Tag Archives: replacements

Day 11 – A Song from Your Favorite Band: “Left of the Dial”

“Left of the Dial” – The Replacements

the congregation from Minnesota

Favorite band: The Beatles? The Rolling Stones? REM? The Pixies? U2? The Police? At first I thought it might be difficult to come up with  — and stick with –this one, but it only took a couple of minutes of soul-searching to name my all-time crush: the Replacements.  None of the music of the bands that I’ve loved over my lifetime still resonates for me like the music of the ‘mats, still tugs at my heart-strings like the melodies and lyrics of Paul Westerberg during his beer-sodden 90’s heyday.

Let it Be, Tim and Pleased to Meet Me — the middle record being the stand-out — are as good of a three-album run as any band has ever had, and in this regard I’ll put the ‘mats right up against any of the great bands I mentioned in the first paragraph.  “Left of the Dial”  is a great song  on an album absolutely packed with great songs — “Skyway,” “Bastards of Young,” “Here Comes a Regular,” “Hold My Life.”

An interview with the ‘mats …

Other people who love the Replacements include …

Our Band Could Be Your Life

Finished reading Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life today while taking care of Luli, our two year-old, who was illin’ with a stomach virus; lawyer-mom had to lawyer, and things at work have reached a state of chaotic equilibrium, so I took a sick day for the team. Since vomiting and diarrhea are conditions discussed in Azerrad’s book, I considered this an opportunity to get back to some aspects of the gritty life of a traveling semi-professional musician. However, Lu didn’t appreciate my spontaneous homage to Mudhoney when I let rip with a “touch me, I’m sick” after she puked on the porch. That kid has no sense of humor.

The book is definitely worth reading. The chapters on the Minutemen and Fugazi are the most inspirational; the ones on Beat Happening and Sonic Youth the least; the ones on the ‘Mats and Husker Du are just plain sad. The Mudhoney chapter is more about Sub Pop than it is about MH, but that actually works — indie labels (other than Ian Mackaye’s Dischord) take such a verbal beating that having  a chapter that actually gives a little perspective as to why indie label owners are a$$holes/crooks at least somewhat levels the field. It’s a tough and mostly thankless job.

Thought I’d post some vids here of songs/bands that the book made me revisit. Enjoy!

Fugazi – “The Waiting Room”

The Minutemen – Trailer for “We Jam Econo” (documentary about the MM); film is definitely worth seeing, but read the Azerrad book before you see it … really fills in the gaps, especially regarding their political beliefs/stances.

Black Flag – “Six Pack”

The Butthole Surfers – “Who Was in My Room Last Night”

The Replacements – “Bastards of Young” (the legendary first ‘mats video)

Big Black – “Bad Penny”

Husker Du – “She’s a Woman and Now He is a Man”

Husker Du – “Makes No Sense at All”

Mudhoney – “Touch Me I’m Sick”

Sonic Youth – “Expressway to Yr Skull”

Dinosaur Jr – “Forget the Swan”

Minor Threat – “In My Eyes”

Mission of Burma – “Academy Fight Song”

1974 – “September Gurls,” Big Star

“I never travel far / without a little Big Star.” – The Replacements, “Alex Chilton”

big-star-radio-city-album-cover

Big Star is the best band you’ve never heard of. Their recording history spanned only three years, with only one album (#1 Record) that was completed with the full line-up, which featured two excellent singer/songwriter/guitarists (Chris Bell and the above-mentioned Chilton); they lived and recorded outside of the rock and roll mainstream, in Memphis, where they rubbed shoulders with the remnants of the multi-racial rhythm and blues scene. They were obsessed with teenage love, the the Kinks, soul music, guitars, and, if their last album Third is any indication, mixing their records while on a copious amount of drugs. Now that’s rock and roll.

In his teens, Alex Chilton recorded Dan Penn-produced gems like “Cry Like A Baby,” “The Letter,” and “I Met Her in Church” while fronting The Boxtops before a hiatus in NYC’s Greenwich Village awakened his own “voice” and writing talent. Returning to Memphis, he soon convinced Bell (who was a long-time friend of Chilton’s and only missed being a Boxtop because he couldn’t catch a ride to the studio on the day the band was named) to form a group that would be the next step in the logical progression past their primary influences — The Beatles-Byrds-Kinks-Dylan nexus  — creating original, American rock and roll with an ear-catching British flair.

