The Replacements, ‘Iron Man’ – Terrible Classic Rock Covers
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Many artists have had their careers stall after performing terrible classic rock covers. But very few have made their reputation as a result of them. Then again, not too many bands were the Replacements.
Breaking out of the Twin Cities, the Replacements were one of the most critically acclaimed bands of the ’80s American punk scene. They melded pop songcraft with punk irreverence and, in the lyrics of frontman Paul Westerberg, the soul of a poet.
They broke up in 1991, just before the rest of the world caught up to their sound, but their albums — in particular ‘Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash’ (1981), ‘Let It Be’ (1984) and ‘Pleased to Meet Me’ (1987) — set the template for the rise of alternative music in the ’90s. Every punk band that got big in the ’90s — especially Nirvana and Green Day — owes a major debt to the Replacements.
In concert, however, they were a different story. Some nights they would tear through their catalog with reckless abandon as Westerberg shouted over the din and lead guitarist Bob Stinson spit out lines while standing in a garbage can, dressed in a tutu or a diaper.
But just as often their concerts would devolve into a drunken mess, with the band throwing out the set list and playing half-assed, half-completed covers. It became a part of their lore. Depending on their mood, they were either the best band in the world or the worst, and you just had to show up to see which you were going to get.
One of those nights was at the Bowery in Oklahoma City, Okla., on Jan. 25, 1985. As Jim Walsh recalls in his oral history ‘The Replacements: All Over but the Shouting,’ before the show, Roscoe Shoemaker, the club’s manager asked Westerberg if he could tape them. Westerberg responded with, “Why? We suck.”
Regardless, Shoemaker set up his equipment at the show, which was attended by 30 people at most. But nobody told roadie Bill Sullivan. Nearly 54 minutes into the gig, he spotted the recorder, which had been left alone, and confiscated the tape inside. On the way back to Minnesota, the band listened and thought that, warts and all, it was a perfect representation of the group at the time. They decided to release it on cassette only and call it ‘The S— Hits the Fans.’ Only 10,000 copies were made, and they sold out quickly.
Of the 24 songs on the tape, only five were Replacements originals. The covers attempted included Lynyrd Skynryd‘s ‘Saturday Night Special,’ Led Zeppelin‘s ‘Misty Mountain Hop’ and Thin Lizzy‘s ‘Jailbreak,’ with most of the songs lasting on average about 90 seconds before the band gave up on them.
Keep in mind that even though they were a punk band, they didn’t hate classic rock. In fact, Westerberg was an unabashed lover of ’60s and ’70s AM pop and regularly cited the Faces‘ ‘A Nod Is As Good As a Wink to a Blind Horse’ and Bruce Springsteen‘s ‘Born to Run’ as two of his favorite albums.
Stinson, the oldest member, loved prog rock — his favorite guitarist was Yes‘ Steve Howe. He just lacked the discipline required to be a virtuoso. The bassist, Stinson’s younger brother Tommy — who was only 12 when the band that became the Replacements was formed in 1978 — has been in Guns N’ Roses since 1998. And on ‘Let It Be,’ they slammed home a cover of Kiss‘ ‘Black Diamond‘ and used T. Rex‘s ‘20th Century Boy‘ as a B-side.
Any one of the covers they played that night could have been used for this series of Terrible Classic Rock Covers, but we’re going with Black Sabbath‘s ‘Iron Man,’ which is tough enough to play when sober. Stinson never quite figures out Tony Iommi‘s riff, and Westerberg can remember only a handful of the words before the song comes to an abrupt halt.
But as bad as the performance is, there is something incredible about ‘The S— Hits the Fans.’ It’s the sound of a band completely unafraid to fall flat on its face and get up the next day, dust itself off and do it again in another town. Whether they succeeded or failed, it was on their terms and theirs alone. And if that’s not rock n’ roll, nothing is.
Listen to Black Sabbath’s ‘Iron Man’