Illustrator/designer, DJ and vinyl fanatic Pat. James Longo explains why Bob Stinson was integral to The Replacements in 8 tracks.
Words: Pat. James Longo
The Replacements were the first band I truly felt were just like “us.” They seemed like guys we would hang out with. Maybe it was because they were not overly political and generally didn’t yell at you about any one thing in particular. They had a similar sense of humor and were probably dealing with the same issues we were. It was obvious they could play but alcohol was a fifth member and he was not very productive.
After seeing them once you knew not to expect anything from the band live but that could also be said of The Rolling Stones. That didn’t mean we were disappointed, actually it was just the opposite, we couldn’t wait to see them again and again. They gave just enough of their own material and plenty of hilariously destroyed covers that if you didn’t have fun or enjoy them you just didn’t get them. On record the band turned out some of the best punk songs alongside of some of the best pop songs which is not an easy thing to do and generally not something I usually like. That doesn’t mean I considered them pop-punk because that description can be used for many bands that I don’t like. Westerberg’s incredible talents as a writer elevated what could have ended up being just another punk band but, without the Stinsons and Mr. Mars it is doubtful the punk world would have been aware of him. Singer-songwriters are more of a dime-a-dozen than are punk bands. I find there are far more would-be poets in the world than there are punk bands. What actually sets The Replacements apart from all the other punk bands? It is debatable whether they are a punk band at all. They sit on the border of both pop and punk. They are both at once.
I more or less stopped following the band after Tim and the subsequent loss of Bob Stinson. Without Bob it was apparent that Westerberg would be calling the shots and the more pop side of the band’s sound would take over the punk one and that was not a direction I was interested in. That combo of raw emotion, anger and silliness combined with Westerberg’s talent made for one of the greatest musical experiences I have had the pleasure to have witnessed.
Listen to tracks from the records in the playlist below and scroll down to check out them out individually.
1. ‘If Only You Were Lonely’
from I’m In Trouble B/W If Only You Were Lonely
Nothing in the band’s catalog illustrates their Jekyll and Hyde abilities more than this 7-inch. “I’m In Trouble” on side one is punk as fuck with it’s pounding drums and opening Johnny Thunders sounding guitar. Westerberg spits every word and the band meets his attitude with raw aggression plus it includes one of my favorite play on words in a song.
None of this is what makes this one of the best records in my collection. I remember when I first flipped this over expecting another two minute blast of room wrecking feedback… but no…. instead, “If Only You Were Lonely” is a country influenced, cry in your beer ballad. I am not very country nor does country take up a large portion of my collection. Actually it is in a box under my desk, one box. But there is country music that is universal. Usually these are the drinking songs disguised as ballads. Westerberg sounds on the verge of tears as he painfully strains his way through the words but still injects enough humor into it letting us know he’ll be OK. “Twenty push-ups this morning, that was half of my goal; tonight I’ll be doin’ pull-ups on the toilet bowl… and somewhere there’s somebody-a-throwin’ up”. I dare you to top that line.
“Somewhere there’s a smile with my name on it.”
2. … from Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash (Twin/Tone, 1981)
Easily the punk LP of the Replacements catalog and it is almost impossible to pick a favorite song, so I didn’t even try. Each tune seems like a first take steamrolling over you all the while laughing and spilling beer. This is the LP that makes me want to get up and break things, throw myself across a room, laughing possibly on the edge of insanity. More than most, it was the one record that made me feel very connected to ’70s punk rock. From the music, the title, the graphics to the inner sleeve… it just has that feel, it is real, genuine.
There are some very obvious influences throughout yet somehow the record sounds like only one band could have ever had made these noises. The LP can stand up to any of my favorite Sire releases and I always wondered if the band felt that way when they made it. Though, it is more likely that at the time this connection was lost on them or not even a consideration which is also why it is so great. The liner notes have annotations about each track written by the band and mentions that two of the tracks were on their demo they gave to Twin\Tone Records. I remember reading this and thinking that’s cool, I wonder if that is how all bands get signed. Keep in mind at this point in my life there was no difference between a KISS record or one by The Replacements. Your band had a record on my shelf, that I loved, therefore you were equally famous to me.
