Top 10 Replacements Songs
Here at Ultimate Classic Rock we’ve often given space to bands whose quality and influence exceed their sales. Now we’re adding the Replacements to that list. As one of the most important bands of the American underground scene in the ’80s, they — along with R.E.M., Husker Du and the Pixies — helped pave the way for the alternative revolution of the early-’90s, when the mainstream slowly warmed up to their blend of pop melody and punk music through bands like Nirvana and Green Day.
Over the course of seven albums and one EP between 1981 and 1990, the Minneapolis natives went from being a better-than-average punk band, with their Ramones and Stooges love on full display, into something far greater. The difference was frontman Paul Westerberg, who grew into one of the best songwriters of the decade, pouring out his soul and reaching disaffected fans across America, even if their concerts often consisted of drunken, half-finished versions of cover songs.
Since 1998, Tommy Stinson, who was only 13 when the band played its first gig in 1980, has been the bassist in Guns N’ Roses. That makes them classic rock enough for us, and so we present our list of the Top 10 Replacements Songs.
“I’minlovewiththegirlwhoworksatthestorebutI’mnothingbutaCUSTOMER” begins this 89-second track, the only cut from their debut album on our list of the Top 10 Replacements Songs. From there, Westerberg goes into a list of questions to his crush — “Where are the Twinkies? What’s on sale?” — in an attempt to start a conversation as the band tries to keep up. In the annals of songs about retail-based infatuation, ‘Customer’ leaves Bruce Springsteen‘s ‘Queen of the Supermarket’ in the dust.
‘Left of the Dial’
Even though some of the edges on their major-label debut ‘Tim’ were smoothed out through Tommy Erdelyi’s (a.k.a. Tommy Ramone) production, the brilliance of Westerberg’s songs — including ‘Waitress in the Sky,’ ‘Swingin’ Party’ and ‘Little Mascara’ — still shine through. ‘Left of the Dial,’ an ode to the network of college radio stations and fanzines that connected the underground, has remained one of his most beloved songs.
One of the things that separated Westerberg from his comrades in the punk scene was his willingness to unplug his electric guitar and put his heart on his sleeve. Most Replacements albums have at least one acoustic song, and ‘Skyway’ is the best. It’s a heartbreaking tale of a missed connection that takes place amid the pedestrian walkways that connect the buildings in downtown Minneapolis.
‘Achin’ to Be’
Despite their sonic differences, Paul Westerberg saw that country and punk had a lot in common — namely, simple, direct and honest songs. Beginning with ‘If Only You Were Lonely,’ the B-side of their first single, they occasionally drew from that well, including the twangy ‘Achin’ to Be,’ which was a minor hit on alternative and rock radio.
‘Color Me Impressed’
The first half of our list of the Top 10 Replacements Songs ends with another of their early punk classics, this time from their second album. A dig at trendy parties set to a perfect pop melody, the song’s title was referenced by filmmaker Gorman Bechard for his excellent 2011 documentary about the band, ‘Color Me Obsessed.’
Like the Replacements, ’70s power popsters Big Star were a band of misfits doomed for failure, but their three brilliant albums got into the hands of the right people, including Westerberg. Following a Replacements gig at CBGB in December 1984, Westerberg met Big Star frontman Alex Chilton, who wound up producing a few songs that didn’t make it onto ‘Tim’ (although they were released on the 2008 re-issue). The band paid him back with this track, a re-telling of that meeting and an endorsement of the band in the lyric, “I never travel far / Without a little Big Star.”
‘Bastards of Young’
A clarion call of an electric guitar riff followed by a scream opens the song, a declaration of the band’s ambivalence toward its fame (“The ones who love us the least / Are the ones we’ll die to please / If it’s any consolation / I don’t begin to understand it”). ‘Bastards of Young’ also earns points for its video, which consists solely of one black-and-white shot of a speaker playing the song, followed by somebody kicking it over.
On 1983’s ‘Within Your Reach,’ Paul Westerberg started to follow his instincts toward introspection. It hit full bloom a year later with ‘Let It Be”s ‘Unsatisfied,’ where the electric guitars give way to an acoustic 12-string guitar and a lap steel. As the songs comes to a close, Westerberg practically shreds his voice in an anguished performance that pulls at the heartstrings.
‘Can’t Hardly Wait’
Originally recorded during the Alex Chilton-produced sessions for ‘Tim,’ ‘Can’t Hardly Wait’ was rewritten and slowed down for the follow-up two years later. Producer Jim Dickinson brought in the Memphis Horns and strings, which helped transform the song into a gorgeously fragile look at life on the road and a desire to return home.
‘I Will Dare’
Our list of the Top 10 Replacements Songs concludes with the opening track from their groundbreaking album, ‘Let It Be.’ As bouncy, jangly and infectious as an early Beatles hit, the band gets support from R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, who plays the guitar solo as Westerberg challenges his mismatched partner to be willing to do anything and everything together.