stolen” on the record itself.
Kiss Me on the Bus to Buck Hill: On the album’s lone instrumental “Buck Hill”, there is a moment at the 30-second mark to take note of. Here is where you will find a melody that strongly resembles the verses of Tim’s “Kiss Me on the Bus”, which was still a couple of years away. It’s also the first writing credit given to Westerberg/T. Stinson/Mars sans the elder Stinson.
Color Me Most Impressed About “Color Me Impressed”: The track that would spawn the title of a fan-made documentary decades later is easily the standout of Hootenanny. On an album full of toss-offs, this is its apex. It’s one of the foundations of the power-pop-punk with its quick riffs and full of Mars’ danceable drumbeats. It feels as fresh today as it was 30 years ago, and please check out Wilco’s recent cover of it with Tommy Stinson to further prove my point.
I Hate Music: “Willpower” mopes along as Westerberg repeats “Stop it/Stop it” off-and-on during the song’s can’t-believe-it’s-only-four-minutes-and-20-seconds-long runtime. Hey, 4:20, y’all! Do that thing that cool people do at that time instead. It sounds like they were on something that inspires many when they find themselves in an artistic way, but for the ‘Mats on “Willpower” it’s to no avail.
Best Outtake: There are some outtakes on the Extended Edition release of Hootenanny that came out a couple years ago, but really the songs on this record are outtakes. In a 2002 interview with Westerberg for Magnet Magazine, Jonathan Valania writes that during the recording of Hootenanny, the band “spent all their time playing practical jokes on the engineer- switching instruments when he wasn’t looking, playing Beatles songs with different words- and just when they were ready to get down to business, they were told the album was finished. Whoops.”
Beer Me: We’re pulling a fast one on the boys while they goof off. Ginger ale, no ice. Gotcha!
Analysis: A strange record with uninspired toss-offs for the most part, with the occasional gem popping up from time to time. The gems include the aforementioned “Color Me Impressed” and “Buck Hill”, but another need-to-have is “Within Your Reach”; with Westerberg doing it all under a drum machine that had to have influenced Julian Casablancas’ solo career. Don’t worry: every record that followed is better.
All Shook Down (1990)
Back to Back: 13 tracks / 40:59, making it the longest Replacements album.
Bullpen: It’s a little murky. Originally meant to be Paul Westerberg’s solo debut, All Shook Down is well-stocked with studio musicians. Hell, John Cale even picks up the viola on “Sadly Beautiful”. Elsewhere, Tommy Stinson plays the majority of bass, while Slim Dunlap and Chris Mars (who left the band almost as soon as he was done recording) pop up here and there on guitar and drums, respectively. The only track where the full band plays together is the acoustic(!) jangler “Attitude”.
He’s Gone Mental: “My Little Problem” keeps things scrappy and unpredictable with a duet between Westerberg and raspy-voiced Concrete Blonde frontwoman/bassist Johnette Napolitano. It’s the deepest of deep cuts and hopefully one that The ‘Mats will play at their upcoming reunion shows.
Tommy Gets His First Rental Car? Nope! He’s only 24. All Shook Down went down as The Mats’ final album, but the younger Stinson wasn’t even old enough to take the Avis wheel in many states.
Horns! Horns! They’re everywhere! Especially the first half. “One Wink at a Time”, “Nobody”, etc.
And What’s that Pretty-Sounding Instrument on the Title Track? Recorder? Pan flute? Tin whistle? We can’t be sure, but it’s definitely something you’d hear on The Legend of Zelda. Can someone check the liner notes and confirm?
“Say, those dogs on the cover look familiar…” Is it just us, or is the album art suspiciously reminiscent of Husker Du’s New Day Rising? The Replacements nodded to their Twin Cities brethren (and sometimes rivals) on their first LP. It only makes sense that they’d do it on their last.
I Hate Music: The best part about “Happy Town” is the ambient chatter of the intro. After that, the thing just deflates.
Best Outtake: Maybe it’s because they actually involved the full band, but All Shook Down‘s handful of outtakes sound more like The Replacements than the album itself does. The macho garage dirt of “Kissin’ in Action” is by far the best.
Beer Me: If Westerberg hadn’t quit drinking by this point, he was getting close. O’Doul’s for sure.
