The Replassments, Volume Two

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Here’s the second installment of the three-or-four-piece-series-I-haven’t-decided-yet focused on our favorite band, The Replacements. Today we’ll be talking about the two albums that showed the Replacements’ true progression of genres from punk to garage-meets-powerpop-meets-punk-meets-Johnny Thunders.

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HOOTENANNY – AVALON KENNY

Hootenanny is not a huge departure from the loud and angsty punk of Sorry Ma and Stink, but it definitely shows a step towards the poppy sounds the ‘Mats would adopt with future albums. Hootenanny is noise driven, peppered with punk anthems with scattered songs foreshadowing the transition away from the aggressiveness of ‘81.

Kicking off with the bass laden, almost falling apart title track, “Hootenanny,” there’s already an obvious shift in the band’s sound. It’s not an incredibly serious song, but there’s an almost blues undertone to it. The song stumbles along, sounding just as drunk as the band recording it. Up next is a more stereotypical ‘Mats song, and the song my dad decided was a good idea to play on repeat when I learned how to drive. “Run It” shoots you straight back to Sorry Ma, crashing and loud with growling vocals. Bob Stinson’s guitar chugs along, mirroring “Takin’ A Ride,” another song about reckless driving.

“Color Me Impressed” is probably the earliest example of the path the band would follow. It would fit just as well on Let It Be or Tim. You almost wanna think it’s out of place on Hootenanny, especially following the pounding “Run It.” But even though it seems like a misfit, it shines as one of the greatest tracks on the record. Paul Westerberg’s voice is notably less reminiscent of a snarl and more melodic than he’d previously allowed himself to be. It starts to touch on his distinct vocals that you’d find on later records. The song maintains the angsty aesthetic commonly found in other songs, but serves it up in a different sound. “Willpower” is weird. I don’t really wanna talk about it. It definitely has cool vocal effects, at the least?

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After the comedown of the previous songs, “Take Me Down To The Hospital” picks you right back up and punches you in the face. It’s definitely faster, with Stinson’s ragged, screeching guitar over chugging power chords and plodding drums. Westerberg wails over a noisy guitar interlude, and the song goes up and down repeatedly until falling apart. “Mr Whirly” is faster and more rock ‘n’ roll than punk. You can hear the Johnny Thunders’ influence in the guitar, and there’s a less-than-sober Beatles callback (Stinson was a huge fan of the Beatles). It immediately picks back up for the ending, with Paul’s almost expected howls screeching as it ends.

And then there’s another hint to the future of the ‘Mats, with “Within Your Reach.” Backed by a drum machine, because Chris Mars could never quite get it the way Westerberg wanted it, it’s another bummer. Paul’s desperation takes the form of an almost-ballad instead of buzzsaw guitar and screeching. A heartbreaking, slow wail, the song is one of the first allowances of Westerberg’s vulnerability. To give you a breather between the punch in the gut received by Paul’s heavy-hearted wails, they give you two minutes to get your shit back together with “Buck Hill.” An instrumental, surfy number, it’s not quite as complex as Dick Dale or anything, but maybe hints at their affection for the Ventures.

After the surf segue, Paul’s vocals return on “Loveliness” to sarcastically read off the classifieds section of a newspaper over a swinging rhythm section. “You Lose” and “Hayday” are definitely the dregs of Mats of 1981 draining out. Both are upbeat, snarly punk numbers, both backed by pounding drums and the last bits of Westerberg’s screeches. The album closes out with “Treatment Bound,” a tongue in cheek, folk-punk anthem with sarcastic lyrics.

Hootenanny definitely shows the transformation to the Mats of the mid 80s. It clings to bits of the more hardcore influenced teenagers they used to be, but shows an expansion of talent. It’s the perfect passage to…

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LET IT BE – ANNA THEODORA

Whereas Hootennany may have been the first Replacements record to notably veer away from their earlier, true-to-genre punk, Let it Be was a step forward into solidifying a unique sound for the band outside of the usual conventions. Though not a massive success when it came out (possibly also due to the band’s self-sabotaging and self destructive tendencies), the album finds itself solidly placed amongst “best of” lists over and over again. It serves as a middle ground in the band’s career, a bridge between the more immature sounds on their earlier efforts and the more mature, unique songwriting they would experiment with later on. By and large, choosing to produce the record themselves is what makes this truly authentic Replacements. It’s what allowed the band to explore and to play their hearts out with the ragged sincerity that makes them such a mainstay among music fans and misfit kids.

