I'm a card-carrying member of the Replacements Fanboy Club, worshipping at the altar of the Minneapolis quartet as well known for their sometimes drunk and disastrous live shows as they were their searing portraits of Midwestern heartbreak and working-class ennui.
The Replacements always seemed on the verge of a mainstream breakthrough, but while their peers like R.E.M. made it big, the 'Mats seemed to blow every golden opportunity. A shot to play on Saturday Night Live? They ended up banned after singer Paul Westerberg yelled "come on, f—-er!" to guitarist Bob Stinson on air. A gig opening a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers tour? They got fired after wearing Petty's wife's dresses on stage. When it came to their career, the Replacements were truly the gang that couldn't shoot straight.
And yet Westerberg, Stinson, his little brother bassist Tommy Stinson and drummer Chris Mars created some of the best music of the '80s, as they evolved from punk brats into straightforward rock 'n' rollers with a true poet in Westerberg leading the way.
By the time 1990 arrived, the world (and their record label) had pretty much given up on the Replacements becoming stars. In fact, their final album All Shook Down was supposed to be Westerberg's solo debut until a late change of plans. The four Replacements (now including Bob Stinson's, um, replacement Slim Dunlap) only performed together on one song ("Attitude"), and several session musicians and guests dot the album, including Velvet Underground's John Cale and Concrete Blonde's Johnette Napolitano.
All Shook Down, celebrating its 30th birthday this week, was divisive among Replacements fans when it came out, but it's aged remarkably well and features more than its fair share of great pop-rock songs. While I'm going to hate myself for mentioning these bands' names in something I'm writing about my beloved Replacements, if All Shook Down came out a few years later under the names Train or Goo Goo Dolls, it probably would have been huge. Instead, it was the last hurrah of one of the '80s best rock bands.
Let's see how All Shook Down ranks in comparison to the band's other works:
8. STINK (1982)
Granted, Stink is an EP, not a proper album. And it certainly has its charms as its eight songs were recorded in one shot, capturing the life of four poor dudes who came from difficult upbringings in songs like "White and Lazy," "God Damn Job" and "F—- School."
7. DON'T TELL A SOUL (1989)
While Westerberg's wordplay was as strong as ever, and this album includes the closest the band ever came to a hit with "I'll Be You," Don't Tell a Soul's songs suffer from an effort to make them radio-friendly. That attempt failed mightily, but a 2019 reissue with producer Matt Wallace's original mix showed that it could have been much better.
6. SORRY MA, FORGOT TO TAKE OUT THE TRASH (1981)
The band's debut (and the band itself) was classified as "punk" when it came out, and there is certainly plenty of snotty energy on songs like "Takin' a Ride" and sneering attitude on songs like "I Hate Music." But there was no hiding the band's early knack for hooks on "I'm in Trouble" and "Shiftless When Idle." Of its 18 tracks, only seven reach the two-minute mark.
5. HOOTENANNY (1983)
The weirdest entry in the Replacements' catalog is an extremely loose set of songs, as befits a band famously sloppy on stage in their early years. On the title track, the four members swap instruments. On "Lovelines," Westerberg culls the lyrics from personal ads in the local weekly paper. "Buck Hill" is a country instrumental. But it also has "Color Me Impressed," one of the band's best, and the ballad "Within Your Reach," featured to great effect in '80s flick Say Anything.
4. ALL SHOOK DOWN (1990)
Despite originally being planned as a Westerberg solo album, it instead became the band's swan song. Bassist and co-founder Tommy Stinson considers it his favorite of all the band's albums thanks to its consistently strong songs, despite the use of plenty of outside musicians to flesh out the tunes. A few years ago I would never have listed it this high, but time has been kind to All Shook Down, and songs like "Merry Go Round" and "Sadly Beautiful" are among the band's best.
3. PLEASED TO MEET ME (1987)
The only Replacements album recorded as a trio, Pleased has a lot to offer, from the perfect power-pop of "Alex Chilton" and "Can't Hardly Wait" to one of Westerberg's best ballads in "Skyway." Made in Memphis, the album includes horns on a few songs, and the real Alex Chilton from Big Star himself lending some guitar assistance. This album is getting a well-deserved box-set reissue Oct. 9, including demos that make up the last recordings done with Bob Stinson still in the band.
2. LET IT BE (1984)
The favorite of many 'Mats fans and their last on hometown Minneapolis label Twin/Tone Records, Let It Be is the sound of the band putting its punk roots firmly in the rearview in favor of straightforward rock on songs like the excellent opener "I Will Dare" and "Favorite Thing." Their sense of humor is fully intact on "Gary's Got a Boner" and a cover of KISS's "Black Diamond," and ballads like "Unsatisfied" and "Sixteen Blue" still pack a punch.
1. TIM (1985)
The band's major-label debut was also its last with the original lineup, as guitarist and band co-founder Bob Stinson's substance abuse issues led to the other 'Mats tossing him out. He left on a high note (no pun intended) as Tim is the ultimate distillation of the band's strengths, from Westerberg's improved songwriting ("Here Comes a Regular," "Swingin Party") to the band's sweet mix of punky attitude and tasty hooks ("Bastards of Young," "Waitress in the Sky"). This is the album that should have broken them big. It did not. ♦
Color Me Obsessed. This 2011 documentary is told completely through the eyes of Replacements fans, and it's surprisingly effective given its lack of band footage and interviews.
For Sale: Live at Maxwell's 1986. This long-bootlegged live set got spruced up for a proper release in 2017 and it's 29 songs of roaring fun.