By my estimation, there are 122 “canon” Replacements songs – by which I mean studio songs that appear on their seven official albums, their Stink and Songs for Slim EPs, the new songs from their 2006 collection Don’t You Know Who I Think I Was?, two songs from 1986’s Boink! collection andthe odds and ends on disc 2 of their 1997 collection All For Nothing/Nothing For All. Conceivably, I could do a “Every Replacements Studio Song Ranked” list. Its not out of the question. Just not, you know, right now.
The top ten singles are all excellent
10. Left of the Dial
From 1985’s Tim, Promo Video Only
This is a song about the symbiotic relationship between punk and alternative bands like The Replacements and college radio. Most college stations broadcast on the FM 87.5-92.5 Mhz range. On your radio dial back in the pre-digital days, these would literally be to the left. The Replacements maybe weren’t able to really break into the radio mainstream – though they had 7 successive hits on the Modern Rock charts and even a #1 Mainstream Rock song (albeit not until 1988). It was fairly certain that if you were listening to their music on the radio in the 80’s you were indeed hearing it “left of the dial.” The Replacements were an absolute staple of my college radio experience. I think I probably played them more than any other band and most of mu DJ friends loved them. Intensity of fan love doesn’t always translate into more fans. Indeed, I have vivid memories of friends suggesting that the reason bands like The Replacements didn’t get more mainstream airplay was because they sucked. Years later, many of these same people are fans of many of the bands they disparaged back in the day. I think this is just a natural progression – some people can hear something and love it immediately and some people need a bit more time to come around. This was a terrible thing for The Replacements at the time but it has meant that at least they’re getting recognition from more people now – some great bands were born from obscurity, achieved national obscurity and vanished into total obscurity.
9. I’m in Trouble
From 1981’s Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out The Trash, First Single
The Replacements’ first EP was titled Stink (on the cover it thus looked like “The Replacements Stink,” typically self-deprecating humor from the start). That EP and their first album – Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash – are classic early 80’s punk. For years, the earliest Replacement album I owned was Let It Be, which means their first three records (the aforementioned EP and LP as well as Hootenanny) were largely alien to me. I had a great time catching up with their early history. The Replacements were a hardcore punk band but they were pretty happy with their lot. While other bands were raging against the system, The Replacements were pretty happy being (to quote the best song on Trash) “shiftless when idle.” They liked playing music, they liked drinking and it just happened to be a weird coincidence that they were really, really good. “I’m In Trouble” is a classic punk rock tune that also happens to benefit from some early Westerberg wordplay and cynicism.
8. When It Began
From 1990’s All Shook Down, Third Single
“When It Began” is, of course, The Replacements’ final single. Of course their last single would have a title suggesting both a beginning and an ending. Of course it would be a song about the band itself. I’ve always interpreted it as being about the band’s relationship with the fans and how once they started moving into the mainstream (even incrementally) they had to put on their pants and play it a little more seriously. On the one hand, it always seemed like Westerberg craved success. On the other hand, it also seemed like he loathed many of the things you had to do in the 80’s to be successful (make videos, play songs casual fans wanted to hear in concert, stay sober on major television appearances). I’m not an especially huge fan of All Shook Down and I confess this sounds more like Westerberg solo than a full Replacements song, but its a fantastic song (and I like Westerberg solo).
7. The Ledge
From 1987’s Pleased To Meet Me, Third Single
The next two songs have the same video. MTV refused to play this one because the song is about suicide. They took the same footage, put different music over it and sent it back to MTV. They played it. This is because the video is just them sitting around for four minutes so it literally doesn’t matter what song accompanies it. “The Ledge” is a harrowing teen suicide song that ends with the teen narrator jumping off the titular ledge. There’s a guitar solo immediately after this happens which suggest, to me, the sound of the youth falling to his death. The song is more of a psychological exploration of the character than an explicit anti-suicide song (though its not a pro-suicide song either) so I sort of understand why MTV didn’t want to play it (I didn’t understand it at the time). “Everybody Hurts” (so get help) works on a network influential with teens. “This is one reason why somebody might kill themselves” (and think about how you may be complicit or may be able to help people in this situation before they attempt suicide) is a much harder sell and requires more thought.
6. Alex Chilton
From 1987’s Pleased to Meet Me, Second Single
I should hope that every Replacements fan went and purchased all three original Big Star albums after The Replacements released “Alex Chilton.” Chilton (best known as the lead singer of The Box Tops) formed Big Star with Chris Bell, Jody Stephens and Andy Hummel. They released three remarkable and influential albums that went nowhere. Indeed, it could be argued (with some evidence) that everyone who initially bought a copy of one of these albums formed a band and became a seminal American indie power-pop songwriter in the late 70’s and early 80’s. I could write about Big Star for days, but the important thing here is that Chilton’s songwriting was a huge influence on Paul Westeberg’s songwriting. The song “Alex Chilton” lionizes the man into a huge, beloved rock star – which is ironic since nothing of the sort happened. Its sort of Westerberg’s fan fiction for his favorite musician. Its also one of the best songs by the band – the interplay of the guitars and the rhythm section in the lead in to the first verse makes you want to stand up on your chair and shout “YEAH YEAH HELL YEAH” which is an embarrassing thing when you’re on the #4 bus.
