The four studio recordings by classic eighties alt-rockers The Replacements for independent imprint Twin/Tone get the deluxe edition treatment in their re-release on Rhino. The seminal college-rock band burst out of Minneapolis in the early eighties, marrying drunken British punk of the late seventies to Midwestern country/rockabilly-fun and more, becoming the staple of dorm room boom boxes and wall posters. In 1985, they left struggling Twin Cities independent label Twin/Tone for major Sire, one of the first alternative acts to do so. Now, almost a quarter of a century label, their four Twin/Tone releases are reissued on Rhino, with a belly full of extras.
Begun in drummer Chris Mars’ garage in high school with brothers Bob and Tommy Stinson, The ‘Mats (as they later would be known by their fans) only really came together when Senate office janitor Paul Westerberg took over the lead duties on vocals and guitar. The early eighties were an uncertain time in American music, after ‘Spirit of ‘77’ British punk-rock acts like The Sex Pistols had killed first disco, then guitar-rock, then their own sound. The Replacements helped fill the drunker end of the void early on by combining what was best about punk rock and guitar-rock, a Minnesotan Ramones, with the first chords of “Raised In the City”.
That track, the last on the band’s 1981 debut, Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out the Trash, was what inspired local Minneapolis record store owner/recording engineer/Twin/Tone founder Peter Jesperson to get this band out there, no matter what, and it still has that power, a driving rock that also manages to be fun. There’s a number of such classics on Sorry Ma, the kind of kick-ass rock ‘n’ roll every high school band isn’t capable enough to pull off, and every college band is already too old for, like opener “Takin’ a Ride”, followers “Careless” and “Customer” (which has one of the greatest opening lines ever, shouted at rapid speed, “I’m-in-love-with-a-girl-who-works-at-a-store-but-I’m-nobody-‘cause-I’m-a-customer”, and stop-chorus lines like “I’ll buy cigarettes / I’ll take sugarless” and “Can I get change? / Where are the Twinkies?”), or later track “Something To Dü” (their kiss-off to friendly Minneapolis rivals, and fellow future punk-icons, Hüsker Dü). But signs of the band’s growth are also plentiful, such as the slightly darker tone of “Kick Your Door Down”, and especially the haunting, bass-heavy slow, sliding “Johnny’s Gonna Die”. Some of the tracks could play a little juvenile, like “Hangin’ Downtown”, “Otto”, “I Bought a Headache”, “More Cigarettes”, “I’m In Trouble”, or “Shut Up”, and the more country-fied pieces were a little simple, like “Rattlesnake” or “Love You ‘Til Friday”, but you couldn’t say they all weren’t fun. And the band gave a gift to rock critics everywhere with our own personal anthem, the couldn’t-put-it-better “I Hate Music”.
Tacked on to the end of “Raised” is the sound of a feet walking down a hallway and opening a vault, the introduction to thirteen tracks of mostly original material. Demo outtakes like “Don’t Turn Me Down” and “You Ain’t Gotta Dance” do need refinement, but studio demo “Get On the Stick” and rehearsal “Basement Jam” are some great country-fun. While some of the outtakes are kind of forgettable, such as “Like You” and “Get Lost”, “I’m In Trouble” b-side “If Only You Were Lonely” really outshines the actual single.
The Replacements followed up Sorry Ma rather quickly with the Stink EP, based around leadoff track “Kids Don’t Follow”. This found The ‘Mats at their most hardcore, and the speed of not just the music but also the recording process (all done in about a week) led to the EP feeling rather rushed. Stink starts with a recording of Minneapolis police breaking up a party (in the background, a young David Pirner of Soul Asylum can be heard cursing out the cops), before “Kids”, a driving, rocking, and definitely single-worthy number. But the ‘kids’ attitude of the record is generally a step back in terms of maturity, with rather obvious titles like “Fuck School”, “White and Lazy”, “Dope Smokin’ Moron”, and “Gimme Noise”. But the slower, darker “Go” shows that the band hadn’t lost everything in their need for speed.
After another ‘footsteps and door opening’ come Stink’s outtakes. “Staples In Her Stomach” is good, but relatively unremarkable. Better are covers of Hank Williams’ “Hey Good Lookin’” and Billy Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock”, both done in a nice, drunk, rockabilly way. But the hidden gem is Westerberg’s home recording of “You’re Getting Married One Night”; this ballad, rejected by the band (“Save that for your solo album, Paul. That ain’t The Replacements” – Bob Stinson), while certainly rough, points in the direction that Westerberg would later take the band. It also ends with some choice words from a young Tommy Stinson about learning to play bass.