“I Will Dare,” the album opener, serves as a distinct microcosm of what’s to be expected throughout the next hour or so. It’s a rock ‘n’ roll song, it’s a garage song, it’s a love song and it’s more than all of those at the same time. At this point, the band is working in harmonious chaos, serving up a bassline and a chorus that will get stuck in your head all day, while still retaining the manic energy of the dueling guitars and complimented by Westerberg’s sometimes desperate sounding yells. The rest of side A continues in a similar fashion, with simple and sweet “Favorite Thing” and the charmingly aggressive “We’re Comin’ Out” and culminates with  a KISS cover, of all things, that the ‘Mats manage to spin into a dirty-sounding garage jam.

To me, “Androgynous” is in a category all it’s own. Not a love song like “Favorite Thing” is a love song, and wildly different from the subject matter of something like “Gary’s Got a Boner,” “Androgynous” is tender and moving and stark, particularly in comparison to the rest of side A. The first song on the album (and in the band’s career) to not be helmed by guitars, the piano refrain becomes instantly recognizable while Paul does his best to croon. And the story that unfolds is a moving one, about two folks in love with each other in spite of being at odds with the world. “Androgynous” in three minutes explores a more nuanced and heartfelt perspective on gender identity and expression in 1984 than most bands in 2016 will even consider to do in their entire careers. There is much to learn from the Replacements’, whether speaking towards their influence on music or as warning in the way they handled their ups and downs, but there is so much more to learn still from “Androgynous.” 32 years later, future outcasts are still tryin’ to dress the way that they please, and the song stays as brutally relevant as when it was released.

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Side B starts and ends with two of the most gut wrenching songs the Replacements would ever put out. What can be said about “Unsatisfied” that hasn’t already been said to death? It speaks towards a universal yearning in all senses of the song. Westerberg, again, sounds desperate on this song, but delivering the lyrics in less of a hoarse yelp and more of a plea, while the guitar tone creates a sonic dissonance that adds to the track a feeling of desperation that lyrics alone could not convey. “Answering Machine” rounds out the album in a devastating fashion. At this point in time, many of us simply don’t know what it’s like to say you’re okay or goodnight to an answering machine, or at least not in our recent memory. Sending out a text for a loved one too far away reach out and reassure you only to be met with the read receipt or complete silence conveys the same heart wrenching ache that pushes itself to the forefront of this song.

While giving nods to their roots in punk, Let it Be looks towards an uncertain future for the band. In the end, though, it serves to summarize each facet of what a unique band was really about. The Replacements always straddled the gap; professional and amateur, punk and college rock, put together and falling apart. Let it Be is all of those things, it’s a calling card and a moment in time and a reason why many later artists plugged in guitars or shouted their heart out into a microphone. The juxtaposition of the raucous guitars and indomitable spirit with soul-baring lyrics have made this band unrelentingly unforgettable, and has caused albums like Let it Be to stand the test of time, and be something I’m sure will only grow with relevance as more time passes and more kids get turned on to those trouble boys out of Minneapolis.

Hell Comes To Your Blog, Pt2: Texas

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[Part of a series focusing on seminal hardcore records]

Hardcore first started to creep into Texas in the late 70s. Punk had been present in the state for a couple of years before after the emergence of the Ramones and the CBGBs scene. Bands like The Skunks and The Violators (featuring Kathy Valentine who would later join the Go-Go’s) created the groundwork for what would later become one of the most prominent punk scenes in the country. Both bands went on to have influence on the city around them, forming a core base around the nightclub Raul’s. The venue kind of became a Mecca for Texas punk. Touring bands ranging from Devo to Elvis Costello would show up – and Patti Smith even dropped in specifically to play with The Skunks. It also became a kind of DIY-haven for the punks of Austin, giving a place for bands to play and even inspiring the zine Sluggo! to begin printing. As hardcore gained popularity and infect the state, tons of bands began to pop up around Austin and Houstin. The main three bands at the head of the Austin scene were The Stains (later MDC), Big Boys, and The Dicks – cultivating a new kind of hardcore with a distinct “Texas” sound, and inspiring tons of bands around them. In Houston there was Really Red, who had an ever-changing sound while maintaining the tough aggression of their peers, and DRI, who would later become one of the first crossover thrash-punk bands of the time. At some point there was a mass-exodus from Texas to San Francisco, but the bands would remain true to their Texan sound and continue to frequent Raul’s on tours and pilgrimages. Nowadays, bands like Glue and Impalers hold the torch for Texas hardcore. While there’s a definite progression towards a new sound, without the foundation laid by punk pioneers like MDC and the Dicks, it’s likely the scene wouldn’t be nearly what it is now.