“I’m in… You’re In… I’m in… Urine.” …mmm…yeah…
3. ‘Kids Don’t Follow’ from Stink (“Kids Don’t Follow” Plus Seven) (Twin/Tone, 1982)
For years I had no idea that each cover of this EP is different. Mine is very simple and very clean but I do remember seeing red and blue ones around when I picked mine up. The opening of the EP is a recording of the Minneapolis police breaking up a party. The Ramones-esque count off to “Kids Don’t Follow” comes out of the feedback of the officer’s megaphone so perfectly I get chills every time I hear it. The band’s sense of humor collides head on with their music as Westerberg’s raspy voice runs down a how to raise your teens list but knows full well nothing will help. “Kids won’t stand still, kids won’t shut up, kids won’t do it… you talk to ’em now.”
Once again Bob’s guitar pays homage at times to Johnny Thunders but there is something more to it, the sounds speed along like the chaos and spectacular bursts of a sparkler. The drums are pounding as if Chris Mars is trying to crush the kit in anger but this is offset by Tommy’s bass line that brings some pop or even music to the song. The bass line sings and dances along as if he is unaffected by the chaos around him joyfully oblivious to adults, authority figures or even his closest friends.
“In my face and out my ear.”
4. ‘Color Me Impressed’ fromHootenanny (Twin/Tone, 1983)
By Hootenanny the band seemed to realize they held an interesting position in the punk world. They weren’t afraid to bring the pop and punk sides together but again not as a pop punk band but more like a 70s pop band on speed and drinking to failure all at once. Despite all of this their playing and performance is confident and they now seemed very comfortable in the studio. I still find it very difficult to pick a favorite LP because Hootenanny and Let It Be are both so fucking good. “Color Me Impressed,” is the standout track on Hootenanny. It’s the song I have included on more mixtapes than any other. It is up there with “Teenage Kicks” and “Another Girl, Another Planet” and pisses me off that it was never on a 7-inch.
The opening riff and drum intro make it hard to know where the song is going — pop or punk? The song careens from one lane to the other but never seems to be in jeopardy of crashing. Instead it stays pedal to the floor heading towards their own world. The rhythm section keeps everything in a mid tempo groove (the pop) but Bob doesn’t seem to want or need to be contained (the punk). Bob barrels along as if not even playing the same song as the band, throws in an incredibly spastic and violent solo which Westerberg moans over the top of as if confused at what has happened to his wonderfully tortured song. Incredibly in the end they somehow, and beautifully, fall together.
“..color me impressed”
5. ’20th Century Boy’ from I Will Dare (Twin/Tone, 1984)
This 12-inch came out just before the LP Let It Be was released. “I Will Dare,” was obviously destined to be on every mixtape I made for the next few years. The inclusion of “Hey Good Lookin,’” and “20th Century Boy,” made you realize they hadn’t lost their edge or their ability to create perfect pop songs and beautiful disasters all at once. Why fully learn a song if it ain’t yours to begin with? Make it your own and more importantly do whatever you want to it. You are paying homage to the original simply by doing the cover version. Learn the parts that made you love the song in the first place and hope you can match the attitude of the original. We had heard the band play both of these songs live but rarely did they make it through. By the point of Hootenanny the band’s influences were more and more obvious because of the songs they chose to cover live. “Hey Good Lookin’” was somewhat obvious; the song could have been on a B-side no different than “If Only You Were Lonely,” but “20th Century Boy,” pointed to a desire to get heavy and not necessarily Punk. T-Rex were larger than life. They were 70s Rock. They defined it along with bands like Thin Lizzy, KISS, Black Sabbath and so on. Weirdly it sounds as if Westerberg is reading lyrics unfamiliar to him like a drunkin’ karaoke dare. Live The Replacements dabbled in every style that got them to where they were as a band and this was a likely next step on record. The more you want someone to believe you are punk the more you have to embrace the irony of mocking and worshipping 70s rock but they seem more on the side of worship than mocking which proved to be very true after “Let It Be” was released.