If Sorry Ma is The Replacements’ break-through opener, and Let It Be (see below) their magnum opus, then Hootenanny! is their often-overlooked gem. It was Hootenanny! that first got The ‘Mats a fan base outside of Minneapolis. It also showed off their musical range, from old school rock ‘n’ roll jam on “Take Me Down to the Hospital” and the lead-off title track (where everyone switched up instruments) to the post-modern “Willpower” and “Within Your Reach” (where Westerberg played all the instruments, presaging the band’s later route). Faster & harder punk-rock tracks like “Run It” and “You Lose”, and drunker tracks like “Mr. Whirly” (the “mostly stolen” parody/cover of The Beatles’ “Oh Darling”) and “Treatment Bound”, hew to the older ‘Mat style, while pieces like “Color Me Impressed” and “Hayday” give the kind of heart that would be later found on Let It Be. The band also stretches out with the surf-instrumental “Buck Hill” and the ever-memorable “Lovelines” (whose lyrics all are taken from the personals/classified section of Minneapolis’ City Pages).
Outtakes on Hootenanny! include the rough mix of the hard-rock “Junior’s Got a Gun”, the darker “Ain’t No Crime”, and a home recording of Westerberg’s drunk-blues “Bad Worker”. There’s also some alternate versions, including a speedier cut at Sorry Ma’s “Johnny’s Gonna Die”, “Johnny Faster”. “Lovelines” gets a double-dip, with both the original, country-rock version of “Lovelines” (with regular lyrics), “Lookin’ For Ya”, and another, alternate personals/classified-drawn vocals. It finishes out with some ‘Mat saying, “I think the day we become musicians is the day we go down hill. We’re really in it for the sheer excitement of it all.”
The Replacements were led not just to major label status with Let It Be, but it was with that record that they took their place in the alt-rock pantheon, in one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the nineteen-eighties. The band’s desire to write more “sincere” work culminated in an honest, but not overwrought, masterpiece, which has stood the test of time. The record’s rumination and slice-of-young-life mixes more upbeat tracks like start-offs “I Will Dare” and “Your Favorite Thing” with those that take on the harder parts of youth. “Unsatisfied” and “Sixteen Blue” are both epic and heart wrenching, without feeling forced; The ‘Mats are even able to show off a whole new facet of Kiss’ “Black Diamond”. “We’re Comin’ Out” goes from bombastic to slow and driving and back again, all with an aggressive noise-rock guitar solo thrown in, while the piano-tonk “Androgynous” manages to be both world-wise and fresh-eyed at the same time. “Seen Your Video” takes on MTV (presaging their later famed video for “Bastards of the Young” – just the shot of the left side of a speaker playing, ending with it being kicked in), while “Answering Machine”, mixing in the recorded female voice one hears after the phone rings too long, addresses the social and even emotional disconnect from new technology in a down-to-earth manner. Then there’s the just out-right drunk-fun of “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out” and “Gary’s Got a Boner”, showing the band hadn’t lost its inner child.
With such a classic record, any extras were bound to be a relative come down. Outtakes like “20th Century Boy” and “Heartbeat – It’s a Love Beat” feel kind of lame compared to the exquisite main material, though ones like “Perfectly Lethal” and “Temptation Eyes” do fit the tone of Let It Be. The solo home demo of “Answering Machine” and alternate vocals of “Sixteen Blue” are nice adds, but not essential, given the rough recording of the former, and only minor lyric changes in the latter. The record ends with another interview snippet (with the interviewer’s voice again oddly distorted): “What got you interested in rock ‘n’ roll to begin with?” “For me, it was matches and alcohol, really. It had nothing to do with the instrument” an unknown ‘Mat replies.
Before they made the jump to a major label, before they would appear on – and then be banned from – Saturday Night Live, before they would end up kicking out Bob Stinson and manager Jesperson, before Westerberg would completely centralize things, The Replacements put out four records on local Minneapolis imprint, Twin/Tone. These four showcased a band that became a seminal one, from early strokes to full-fledged greatness, including their compelling musical evolution. Like with any expanded re-releases, the extras vary in quality and necessity, but these four albums are essential cornerstones in one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll bands in American history.