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MDC (as Stains) – John Wayne Was A Nazi/Born To Die 7” (1981, Austin)

Though the band would later relocate to San Francisco, MDC’s roots were in Austin. At the time, they were billed as Stains, but they maintained the high energy, socio-political mindset as they progressed. The Stains EP is raw, with less production quality than heard in MDC’s later records. Their abrasive sound adds power to the anti-fascist message present in both songs on the single. “John Wayne Was A Nazi” was written in the aftermath of the actor’s death, based on his white supremacy and homophobic beliefs. Dave Dictor, as a young kid, had read the racist, pro-white remarks Wayne had stood behind, and after witnessing his classmates distraught over his death, he and his friend began chanting “John Wayne was a Nazi.” The song’s lyrics are blunt, backed by pounding drums and cutting guitar. The anti-Nazi message continues with “Born To Die,” as Dictor chants “No war, no KKK, no fascist USA” – currently trending thanks to Green Day, who chanted “No Trump, No KKK, no fascist USA” at the AMAs this past week. Stains/MDC were up there with Dead Kennedys as far as politically charged bands go, and later played several Rock Against Reagan shows with  them and other outspoken bands. MDC later re-recorded both songs for their Millions of Dead Cops LP, but the aggressive grittiness of Stains’ 7” qualifies as worthy competition.

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Big Boys – Frat Cars 7” (1980, Austin)

Another pivotal band to the Texas hardcore scene, Big Boys fused aggressive punk with funk undertones. Their first few releases, including 1980’s Frat Cars, were definitely more guitar heavy than the horn-backed later tracks. The snotty title track on the EP is easily the fastest track. It has the stereotypical “us vs. the mainstream” vibe found in most punk of the time, and is in the same vein of the later Descendents song “I’m Not A Loser.” The scratchy vocals overdub buzzsaw guitar and speeding drums, with a melodic chorus sandwiched between aggressive verses. The other tracks on the record hint at Big Boys’ future sound, with jazz chords. “Heartbeat” is almost Minutemen-esque, while “Movies” relies more on staccato vocals and yowls. The final track, “Mutant Rock,” is a swampy, sped up anthem. The chorus is corrosive and loud, splitting in between steady verses with loud guitar and howling vocals. Big Boys were highly influential, not only for pioneering the funk-punk mashup, but because Randy “Biscuit” Turner was open about his sexuality in the face of the prevalent homophobia in the 80s. Rey Washam went on to play in bands like Scratch Acid and even Jerry’s Kids. While not stereotypically “hardcore,” Big Boys were crucial in the Texas hardcore scene.

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The Dicks – Hate The Police 7″ (1980, Austin)

One of the most seminal bands in the Austin scene, The Dicks released one of the most important hardcore EPs of the early 80s. Another openly gay-fronted band, punk’s anti-cop, anti-system mentality was more pertinent than ever. Hate The Police clocks in at less than six minutes, but spits out three bangers in that time. The whole record is consistently energetic and antagonistic, with Gary Floyd’s vocals reverberating over splitting guitar and crashing rhythm. “Hate The Police” is an anthem for minorities, drawing attention to trigger-happy, hostile cops. It acknowledges the corrupt, racist system that is the police force, which faces little consequence to this day. With the past few years of police shootings finally garnering attention from the mainstream, the song is still incredibly apropos. The other tracks, “Lifetime Problems” and “All Night Fever” are just as dynamic, filled with catchy choruses and fast-paced powerchords. Kill From The Heart, the Dicks first LP, is just as credible, and maintains their tongue-in-cheek, anti-fascist gritty punk sound. The Dicks’ influence has held strong throughout the years, and tons of bands still acknowledge their impact on contemporary hardcore.

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Really Red – Crowd Control 7” (1979, Houston)

Really Red, while less frequently cited than the aforementioned bands, were just as vital to the Texas punk scene. They were one of the first punk bands in Houston, with a sound that heavily drew from ‘77 punk, but had the same tough output as their peers. Their debut EP isn’t as aggro as, maybe, Hate The Police, but the attitude was there. They definitely ended up progressing into more of a traditional hardcore band, but this record is almost art-punk. It’s catchy, it’s raw, it’s political without sounding too much like Jello Biafra. Side A’s “Crowd Control” immediately grabs you and sucks you in with splitting vocals and heavily distorted powerchords. The chorus is infectious, with slamming drums. The bass-laden “Corporate Settings” delves more into the arty-aspect, almost sounding like UK’s Eater at times. It’s just as catchy as the title track, but has more drum build up during the chorus. The EP laid the cornerstone for the sound they’d end up building up as they assimilated more with the hardcore scene around them, though they never sounded generic or quite like anyone else.

The ReplASSments, volume one

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Your least favorite opinionated femmes are back, with more rants about everyone’s favorite band, the Replacements. We’re actually going to continue with this one, so stay tuned for more delirious rantings about the ‘Mats.