If you wanted to prove yourself as a pop group in 1984, but you also want to make sure you were still appealing to the College radio / underground music world, have a member of REM play on your record. And, if you want to prove that you are different than the other bands in your supposed genre feature that musician on mandolin. I am not sure if younger people understand that The Replacements and REM were contemporaries. REM seems older since they became so huge but they followed a very similar path to The Replacements. “Underground” was the word used before “alternative” and “indie rock” to describe the music most notably played on College radio. The term didn’t denote whether or not a band was on a major label or not because that didn’t matter. All the bands on Sire were technically on a major but that didn’t make them any less hip, cool or good. Why? Because it is about the music. As important as it may be that you’re music have a proper distribution chain it doesn’t mean shit. The only thing that is important is whether your music is good or not. At a time when the majors became the enemy, REM signed to Warner Brothers and remained darlings of the underground opening the door, once again, for unsigned bands to share the wealth of the majors.
The major label debut of The Replacements is the generically titled Tim. It was as if the band knew they had to sign to a major to be professional musicians but were afraid to take that fact too seriously. Making a living, playing your music sounds like a dream come true but talk about anxiety.
Stan Lee got it wrong in Spider-Man. Why put that kind of pressure on poor Peter Parker. The quote should have been more simply stated, “With adulthood, comes great responsibility.” Is Peter to believe his non world saving friends have no responsibilities? Forced to do a video by Warner Brothers the band opted for a shot of a stereo playing the song and someone, who we never are able to identify, smoking a cigarette. Westerberg wants to remind us that regardless of those responsibilities we need to be in control of our lives and his lyrics will tear at your heart and soul. Whether you are 16 or 90 you need to learn how to rebound from bad decisions and learn life by living. Adulthood will bring responsibilities to yourself, family, friends, jobs, bosses, the authorities, etc. Even if it is just the act of screaming at the heavens you need to let the world know you are proud of your failures and successes equally and sometimes you are allowed to just not give a shit.
“The ones that love us the best; are the ones we’ll lay to rest.” “The ones that love us the least; are the ones we’ll die to please!” You have about fifty years to make your mark on this dirty blue ball we call home so you better do what you want or you will live a life of regret. The song opens with a scream and the video ends with “the smoker” kicking over the speaker and trashing the cigarettes and ashtray. Everything in between, is life.
8. ‘Can’t Hardly Wait (Alternate Version)’
from Pleased To Meet Me
(Sire / Rhino, 1987 / 2009)
“Can’t Hardly Wait” had an extra edge to it when Bob was in the band. I didn’t even mind the horns they added to the LP version but the band seems to have lost their soul. When Bob played this song with them it was slightly faster and it wasn’t a song looking to be a hit… but a song that just hit you. Paul Westerberg is a passionate singer and song writer but when you have asked one of your best friend’s and bandmates to leave the band it must do something to you. His flattened out vocals on the LP version speaks volumes. Bob’s guitar had an urgency so much more suitable to the name and concept of the song. Sadly that urgency became dancing horns on the LP version rather than running blindly into the night with reckless abandonment. I had always heard there was a demo version and happily I found it on YouTube (and it is also on the Rhino extended version of the Pleased To Meet Me CD. The version I will always choose to remember made me bop up and down and want to scream, “I CAN’T WAIT,” on the top of my lungs.
Here is a live version of ‘Can’t Hardly Wait’ from a show I was at Maxwell’s – Hoboken, NJ in 1986.
HIDDEN TRACKS (further recommended listening)
The entirety of:
The Shit Hits The Fans (Twin/Tone, 1985)
From their live shows there was no band more unlikely to ever make it to a major label. Over the years seeing the band live disappointment grew into fondness for their lack of professionalism. It was not unlike sitting at your friend’s house, drinking until motor functions failed (yet you keep drinking), laughing and singing along to some favorite tunes. The Replacements’ choices of songs to cover were very revealing though they did seem random. That sense of randomness came from the fact that they barely completed any of the songs they started. Happily they rescued this tape from a fan and released it because there is no better document of the beautiful disaster that was a live Replacements show. It doesn’t matter what you perfect as your craft because sometimes it isn’t always obvious to everyone. The Replacements were happiest entertaining themselves and they were lucky that there were enough of us in the world who were looking for the same thing.