While I mainly learned about Big Star through the accolades of their acolytes — The Replacements, REM, The Posies, The Bangles — absolutely nothing prepared me for what #1 Record sounded like. If the Velvet Underground were from Mars, Big Star were from Venus. The first four songs are almost too much to wrap your head around at first listen. “Feel” (whose main riff was later nicked by Stone Temple Pilots) sounded like a bubblegum pop turned on its head: all glistening and shiny, but with lyrics (“I feel like I’m dying / never gonna live again …”) that directly undercut the mood of the melody. The electric guitars whilred, rang and chimed, every note dripping with compression; the rhythm section (Jody Stephens and Andy Hummel) tumbled and stumbled, utterly overpowered by the wall of glistening guitar notes … yet, somehow, it all sticks together. “The Ballad of El Goodo” followed, with its folk song-like structure and ooh-aah backing vocals smacking right up against Stephens’ rolling tom-fills. “In the Street,” later co-opted by Cheap Trick into the them of That 70s Show, is a blistering anthem of teenage ennui (“wish we had / a joint so bad”). The fourth track, “Thirteen,” takes an entirely different, yet similarly resonant tack: it’s a straightforward, acoustic paen to early teen love (“won’t your tell your dad, get off my back? / tell him what we said about ‘paint it black'”) from a point of view that’s used very sparingly in literature because it is so difficult to capture. Think James Joyce’s “Araby,” but as a two-minute pop song.

All that being said — and I’ve probably waxed nerdy on this far too long already — my song choice for 1974 is from Big Star’s second record, Radio City, which was recorded by the line-up of Chilton, Stephens and Hummel. “September Gurls” might be best known as a cover — The Bangles had a small hit with it in 1986 — but it is a beautiful encapsulation of everything Big Star did right: a simple melody, ear-catching guitar lines, lyrics that capture a unique voice (“september girls / do so much / i was your butch / and you were touched / i loved you / well, never mind / i’ve been crying / all the time / december boy’s got it bad …”).

This choice has some deeper personal resonance for me in that I was indeed a “december boy” in love with a “september girl” — my lovely wife — and put this tune on the first mix CD I gave her. Everyone in unison: “aaaawww” (or TMI). So, while the baby is sleeping, I think I’ll start working on learning this bad boy. Wish me luck!

Paul Westerberg (Great Rockers You Should Know, #3)

Paul Westerberg is probably best known by fans of 80’s alt-rock as leader of The Replacements, the Minneapolis band who evolved from crude, shambolic, punk (Sorry, Ma …) to crude, shambolic folk-rock (All Shook Down) over the the course of their decade-long career. Along the way he wrote era-defining tunes (“Bastards of Young” ), beautiful pop songs (“Skyway)” and hilarious sing-alongs (“Waitress in the Sky“).

Well known for their inability to finish (or even start) a show sober, the ‘mats burned a lot of bridges (e.g. a high-profile opening slot on a US Tour with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers that went off the rails quickly), and eventually dissolved during the recording of All Shook Down (1990) which was basically a Westerberg solo album. [I was lucky enough to see a show on this tour, at the Bijou in Knoxville, TN; Westerberg (jokingly?) fired the whole band three or four times during the show, but they ended good-naturedly enough, encoring by switching instruments and playing a ramshackle version of one of their early tunes, “Hootenanny.”]

While the ‘mats recording career was fairly brief, and their record sales low, their influence was long-lasting: extremely successful 90’s and 00’s bands like the Goo Goo Dolls (who opened for the ‘mats on their last tour, and whose first radio hit, “Name,” is Westerberg-ish in the extreme) and Green Day freely and happily admit their debts to the band, just as Westerberg often did (even penning the tune “Alex Chilton” en homage to the Big Star front man, a huge influence on the ‘mats).

Westerberg’s twenty year-long solo career has had its ups and downs, but the past decade has seen him growing in both productivity and consistency. I got to see him back in 2006 at the Orange Peel in Asheville, NC, and it was an incredible (and seemingly sober) show; he played “the hits” from his ‘mats days, but also put his best solo material front and center. The solo stuff not only holds up, but surpasses, in my opinion, his earlier work. Westerberg’s gift for combining beauty and melancholy are in full display in the two songs below: enjoy!

“It’s a Wonderful Lie” (1999)

“Let the Bad Times Roll” (2002)

If you enjoy them, you can check out more at Paul’s Official Site.