5. Can’t Hardly Wait
From 1987’s Pleased to Meet Me, First Single
Alex Chilton plays guitar on this track, which is from the same album as the song “Alex Chilton.” For years I wondered if Chilton ever heard “Chilton” and I’m guessing the answer is yes. He reformed Big Star and toured from 1993 until his death – I like to think that The Replacements helped create the circumstances that made that possible. Anyhow, “Can’t Hardly Wait” is a song about touring with a band and trying to maintain a relationship with somebody who isn’t on the tour. Since this is a Replacements song, it is made clear that the narrator is a screw up (he is too drunk or tired to write a letter to his lover, he has blown the address before and he doesn’t have a stamp and will need to borrow one). Lyrically, the song is a lament. Musically, it becomes a celebration of both life on the road and the joy of knowing you’ll eventually return to your own bed. The song has strings, horns and swings and rocks at the same time. Its just glorious.
4. Bastards of Young
From 1985’s Tim, First Single
This is, perhaps, a controversial choice for #4 as I recognize that many, many fans would rank this at the top of the list. I rank these songs based on a strict set of scientific principles that boils down to “do I like each song more than the previous song?” I love “Bastards of Young.” I love three other singles even more. Certainly, these next four songs would be in the top ten of my theoretical “All Replacements Songs” list, possibly even in the same ranks. Anyhow, “Bastards of Young” is a a distillation of the whole Replacements ethos. I’m just going to link the lyrics instead of going into an analysis because its all right there. They might not get the success they want but, hey, being in a band beats picking cotton. The song might have specifically been about the band, but I think all of us Generation X fans saw a little bit of ourselves in this song. We have always felt like we were second best (at best). Even if the lyrics weren’t brilliant, the music screams joyous defiance. The guitar riff is one of the band’s best – maybe Bob Stinson’s finest moment.
3. I’ll Be You
From 1989’s Don’t Tell A Soul, First Single
I have vivid memories of dancing to this song with my friends in the Black Box theatre at Schaeffer Theatre at Bates College after my thesis production of Measure for Measure closed. My good friend Scott isn’t on Facebook (where these notes were originally published), but he had been the General Manager at WRBC while I’d been the Program Director. We were two pale, skinny white dudes and people mistook us for each other all the time. For a few months before graduation, this became our theme song. This was The Replacement’s biggest hit and if more of the songs on Don’t Tell A Soul were this good, the album would have been huge. Westerberg’s line about “a rebel without a clue” was later used by Tom Petty on “Into The Great Wide Open” (after The Replacements had toured with him). The song is filled with hooks, smart lyrics and simply rocks (albeit maybe not as hard as “Bastards of Young” since The Replacements were looking for radio play). If there was any justice in this world, this song would have catapulted the band into the rock stratosphere. But there is no justice.
2. Little Mascara
From 1985’s Tim, Promo Video Only
There was a promo video released for this song (probably the band’s typical video of the song being played on a stereo system) but I can’t find it. The lyrics of this song are addressed to the woman in a failing/failed relationship with a bad dude. Westerberg – sort of her punk rock life coach – is telling her that when she lost this guy all she really lost is a little mascara. Losing the guy is no big deal – or even a good thing. I’ve always heard a great deal of compassion in his voice as he sings this one and wonder if it was aimed at a real person. Or at many real people. This is another song where Bob Stinson’s guitar work is outstanding – the opening of the song is just the best. The last minute of the band shout/singing “that you cry” is one of the weirdest great sing-alongs in music history. I’ll stand by that statement.
1. I Will Dare
From 1984’s Let It Be, First Single
It is criminal that only one single was released for Let It Be. I’m sure Twin-Tone records – an indie label back in the day – couldn’t afford to do much more but holy cats. “Sixteen Blue?” “Androgynous?” “We’re Coming Out?” “Answering Machine?” Holy cats, “Unsatisfied?” This album could just have been released with the title ‘The Replacements’ Greatest Hits.” Its ridiculous how good this album is. I first heard “I Will Dare” when it was played by a three-piece Bates student punk band during my freshman year. I thought it was an original and was blown away. I asked around and learned it was a Replacements song. I sought out Let It Be and Tim (which had recently been released) immediately and my life has been 33.36% better ever since. “I Will Dare” is a song about taking a chance with somebody you love even if they’re a little younger than you. I used this as my song at Sharon and my wedding reception – count the rings around my eyes indeed. The song is a little bit of a jab at U2’s “I Will Follow” and includes a guitar solo by Pete Buck of R.E.M., just to tie it in with two other lists I’ve done. Anyhow, hands down no doubt my favorite Replacements single.
Coming Soon: Madonna or maybe The Cars.