The Current's Guide to The Replacements

The Replacements
An early promotional photo for The Replacements. Paul Westerberg, Chris Mars, Tommy Stinson and Bob Stinson. (Courtesy Twin Tone)

Contrary to popular opinion, you didn't have to be there.

When dealing with The Replacements — a band that means so much to so many — it's easy to forget that not everyone knows it all when it comes to Minneapolis' best rock 'n' roll band. So we're creating a safe space for those who weren't at Jay's Longhorn Bar, or those who didn't pore over every liner note and wear their record players' needles to nubs in the end groove of "Here Comes a Regular" at Tim's weepy conclusion.

To ease you into it, The Current staff compiled their first encounters, understandings and essential wisdoms of the band, retold here.

You'll also want to look out for our coverage this week leading up to the big reunion gig in Toronto on Sunday, including a map of all the players and the bands they worked in and influenced, some fun with Twin Cities' 'Mats landmarks and a new take at classic album art, culminating in live coverage (and a review) of the Toronto show by Local Current writer Andrea Swensson.

Left of the Dial

Barb Abney didn't know who Paul Westerberg was at a radio job interview.

"My Replacements story is actually a 'non-Replacements story' of sorts... I applied for a job at 97X (the station I worked at for 12 years before coming to The Current). I used tracks from The Singles (1992) soundtrack on my demo tape, so at the end of my first interview they gave me the following quiz:

Interviewer: "Do you know who Eddie Vedder is?"
Barb: "Pearl Jam's lead singer."

Interviewer: "Do you know who Perry Farrell is?"
Barb: "The singer for Jane's Addiction... AND he started Lollapalooza too!"

Interviewer: "Do you know who Paul Westerberg is?"
Barb: "Who?"

Interviewer: "...Paul Westerberg."
Barb: "Never heard of him."

"Amazingly, I DID get the job and was given his dog-eared copy of Trouser Press to discover who Paul Westerberg was! I paid a little more attention the next time I heard 'Dyslexic Heart' on my discman!"

"Dyslexic Heart" by Paul Westerberg (solo, 1992)

Now that you know it's OK to not know about The 'Mats, (By the way, the band's oft-utilized nickname is an abbreviation of "The Placemats," a mispronounced (Re)placements), it's time to beef up on history.

The basic lore: young Paul Westerberg encountered brothers Bob and Tommy Stinson making an awful racket at their house. They joined forces with drummer Chris Mars and became The Impediments. Several disastrous gigs ensued, and due to a bar manager claiming, "They'll never work in this town again," they changed their name to The Replacements and continued playing out.

You had me at 'Go'

Bill DeVille recounts early live shows.
"Ultimately what made the 'Mats great was Paul Westerberg's songs. The Replacements shows were wildly inconsistent. Often your favorite Replacements song wouldn't be played in its entirety, but the thing you could always hang your hat on was the songs. A great Replacements song can make you laugh and cry in the same tune. They were songs that you could relate to. Songs that made you feel joy and the pain that we all feel. Westerberg's songs cover the gamut of emotions. They were often ragged, but always felt right. Songs like 'Achin' to Be,' 'Here Comes A Regular,' 'Can't Hardly Wait' and 'Within Your Reach' come to mind. I've been a fan since I first heard 'Go' from the Stink EP on the radio!"

"Go" from Stink (1982)
"Color Me Impressed" from Hootenanny, 1983

I Will Dare

Local Show host and dyed-in-the-wool Replacements fan David Campbell provides a useful guide for understanding their legacy.

"There are really two phases of The Replacements. The first phase — the raucous, loud, punks; I thought these guys are really like pirates — they reached their pinnacle with Let It Be. Their first few records (Sorry Ma I Forgot to Take out the Trash, Stink, Hootenanny, Let it Be and Tim) were phase one, but when Bob Stinson left the band, it was a different story."

"I Will Dare" from Let It Be, 1984

Stinson's departure (the band struggled with his continued substance abuse) coincided with major critical and audience attention. For Tim, the follow-up to the critically acclaimed Let It Be, The Replacements had their breakthrough. Tim had it all — moody jams, like "Swingin' Party" a power pop ballad in "Kiss Me on the Bus" rockers in both "Dose of Thunder" and the anthemic "Bastards of Young" and the indie radio theme song "Left of the Dial." To say nothing of the brooding "Here Comes a Regular." Poised for commercial success, the band headed into the studio as a trio to record Pleased to Meet Me.

I'm in Love / What's that song?

Host Jacquie Fuller recounts her encounter with the iconic track from Pleased to Meet Me.
"I first heard the 'Mats in '87 on a modern rock station in California. The song was 'Alex Chilton,' and I was hooked right away ('I'm in love /what's that song?' — So meta!) I was a brooding new wave kid who hung out with a lot of SoCal punks, but I only pretended to like punk so they'd like me. The Mats made punk — dare I say — palatable for me, blending it with Westerberg's singer-songwriter sensibility into a sound all its own: raucous, gritty, equal parts smart and joyously stupid, and completely heartfelt. Been a fan ever since."

"Alex Chilton" from Pleased to Meet Me (1987)

David Campbell chimes in on Pleased to Meet Me: "This is the beginning of phase 2. Pleased to Meet Me is all hits. Even the under looked 'Never Mind' is so good. And if the 'Mats ever had a 'Stairway,' 'Can't Hardly Wait' is it. But the first time I heard them, I actually heard Don't Tell a Soul. Between classes at my high school, we had music in the passing periods, and I remember hearing 'I'll Be You,' and when I heard them on the radio, it was the first time I realized that music scene had happened in Minneapolis.

Achin' to Be

Mark Wheat on how The Replacements influenced his move to Minnesota
"Not living here when they were active, I only saw them once in NYC and they were not great... but not awful, either. I've said over and over again, they are why I thought this would be a cool place to live. For me, it was listening to the albums over and over again that made me a big fan. Being a lyrics guy — that's what I love most. I think perhaps that Paul especially chafed against the punk stereotype of not taking it too seriously and wanted to be recognized for his lyrical strength. Just like on the 'final' album, Don't tell A Soul, especially one of my faves, 'Achin To Be': 'She opens her mouth to speak and / What comes out's a mystery / Thought about, not understood / She's achin' to be'."

"Achin' to Be" from Don't Tell a Soul (1989)
"Merry Go Round" from All Shook Down (1990)

Mark Wheat refers to Don't Tell a Soul as the final album, because the Replacements' swan song All Shook Down was largely Westerberg with (mostly) session musicians. Following Don't Tell a Soul, the band embarked on a tour opening for Tom Petty, which caused significant strife among the band members. By the time they went to the studio to record All Shook Down, Westerberg brought in hired guns, cranking out a record that seemed a toned-down version of their former fiery selves.

The band supposedly called it quits on July 4, 1991, after a show with Material Issue in Grant Park in Chicago, which is frequently referred to as "It Ain't Over 'Til the Fat Roadies Play" because each member of the band left the stage frequently, leaving the musical duties to the assigned roadies. Chicago radio station WXRT broadcast the show, and you can hear it below.

Tommy Stinson claims the Replacements never officially broke up, and we'll see how that plays out with the upcoming reunion gigs in Toronto on Aug. 25, Chicago on Sept. 15, and Denver on Sept. 21, 2013.

If you were introducing someone to The Replacements for the first time, what would you play? Leave your suggestion in the comments.

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  • Slideshow: Replacements-related landmarks in the Twin Cities How many times have you crossed Stinson Boulevard and thought of The Replacements? The local legends' lyrics, album art and yesteryears have ultimately given the Twin Cities a handful of historical hometown landmarks.
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