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Addresses: Record company-- Sire Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, 20th Floor, New York, NY 10019-6979.
The Replacements' combination of songcraft and rock and roll energy made them one of the most admired alternative bands of the 1980s. Though the 'Mats, as they are also known, started out as a scruffy Midwestern punk-pop outfit, they soon matured into a formidable presence on rock's cutting edge. Singer-songwriter Paul Westerberg's passionate lyrics and powerful tunes, combined with the band's onstage intensity and humor, attracted the praise of critics and the devotion of a diverse group of fans. Yet by the end of the 1980s, the Replacements faced growing doubts about their coherence as a band; the group's future seemed as unpredictable as their legendary live shows. Their 1990 album All Shook Down, though a smash with critics, did little to settle the matter.
The punk rock wave of the late seventies and early eighties, which began with American bands like the Ramones and such British groups as the Sex Pistols and the Clash, invigorated independent rock and roll on both sides of the Atlantic. As with any revival, certain cities played prominent roles in the new music scene. In England, for example, Manchester and Liverpool fostered a score of important postpunk bands. Among the towns with substantial music scenes in the United States were Athens, Georgia, which produced R.E.M., the B-52's, and others; Akron, Ohio, home of Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders as well as Devo; and Minneapolis, Minnesota, which brought together Husker Du, Prince and the Revolution, and the Replacements. The excitement of the Minneapolis scene in the early 1980s fueled the success of Westerberg and his band. The Replacements began as a teenaged garage band featuring Westerberg, bassist Tommy Stinson, who was then 12 years old, Tommy's brother Bob on guitar, and drummer Chris Mars.
The band began opening for other punk bands and released its first record Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash for the Twin/Tone label in 1981. Rolling Stone' s Steve Pond called this debut effort and the 'Mats' 1982 EP Stink "fast and hard and mean, close to hardcore but a little too smart and sentimental." These early recordings were very much in the punk spirit, with slamming drums, basic guitar, and song titles like "I Hate Music" and "Gimme Noise." The band became notorious, however, as one of underground rock's most wildly unpredictable live acts. Group members were often drunk and peppered their sloppy renditions of original songs with campy cover versions of old country songs, heavy metal anthems, and TV themes. The country feel made its way into their 1983 LP, Hootenanny. While the band's overindulgence seemed to provide some inspiration and fun to their shows, it also led to serious problems. Bob Stinson's drinking in particular affected his performances, and Westerberg too had come to rely on alcohol. "I've been waking up for years looking in the mirror and thinking, 'I've got to put the bottle down,'" he recalled in a 1990 interview with Musician' s Bill Flanagan. "One day I looked in the mirror and said, 'If I was the bottle I'd put me down.'"
In 1984 the 'Mats released Let it Be, their most critically acclaimed independent album. Less of a punk record but still energetic and witty, the record made clear the Replacements' importance to the independent rock world. Steve Simmels of Stereo Review referred to Let it Be as "monumental." Westerberg noted in a 1989 Rolling Stone interview, "We had a big dose of attitude in the early days, and it's kinda hard to put attitude down on tape. But we tried for, like, three records. And kinda gave up the ghost on Let it Be, and let a little bit of music happen, too. And that was the right mixture." The mixture includes intense rockers like "We're Coming Out" and the furious "Seen Your Video," tongue-in-cheek tunes like "Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out" and a cover of "Black Diamond" by seventies rock idols Kiss, and such surprisingly tender songs as "Androgynous," a piano-and-vocal turn by Westerberg which shows the influence of sixties avant-rockers The Velvet Underground. Let it Be persuaded Sire Records to sign the Replacements. Twin/Tone's last 'Mats release was the 1984 live cassette The Shit Hits the Fans, which was actually a bootleg recording confiscated from a fan. The show immortalized on the tape was a raucous performance in Oklahoma that featured cover versions of Led Zeppelin tunes and R.E.M.'s "Radio Free Europe."
Longtime 'Mats fans worried that a contract with a major label would soften the band's sound, but their 1985 release Tim calmed most of those fears. Simmels referred to the album as "a flat-out stunner. It is the most passionately felt piece of music to have emanated from an American garage since ... Let it Be ." High Fidelity called Tim "the richest, most complex record these American underdogs have made." And if the "mature songs" High Fidelity found on this effort suggested too much growing up, the band's video for the blistering single "Bastards of Young" was refreshingly adolescent: nothing but footage of a speaker in a teenager's room, throbbing to the song's relentless beat until the end, when a sneakered foot kicked it over. The video summed up much of the appeal of the band's attitude; their refusal to play the image-obsessed game of rock video looked like a genuine act of rebellion in the mid-eighties.
