To celebrate the upcoming publication of my short story, “The Record Collector,” I’m finally doing the “post an influential album each day for 10 days” thing that several friends challenged me to do.
This was the second Replacements “album” I heard after buying Pleased to Meet Me blind (based on a concert review in the Kansas City Star that mentioned they’d played both “Gimme Shelter” and “Happy” by the Rolling Stones). My friend Bill Sykes bought it on cassette, and we listened for days on end. I didn’t know it was a compilation EP, but I knew it was genius. (Whoever sequenced this for Glass Records in London deserves a damn medal). I’m going to go on track-by-track, fragmented rant here.
“Color Me Impressed” is the best pop-punk song ever written. Period.
“White and Lazy.” Suddenly I realized I wasn’t the only Midwestern White kid obsessed with blues music and punk. The harmonica squall and indecipherable lyrics are perfect, as is the moment 1:50 minutes in when it transforms into by-the-book (obviously ironic) American hardcore. It takes guts to immediately follow that racket with…
“Within Your Reach” A slow, sparse tune that aches with missed chances and lack of fulfillment. Westerberg solo with a drum machine. His voice is perfectly ragged, which contrasts the keyboards and synth beats.
“If Only You Were Lonely.” This was the B-side of the Replacements first single. Again, it’s just Westerberg and an acoustic guitar. The first three songs prove he’s a great songwriter. This one proved he could work in any tradition. It’s a smart punk’s take on barroom country. “Well I ain’t very good but I get practice by myself/Forgot my one line so I just said what I felt” It’s Hank Williams and Woody Allen. Funny, sloppy, sad.
“Kids Don’t Follow.” An anthem. The opening of this track—a recording of police on a bullhorn breaking up a teenage party while a kid (allegedly young Dave Pirner) yells back “Fuck you!”—is legendary. The alternately soaring and staccato lead guitar on this is why Bob Stinson’s a god to people like me.
“Nowhere is My Home”—a power-pop gem that Alex Chilton produced but never got a proper release when the band was together (other than on this little import). Metaphorical homelessness, lost kids with pictures on milk cartons that end up in the trash. How many thrash songs used words like “disconcerted”? It’s smart music, but still sloppy and heartfelt.
“Take Me Down to the Hospital.” Another dose of blues mythology via Minnesota punk rock—the “St. James Infirmary” tradition with a narrator on his way to the grave. Fast, chugging… you feel like he’s going to die any minute. Again, the lyrics (“Tight uniforms/Fill out these forms/Take off your shirt/Where does it hurt?”) make the near-death experience seem hilarious and pathetic.
“Go.” A brilliant teenage werewolf of a song, alternately asking the listener to “stay and close your eyes” and “go while you can.” It does everything Pearl Jam and those other grunge bands did over and over during the early ‘90s. But the Mats were too creative, too smart, and too in love with music to just hammer out one type of song, as every song before this one on the EP proves.
“Go” and “White and Lazy” have something in common: I’m not sure what the words are. I don’t think anyone knows. This stuff exists in the realm of “Louie, Louie,” using energy and tone to convey meaning. I remember rock critic Arnd Schirmer calling Astral Weeks his favorite all-time record stating “I still don’t know what Van Morrison’s singing about.” I remember Joe Strummer talking about obsessing over Jamaican reggae lyrics—realizing their words and point-of-view was brilliant even though he was only catching 1/3 of the words through the singers’ thick patios. (Strummer knew American kids were doing the same thing with his records.) This album hits that for me.
The Replacements were probably the first group I discovered who were still active when their music changed my life. That counts for a lot. But so does Paul Westerberg’s ability to write about normal, boring life and capture the absurdity and sadness of it. Like Buddy Holly, The Replacements seemed like normal guys who just happened to be blessed with a genius eye for detail in lyrics and great sense of melody.
And, yeah, the name of my blog is a reference to the Replacements’ “Customer,” where he asks the store clerk girl he’s in love with “You sell Wondermint?”