Analysis: Underrated. All Shook Down may more or less be a PW solo album, but it’s got The Mats’ label on it and rightfully so. It’s catchy without sacrificing energy, as sadly beautiful as one of its best songs suggests, and a fitting swan song for a band who never quite fit in.
Don’t Tell a Soul (1989)
Back to Back: 11 tracks / 38:37
Bullpen: Chris Mars, Tommy Stinson, Paul Westerberg… and Slim Dunlap.
He’s Gone Mental: Eh, not really. It’s a pretty straightforward record, though that quasi-heavy metal scream that kicks off “Anywhere’s Better Than Here” packs some grit, and the same goes for “I Won’t”, but on the whole, that track sounds like it could soundtrack My Cousin Vinny.
Tommy Gets His Michael Jordan Jersey: Another reference to the Chicago Bulls? Say it ain’t so! C’mon, it was 1989, Stinson was both 23 and living in the Midwest — uh, why wouldn’t he own a Jordan jersey and wear his age proudly? Sigh, this might go down as the stupidest argument I’ve ever written. Probably.
“Dude, let’s crash the Phi Kappa Psi house tonight!” LOL at Don’t Tell a Soul for being the only Replacements record solely listed as College Rock.
“Is it bad that I kinda love ‘We Inherited the Earth’?” Eh, you’re not alone. It’s covered in that schlocky ’80s grease, which makes sense given that they recorded the whole album in Los Angeles and with the same producer (Matt Wallace) who went on to work with Train, Blues Traveler, and Maroon 5. And yes, “Earth” is probably the least Replacements-sounding Replacements song to date, but it’s like an impressionistic, poppier outlook on Westerberg. And it mixes well with The Bangles, Psychedelic Furs, and other things you play when you’re home alone and wishing life was like a page torn out of Seventeen magazine.
“I’m okay with the rest, though.” You should be. “Achin’ to Be” and “I’ll Be You” are seminal hits of their own right, beautifully constructed both lyrically and instrumentally, uncovering a tethered edge that worked in spite of the carny production. “Darlin’ One” would have been great as a set closer at, say, Target Field. And “They’re Blind” is an unused John Hughes script that only went a quarter of the way through production.
“Don’t forget ‘Talent Show’.” Love it, too. But I’m still partial to “Portland”, which uses elements from the song to create something more Mats-like. Actually, I’m talking out of my ass. I dig both.
I Hate Music: Considering this is one of my favorite albums of all time… ::ducks from tomatoes and empty bottle of Jameson:: …I don’t have a song on here that I despise. Or hate. I will contend that after enough listens “Back to Back” starts to ache a little. Like that feeling you get when you’ve been stuck in traffic, the CD’s on its sixth re-entry, and your headache screams at you to roll down the window to breathe some fresh air. What? What are you looking at?
Best Outtake: Since “Portland” isn’t really an outtake (more of a B-side), let’s go with the studio demo of “Talent Show”, which following a listen of Soul has fans partial to the Replacements Version 1.0 screaming, “OH THERE THEY ARE!”
Beer Me: Crispin Cider. Smooth, polished, but still from Minnesota.
Analysis: Very underrated. Some call this the beginning of their end — and they’re sort of right — but Don’t Tell a Soul captures a time and place and that was the burgeoning college rock scene of the late ’80s. Although it’s a shame the band’s time with Tony Berg at Woodstock, NY’s Bearsville Studios didn’t work out, Wallace and the LA crew didn’t exactly massacre this album. Instead, it adds a little more to their mythos. It’s their Success Album, the one that petered them off into the mainstream (“I’ll Be You” even charted at No. 1), and looking back, it makes their tragic arc so much better. It also doesn’t hurt that a few of the songs are pretty goddamn timeless, too.
Pleased To Meet Me (1987)
Back to Back: 11 tracks / 32:59
Bullpen: Mars, T. Stinson, and Westerberg, making this the first proper studio album without Bob. Oh, and a guest spot from Alex Chilton (!) and a bunch of horn players.
He’s Gone Mental: Although it’s pretty mid-tempo in terms of pace and chord progression, “I Don’t Know” has a maniacal bent thanks to producer Jim Dickinson’s grimy saxophone squonks and the band’s slurred gang vocals.
