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Artist Of The Month: The Replacements

by Mac Wilson

September 05, 2013

This isn't going to be a comprehensive biography of the Replacements. It's not going to be a thesis-level study on their history, their impact, their legacy, and their ever-widening reverberations through music lore. There are devotees who tracked the band from their earliest, dingiest shows to their rise to major label "stardom" to their gradual disintegration (and subsequent reunion). These are the people who are best equipped to pen reverent tomes in hushed tones, telling you that if only you could have seen the Replacements play, you'd understand...

This isn't going to be one of those pieces, because I don't have this same intimate history with the Replacements. When the band cast their shot against the bow of alternative rock by releasing Let It Be in October 1984, I was five months old. When they played their final shows in the summer of 1991, I had just finished first grade. It would be another decade before I learned just who these guys were, vis-a-vis a Greatest Albums of All Time special on VH1. It seemed both notable and bewildering that I wasn't familiar with this band, who evidently came from my hometown Twin Cities, and released an album that was apparently better than Tommy, or Ten, or Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. (You can find the original list here) Yep, right there at #75, the Replacements' Let It Be. The narrator made sure to note that while the band soon signed to a major label, their subsequent releases never quite matched the energy and heart of Let It Be.) I need to emphasize how amazing this seemed to a 16-year-old boy: a bunch of random dudes from Minneapolis made what was judged to be the 75th greatest album of all time! It was difficult for the band to leave my radar from there.

We'll flash forward another decade to 2011, when a handful of us on Twitter launched our famous #AlbumClub, curated by MPR News program director (and the Current's founding program director) Steve Nelson. The idea is that everyone starts listening to an album at the same time, and you tweet along your thoughts as the album progresses. When we spotlighted Let It Be, I felt a little intimidated, as I seemed to be the only one without anecdotes from the band's heyday. But as we listened that night, I got a better handle on exactly what made the band so special, something that couldn't be confined to 140 characters.

For all the tears and teeth-gnashing over the last two decades over how the band could have been such bigger stars, or how they fell prey to infighting and the machinations of the eevul corporate record label machine, consider this: there are myriad alternate universes where things never lined up for them in the first place. The Replacements were a right blend of motivation, hard work, and naivete, which only gets you so far, but they also happened to be blessed with an average-Joe frontman who also happened to be one of the most talented songwriters on earth. The lightning bolt of genius strikes in random places, whether it's a lipstick factory worker in England, a beer-loving schoolteacher in Ohio, or a janitor in Minneapolis. For such talent to exist, and then to attain a means by which to be heard, is a literal one-in-a-million shot.

To quote Spike Lee's 25th Hour, all of this came so close to never happening, but in the Replacements' case, it did. The Replacements were a real thing that really happened, and whether or not they permanently re-emerge in the wake of their Riot Fest reunion, or recede back into memory, it happened. They were here, providing the opportunity for every music fan to write their own personal biography of the ways they touched our souls. —Mac Wilson

The Replacements, Let It Be

That record actually shares a few similarities with the Beatles' Let It Be, but while the Beatles were exhausted when they gathered in early '69 to try to "Get Back," the Replacements were hitting their stride with 1984's Let It Be... [Read more from the Current's program director Jim McGuinn]

The Replacements, Pleased to Meet Me

Pleased to Meet Me was released July 7, 1987. It was The Replacements' fifth album and the second one they recorded after being pulled up to the big leagues to partner with juggernaut Sire / Warner Brothers. It was also their first and only record made as a trio... [Read more from Radio Free Current's Dave Campbell]


See Also:

The Replacements make a triumphant return at Riot Fest in Toronto

The Current's guide to the Replacements

The Replacements Family Tree


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This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.