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Deep Cuts: The Replacements

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With a new “best of” compilation hitting the shelves this week (notice it’s not being dubbed “greatest hits”), the fabled Replacements reunion is as close to reality as ever. There are two new songs included which resulted from a brief studio session last year between Westerberg, Stinson, Mars, and longtime touring drummer Josh Freese. Considering their proximity to age 50, one can only imagine that their once-fanatical live shows will likely be tamer. Although having seen Westerberg solo several times over the past decade, I wouldn’t expect to see three guys in rocking chairs and argyle sweaters, either. So greatest hits be damned! Here are the Deep Cuts from one of the most prolific underground college bands to never really get known…

“Shiftless When Idle” – Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash
Sure, it’s included on the new career-spanning collection, but unless you’re a diehard, chances are you’ve never heard this one. It’s a feverish, two and a half-minute romp from the debut Sorry Ma. Not too difficult to hear the homage paid to the Ramones in those early years.

“Johnny’s Gonna Die” – Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash
Here’s proof that not everything on the debut record was harsh and over the top. This is a bluesy little mid-tempo ditty that features a really cool low-fi guitar solo by Bob Stinson. In 1981, they were raw and undeveloped to say the least.

“You Lose” – Hootenanny
From the second album, Hootenanny, they repeat the same recipe from two years prior – fast, furious, and under-produced. But alongside “Color Me Impressed” and “Within Your Reach”, this gem displayed a knack for post-punk guitar rock that was about to get noticed.

“Buck Hill” – Hootenanny
Clocking in at just two minutes, “Buck Hill” may not rightfully be called a song, since there are technically no lyrics. It’s basically a two-minute guitar solo, kind of a sound check with random shouting, but it’s a classic riff and one that often finds its way into concert set lists, especially when Westerberg opens his show up to audience requests.

“I Will Dare” – Let It Be
This is the closest thing to a hit I’m going to include on this list. Maybe. Again, it’s so hard to crown anything a “hit” from a band that hardly ever garnered any airplay. Let It Be marked the point that the ‘Mats started getting taken seriously, cleaning up their sound just enough and crafting some damn good songs. REM’s Peter Buck appears here for a nifty guitar solo.

“Androgynous” – Let It Be
The album credits simply read “Paul on piano, sandblocks,” and that’s essentially it. A great little pool room ballad about Dick being a girl and Jane being a guy. And to think someone was addressing such cutting edge subject matter more than 20 years before “Brokeback Mountain”!?

“Black Diamond” – Let It Be
Westerberg and Tommy go headlong into this thrashing version of the Kiss classic. They weren’t known for many covers during their brief career, but this one stands as one of the highlights from Let It Be. At this point in time, the song’s authors were too busy pushing out crap like “Tears Are Falling” to notice someone else was doing their stuff better.

“Hold My Life” – Tim
Just 15 months removed from the release of Let It Be, many ‘Mats loyalists will tell you that Tim is the band’s finest hour, top to bottom. The infectious chorus “Hold my life until I’m ready to use it” resonated with anyone 15 to 25 years old, and surely served as a few high school class songs.

“Waitress in the Sky” – Tim
An absolute staple in concert, this timeless acoustic shuffle pays tribute to the flight attendant profession (notice I did not say stewardess). “Paid my fare, I don’t wanna complain, but you get to me, you’re always outta champagne,” Westerberg gripes before demanding “treat me like the way you treat ‘em up in first class!”

“Little Mascara” – Tim
If there was any justice in the FM radio world back in ’85, “Little Mascara” would have had as many spins as anything John Cougar Mellencamp was spewing. Instead, this sonic guitar masterpiece was resigned to the underground ranks of college radio and basement frat parties.

“I.O.U.” – Pleased to Meet Me
Remember, Bob was out of the equation by the time Pleased to Meet Me rolled out, but you’d never know it when the opening track smashes you right in the face with the ringing guitars of “I.O.U.” Whether in cassette or CD version, this one will have you bouncing off walls in mosh-pit fashion on the first spin.

“Never Mind” – Pleased to Meet Me
Abso-lution is out of the question, it makes no sense to apologize, the words I thought I brought I left behind,” Westerberg cries in the opening stanza. It was clear at this point his songwriting ability was really taking hold, with themes of troubled youth and all the scars which come from sorting through bad decisions.

“Valentine” – Pleased to Meet Me
Another rollicking feel-good time that personifies the mood of Please to Meet Me. “If you were a pill, I’d take a handful at my will and I’d knock you back with something sweet as wine.” Does it get any more tender or heartfelt than that?

“Talent Show” – Don’t Tell a Soul
With Don’t Tell a Soul, Westerberg was clearly in control of the band’s sound – more polished and poppy – and direction, for better or worse (according to Tommy and Chris). Upbeat, radio-ready sing-a-longs like “Talent Show” and “I’ll Be You” represented the ‘Mats last ditch effort at commercial success.

“We’ll Inherit the Earth” – Don’t Tell a Soul
A very intriguing, even theatrical, production on a real Westerberg gem- his vocals never sounded better. At better than four minutes, this one felt like a two-hour opus from the ‘Mats, who notoriously never wrote anything longer than three and a half minutes.

“Anywhere’s Better than Here” – Don’t Tell a Soul
This song flat out rocks! A thundering rhythm section gives way to scores of shredding guitars. The Don’t Tell a Soul record had so few hiccups, it’s a shame it came in the waning hours of the band’s all-too-brief career. Re-released today, it would be gobbled up by the current alt-rock masses.

“Someone Take the Wheel” – All Shook Down
For all intents and purposes, All Shook Down was the first Westerberg solo album, so acoustic and professional in comparison to the band’s earlier, raucous efforts. By 1990, the Replacements were barely speaking, let alone playing together. No doubt much of these guitar, bass, and drum parts were phoned in; if not, Westerberg simply did them himself and maintained the band name for one last mission. “Someone Take the Wheel” exemplifies the formula that would translate into his solo career.

“Torture” – All Shook Down
A brilliantly breezy and addictive cut that is pure Westerberg, complete with a perfect harmonica component. Who’d have ever seen a harmonica coming when they first heard these guys in 1981?

“My Little Problem” – All Shook Down
One of the best duet voices at the time (Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde) lends an unforgettable hand here, and it ain’t on some pussy-footin’ swollen-eyed ballad. This one really cooks with what we’re still led to believe was a Slim Dunlap guitar part.

“Another Girl, Another Planet” – All for Nothing/Nothing for All
A drop-dead killer cover version of the only song to put the Only Ones on the alternative rock radar, this song never found its way to a regular Replacements record. It eventually landed on the second disc of 1997’s ill-advised All For Nothing/ Nothing For All collection, which came completely out of the blue considering the band mates hadn’t co-inhabited the same room in years.

“Satellite” – All for Nothing/Nothing for All
Another redeeming track from All For Nothing, “Satellite” showcases the vocals of Tommy, who was at the time leading his band Bash & Pop (and then Perfect) on a tour of the beer-stained nightclubs of the Midwest in support of a couple of decent records of original material.

So will an official Replacements reunion take place later this year or ever? I’ve honestly quit trying to guess. But with their new “best of” project out this week, including two new tracks that were actually recorded with all three (living) original members in the same room, this is without question the closest we’ve been to verifying the rumors over a decade in the making. And who knows, with any luck we could be forced to reassemble another list of Replacements deep cuts a few years from now with some new entries.