Best Alex Chilton Moment: “Alex Chilton”. Pleased To Meet Me‘s second (and arguably best) track was a song of worship to the legendary producer and Big Star mastermind, who proved to be a better hero to Westerberg than Johnny Thunders ever was.
Second Best Alex Chilton Moment: His guitar work on “Can’t Hardly Wait”.
Unexpected Stab At Cocktail Jazz: “Nightclub Jitters”
I Hate Music: It’s a tie between “Shooting Dirty Pool” and “Red Red Wine”. The Mats had outgrown this sort of street-punk posturing by this point. Terrible? No. Forced? Absolutely.
Best Outtake: When stacked against the band’s other albums, Pleased To Meet Me has the highest number and quality of original outtakes, hands down. And while “Birthday Gal”, “Election Day”, “Photo”, “Bundle Up”, and “Kick It In” are all most excellent, the high point happens to be a cover song. “Cool Water” is a surprisingly sincere take on Bob Nolan’s rambling country standard about a shit-kicker riding his mule through the desert. Best of all? It features a rare lead vocal from drummer Chris Mars.
Beer Me: Bob Stinson had gotten kicked out of the band due to substance abuse problems, so the hard partying was probably getting less fun for his former colleagues at this point. Then again, they’ve gone on record saying they were far from innocent at the time. How about PBR concealed in a metal thermos?
Analysis: Pleased To Meet Me‘s brass and polished production were initially divisive, but the years have been kind to the record that many now argue is The Mats’ last great album (we’d argue that honor goes to Don’t Tell a Soul). Westerberg’s restrained songwriting, indulgence in hooks, and, yes, even those horns, all finally exposed the reluctant (albeit angsty) pop genius he had tried to bury when he was younger. He didn’t hate music. Far from it. After all, Alex Chilton was never a punk—just a guy who wrote some really great songs.
Back to Back: 11 tracks / 36:29
Bullpen: Chris Mars (drums), Bob Stinson (guitar), Tommy Stinson (bass), Paul Westerberg (lead vocals/guitar)…however, here is another nugget of information from that 2002 Magnet Magazine interview that suggests the Pleased to Meet Me lineup may have debuted on Tim: “I did all the guitar playing (on Tim), and one of the speakers on my amp was blown, and I think that was the one that the microphone was on,” says Westerberg. “By this point, Bob had pretty much lost interest, and we didn’t really do much to encourage his participation.”
He’s Gone Mental: The days of all-out insanity ended after Tommy got his tonsils out on Let It Be, but if you’re looking for unabashed Westerberg howls, look no further than “Lay It Down Clown”. He’s definitely losing his voice, if not his mind, during the recording, but it didn’t stop him from screaming at that clown to lay it down.
Tommy Gets His Cigarettes: The bassist could legally smoke by the time recording began for Tim. But he still can’t drink. Tommy Stinson was still a teenager for Let It Be and Tim. Way to aim high early, kiddo.
(Another) Expected Johnny Thunders Tribute: “Dose of Thunder”, but it’s not thunder that is desired: “Goin’ down to the pool hall/ Lookin’ for the eight ball/ When it comes/ When it comes/ Only want a little/ You need a ton.” A-ha! This concludes the story of Johnny Thunders-references on Replacements records, but the legend continues in Westerberg’s solo career (See: 2008’s 49:00).
Replacements Triumphant: That opening of “Left of the Dial” is hard to beat, with that raise-your-fist-in-the-air lead guitar riff just before the drums kick to life, but no other ‘Mats song beats the rallying cry of “Bastards of Young”. Everyone together: “We are the sons of no one/Bastards of young!”
Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon: The Replacements performed on an episode of SNL where they performed “Bastards of Young”and “Kiss Me on the Bus” only to be banned from future episodes for acting like The Replacements and were introduced by host Harry Dean Stanton, who was in The Green Mile with Tom Hanks, who was in Apollo 13 with Kevin Bacon. Boom!
I Hate Music: Some songs are greater than others, but there isn’t a bad one in the bunch. They were on a run in the mid-80s, no question about it.
Outtake: There are two outtakes of “Can’t Hardly Wait”, the classic that would eventually appear on Pleased to Meet Me. The debate over what is the best Replacements album would probably have an answer had it appeared at the end of this one. Also worth checking out is the thrashy demo of “Kiss Me on the Bus”.