In the meantime, however, Bob Stinson's drinking and behavior were so out of control that the band decided to kick him out. They recorded their next LP, Pleased to Meet Me, as a trio. Though it didn't create as powerful an impression as Tim, it further showcased Westerberg's songwriting. The band toured in 1987 to support the album with new guitarist Slim Dunlap. As Ira Robbins noted in Rolling Stone, "Set lists rather than inebriated whimsy guided the band's performances." The band also contributed its version of "Cruella DeVille," from the film 101 Dalmatians, to Stay Awake, the 1988 A&M compilation of songs from Walt Disney movies.
The band's increased seriousness may have motivated Sire's decision to give a sincere promotional push to the group's 1989 album Don't Tell a Soul. The video for the single "I'll Be You," a song that suggests Westerberg's weariness of the punk rebel's role, appeared frequently on MTV and reached Billboard' s Top 100 Singles chart. Though reviews of the album were mixed, the 'Mats had reached a new level of visibility on the rock scene, appearing on the covers of magazines as well as on TV screens. People' s David Hiltbrand wrote that "Don't Tell a Soul is not as strong an album as its predecessor, Pleased to Meet Me. But for fans of the Replacements and of the rock and roll spirit, it's a treat." Robbins labeled Don't Tell a Soul "an audacious album that reclaims its valued independence by confounding audience expectations." Chuck Eddy of High Fidelity disagreed, calling the record "nondescript," and lacking in musical force and lyrical wit. Tommy Stinson remarked in a Newsweek interview, "We're gettin' older and our music is gettin' older. And our f---- ideas are gettin' older." This new "maturity" was bound to alienate some listeners, but the band and the label hoped to open the Replacements to a wider audience. Unfortunately, Don't Tell a Soul only sold around 300,000 copies.
The next album, All Shook Down, was originally intended as a Paul Westerberg solo album. Released in 1990, it featured a number of acoustic songs as well as musicians from outside the band. Rumors circulated through the music world that the band was about to break up, even as this new album garnered enthusiastic reviews and considerable prestige. Chris Mundy's review in Rolling Stone called All Shook Down "the record the Replacements should have made" to impress the critics who lined up to praise Don't Tell a Soul. Despite the quieter tone of the record, Mundy noted, "songs are now presented with a hushed urgency that demands immediate attention." Even with this and similar accolades, the band's future was as uncertain as ever. Westerberg did a number of interviews in the unique position of promoting a band that might break up at any moment. Jeffrey Ressner reported in Rolling Stone that "the Replacements stand as a band on the verge. It could be the verge of success or it could be the verge of failure. More than anything else these days, it seems that the Replacements are teetering on the verge of a nervous breakdown."
Westerberg's uncertainty about the band's destination and his newfound "maturity" hadn't changed his views about singing and songwriting. Lauded by Spin as "the soul of rock 'n' roll," he remarked in an interview with the magazine, "To me, the soul of rock 'n' roll is mistakes. Mistakes and making mistakes work for you.... The people who shy away from change and mistakes and play it safe have no business playing rock 'n' roll."
by Simon Glickman
Replacements, The's Career
- Selective Works
- Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash (contains "I Hate Music"), Twin/Tone, 1981.
- Stink (contains "Gimme Noise"), Twin/Tone, 1982.
- Hootenanny Twin/Tone, 1983.
- Let it Be (contains "We're Coming Out," "Seen Your Video," "Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out," "Black Diamond," and "Androgynous"), Twin/Tone, 1984.
- The Shit Hits the Fans (contains "Radio Free Europe"), Twin/Tone, 1984 (cassette only).
- Tim (contains "Bastards of Young"), Sire, 1985.
- Please to Meet Me Sire, 1987.
- Don't Tell a Soul (contains "I'll Be You"), Sire, 1989.
- All Shook Down Sire, 1990.
- Contributors of "Cruella DeVille" to Stay Awake A&M, 1988.
July 27, 2004: Band member Tommy Stinson's solo album, Village Gorilla Head, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_4/index.jsp, August 5, 2004.
- High Fidelity, March 1986; May 1989.
- Musician, December 1990.
- Newsweek, June 19, 1989.
- People, February 27, 1989.
- Rolling Stone, February 9, 1989; June 1, 1989; December 14, 1989; October 4, 1990; October 18, 1990.
- Spin, August 1991.
- Stereo Review, February 1986.
Replacements, The Lyrics
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