When Matt Hickey started writing for MAGNET in 1994, he made the mistake of mentioning how much he loved the Replacements. From that point on, he was Replacements Boy. He reviewed pretty much every ex-Mats-member solo record and interviewed everyone who’d ever been in the band, with the exception of Bob Stinson and Steve Foley. (Sadly, neither is doing interviews these days.) So it fell to him to create this Mats argument-starter. Enjoy. (The selections are in vaguely chronological order.)
:: The Five Most Overrated Replacements Songs
1. “I’ll Buy” (1985)
Tim is arguably the best Replacements record, so given the quality of its greatest songs (“Hold My Life,” “Bastards Of Young,” “Left Of The Dial,” “Little Mascara,” et al), “I’ll Buy” is pretty weak in comparison. Some iffy Paul Westerberg lyrics (“Talkin’ about some pictures, now wouldn’t that be a scream/Movies are for retards like me and Maybelline”) and a middling melody don’t add up to much. It’s better than “Dose Of Thunder” and “Lay It Down Clown,” but how could it not be?
2. “Can’t Hardly Wait” (1987)
Huge disclaimer: “Can’t Hardly Wait” is one of my favorite Mats songs. But Pleased To Meet Me producer Jim Dickinson adds horns that one might charitably dub unnecessary, and the overall slickness of this take scrubs a bit too much of the yearning out of a classic Westerberg yearn. The rocking Tim-era outtake on 1996’s All For Nothing/Nothing For All “best-of”/rarities compilation just might top it, and the acoustic version (from the same session, available on the recent Tim remaster) certainly out-aches it. I might even prefer the The Shit Hits The Fans version, but I can’t remember the last time I played that cassette (or any other).
“Can’t Hardly Wait (Tim Version)”:
“Can’t Hardly Wait (Acoustic)”
3. “Shooting Dirty Pool”/”Red Red Wine” (1987)
As with “I’ll Buy,” this selection is largely contextual; these songs have their charms, but following “Never Mind” and “Valentine” and preceding “Skyway” and “Can’t Hardly Wait” on Pleased To Meet Me, they’re relative duds. I recall Westerberg saying something to the effect that he wrote stuff like this to satisfy the headbanging jones of bassist Tommy Stinson and his brother, the late, booted guitarist Bob Stinson. With only Tommy around by this point, maybe Westerberg should’ve included just one. (I’d pick “Shooting Dirty Pool” in what isn’t exactly Sophie’s Choice.)
4. “Merry Go Round” (1990)
I bought All Shook Down (a.k.a. Westerberg’s First Solo Record) the day it was released, drove home as quickly as I could, cracked open the first of many of that night’s beers and eagerly popped it into the CD player. I needed the rest of those cold ones to get over my disappointment. “Merry Go Round” kicked the record off on a decidedly non-rousing note, striking me as a bit dull for an opener (though I’ve always loved the “Hush is the first word you were taught” line). I like it a lot more these days, but my disappointment then was palpable. I felt like I was hearing my favorite band gasping its last breath. I’m not glad I was right.
5. “Message To The Boys” (2006)
One of two new “Mats” songs—Westerberg and Stinson are the only members that played on it, though drummer Chris Mars contributed backing vocals—from the Don’t You Know Who I Think I Was? “greatest hits” LP. The prospect of new material was exciting to many fans, but the forgettable “Message” isn’t really the Replacements. Then why is it on this list? Because it’s my list.
:: The Five Most Underrated Replacements Songs
1. “Nowhere Is My Home” (1986)
The inclusion of “Nowhere Is My Home” on Tim (the tune was put to tape during aborted sessions with Alex Chilton a few months before Tim was recorded) might’ve ended the discussion of where the LP stands vs. the rest of the Mats’ catalog. (“Nowhere” originally was on the Boink!! compilation before showing up on the remastered Tim.) The song has a great riff, an increasingly urgent vocal and a cool, controlled solo that sounds like Westerberg handled it, maybe on a day when Bob wasn’t in the studio. Right up there with “If Only You Were Lonely” (also originally on Boink!! and now on the Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash reissue) as undeservedly left off proper albums.
2. “Rock ’N’ Roll Ghost” (1989)
I have no proof that this spare tale of self-reflection from Don’t Tell A Soul is about Westerberg’s remorse for kicking Bob out of the band and presaging his passing, but the lyric “Well, you said he’s better off dead/You think that I might have heard a word/But I was much too young and much too cool for words/Look at me now” makes me believe he at least somewhat inspired it. When Westerberg later sings about seeing the titular spirit in the mirror, the effect is, well, haunting.
3. “The Last” (1990)
In typically brilliant Westerberg fashion, “The Last” works both as a farewell to booze and as a plea for love. Dominated by Westerberg’s doleful piano, All Shook Down’s final track sounds unlike anything the band ever did but nonetheless serves as a fitting epitaph.
4. “Satellite” (1991)
Tommy’s only solo Mats songwriting credit and vocal, “Satellite” first appeared on the Don’t Sell Or Buy, It’s Crap promo in ’91, then on Nothing For All. Unsurprisingly, Stinson comes across as a sort-of Westy Jr., but this über-catchy tune has a rock ‘n’ roll spark that’s sorely missing from most late-period Mats product.
5. “I Don’t Know” (1996)
A bit of a cheat, perhaps, given that this goof-off take of the great Pleased To Meet Me tune is a hidden bonus track on Nothing For All and isn’t exactly a finished product. Still, Westerberg crazily meowing and singing “I’d like to hear some guitar/So you can turn it up anytime now” cracks me up on every listen. A clearly sloshed Tommy shouting “Richard!” as the music peters out is the perfect capper. I picture the band collectively puking right after that.