Beer Me: Only the best for the boys. BeerAdvocate says that would be The Alchemist’s Heady Topper, so drink up boys and don’t worry. Tommy’s driving.
Analysis: Just tremendous. We took time to break down The Replacements’ discography not only to remind people how great they were, but hopefully to introduce them to newbies young and old. Dance along to “Hold My Life” and “Kiss Me on the Bus”, sit down and have that drink with the acoustic “Here Comes a Regular”, cry and lose a “Little Mascara”. Feel something. This is The Replacements. Take ‘em!
Let It Be (1984)
Back to Back: 11 tracks / 33:31, only two more seconds would have made it equally Christ-like
Bullpen: Everyone on the roof, aka Chris Mars, Bob Stinson, Tommy Stinson, Paul Westerberg. Oh, and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck stopped by to play a guitar solo on “I Will Dare”, too.
He’s Gone Mental: The obvious choice would be “Gary’s Got a Boner”, but really, it doesn’t match the intensity and bizarre imagery of “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out”. It’s like if Westerberg handed the pen over to John Kricfalusi. Honorable mention goes to the speed punk anthem “We’re Comin’ Out”, which has always reminded me of The Warriors for some reason.
Tommy Gets His Draft Card? Christ, the guy loses his tonsils and his adolescence. Still a youngling at age 18, Tommy was already in the mindset of a twentysomething ready to attend a high school reunion. His brother Bob? Ready for the AARP.
Fiddlers on the Roof: Not every day a photo captures a character, or four of them. The respective personalities of Paul, Tommy, Bob, and Chris were forever cemented by Daniel Corrigan in what’s arguably their most iconic photo to date — with the exception of maybe this one. I feel bad for whoever rents out the place now; people still attempt to climb up the roof, and some to much success.
Lyric that’s been muttered way too many times by vacuous parents: “I smoke and I drink and I’m feeling swell” via “Favorite Thing”
Paul Stanley’s favorite song: “Androgynous”. As the most effeminate member of KISS, the Mats’ cheeky ballad is something I imagine The Starchild singing at his grand piano, in his marble floored home, where the moonlight casts shadows across his gold records and multiple lovers, passed out on the zebra-printed leather couch. Is he happy? Is he with the right man or woman? This is a confused time for The Starchild.
“Unsatisfied” vs. “Sixteen Blue”: One’s about being miserable in a relationship, the other romanticizes that misery as a confused teenager. I’ve gone back and forth on this debate for years. It all comes down to the moments, though. Like, there’s the key change at 2:10 in “Unsatisfied” that could bring even Eastwood to tears, but then there’s Stinson’s pining solo three and a half minutes into “Blue” that just injects angst directly into the veins. Ask me another time.
I Hate Music: Nada. Even their cover of KISS’s “Black Diamond” works to great effect. Speaking of which…
Gene Simmons’ favorite song: You’d think “Black Diamond”. That maybe The Demon would extend his gratitude and say something like, “Boys, I’ve heard rock ‘n’ roll and I’ve heard rock ‘n’ roll. This…this was rock ‘n’ roll.” But, he’d probably be peeved at the royalties or something fiscal-related and settle by turning it into an action figure. Or whatever.
Best Outtake: T.Rex and The Replacements feel like a match made in rock ‘n’ roll heaven. As if following Marc Bolan’s early death, the proverbial torch was Fed Ex’d to the Twin Cities for Westie. Hearing the guys cover “20th Century Boy” is like when we finally got that Batman and Superman crossover special on The WB decades ago. The cover definitely didn’t belong on Let It Be, but man…
Beer Me: Grain Belt. This album’s pure Minnesota. Why fuck that up with a random micro brew?
Analysis: Few acts nab themselves a diamond album. The Replacements managed to clean off the coal by album three, and to date, Let It Be remains their best. Some might argue for Tim, others may be partial to Pleased To Meet Me, and the pure might take bullets for Hootenanny or Sorry, Ma, but in hindsight, this band left no better statement than Let It Be. About themselves. Their genre. Their place of origin. The list goes on. And no, “Can’t Hardly Wait”, “Here Comes a Regular”, “The Long and Winding Road”, nor the entire Abbey Road medley can hold a candle to the closing performance of “Answering Machine”. Has anything ever?