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SORRY MA, FORGOT TO TAKE OUT THE TRASH — AVALON KENNY

Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash  is the ultimate debut record. It is the most untamed and raw Replacements record, for more than just the fact that it was their first. These were fresh faced teenagers with no idea what was ahead of them. They stuck out like sore thumbs in the rising hardcore scene, and no one knew what to make of them. They maintained punk’s snotty and sarcastic attitude, but had poppy hooks and catchy choruses. Were they punk? Were they hardcore? Were they just amphetamine laced, boozed up rock n’ roll? This is pent up, angry adolescent energy, shredded through guitars and beaten through drums. They were bursting at the seams, full of unbridled talent, experimenting with buzzsaw guitar and blast beats.

From the get-go, “Takin’ A Ride,” kicks you in the gut. It’s a drinkin’ and drivin’ anthem. 13-year-old Tommy Stinson’s grating bass is prominent, thumping against Chris Mars’ pounding drums. Tommy’s older brother, Bob, holds the song together with chugging guitar, as Paul sneers witty rhymes about speeding down the street with a bottle in your hand. Up next is the abrasive “Careless,” a disjointed, faced paced song that breaches on hardcore. “Careless” shows that the ‘Mats have no intention of slowing down, so you’d best hold onto your seats. I’ve always kind of thought Paul screaming “I’m in love with the girl who works at the store where I’m nothing but a—“  at the beginning of “Customer” was somewhat of an homage to The Freshies’ “I’m in Love With The Girl Who Works at the Manchester Virgin Megastore Checkout Desk,” but I’m not sure that the timelines work out. “Customer” is a squealing dedication of love to a girl Paul Westerberg only interacts with when he buys cigarettes.

Then there’s “Hangin’ Downtown” – a poppy number that Green Day rips off in their first couple of records – and “Kick Your Door Down,” which has some Boy-era U2 influence in the reverberated guitar. Yeah – maybe you don’t want your precious ‘Mats compared to U2, but their later song, “Kids Don’t Follow” is a direct response to “I Will Follow” (which U2 played twice in their set when the teens saw them on their first US tour). The rest of Side A maintains the same speed with “I Bought a Headache,” about the time Paul bought pot laced with PCP, and “Rattlesnake,” which spits in from the end of “Headache” as one of the fastest, toughest songs on the album. Culminating with “I Hate Music,” a tongue in cheek diatribe about hating your father, but one day you won’t, because “Tommy said so,” – a line which was one of the first of many self-referential Replacements lyrics to come.

Side B kind of takes you by surprise with the haunting “Johnny’s Gonne Die” – which almost sounds like it could be a Fleetwood Mac b-side at first. The Mats’ sarcastic, dirty lyrics are disguised by slower, loungy guitar. It taps into 70s’ rock ‘n’ roll more than the rest of the album while maintaining the same dirty attitude as the rest of the record. But – just as soon as you start to think they’re going to slow down – they’re back with “Shiftless When Idle.” Beginning with splitting drums, the Mats bring you right back up to speed. There’s the chugging “Don’t Ask Why,” with snarling vocals accentuated by crashing drums and buzzing power chords. The song relies heavily on the instrumental aspect, with Paul’s vocals growing incoherent at parts as he wails and repeats himself over intricate lead licks. Up next is the wildly sarcastic “Something To Du,” calling out fellow Minneapolis punks Husker Du. The song itself is almost imitative of early Du, with fast paced drums and screechy guitars dubbed by almost Lemmy-esque, scratchy wails. With the Husker Dudes and the ‘Mats, there was always a sense of rivalry – the former had been looked over by Twin/Tone in favor of the Mats, who were local favorites.

The rest of Side B maintains the speed, with the bass heavy “I’m In Trouble.” You can almost hear Tommy hitting each fret individually, with the occasional Johnny Thunders’ riff squealing over him. “Love You Til Friday” is a little looser than the rest of the album, but just as jacked up. Mars’ heavy, desperate pounds are interlaced with Paul’s screeching about how he goes through women quickly. And then the punk driver, “Shutup” – this is one of the stars of the record, with searing guitar, rolling drums, and Paul’s snarl. There’s also a very obvious callback to The Ramones’ “Gimmie Gimmie Shock Treatment,” and Paul’s final wails almost hint at John Lydon. The album careens to a halt with “Raised in the City,” beginning with surfy drums reminiscent of Radio Birdman’s “Aloha Steve and Danno” and progressing on with chanting vocals, then bass, then guitar.

Though maybe not as praised as Let It Be or Pleased To Meet Me, Sorry Ma… clearly set an unprecedented standard for punk music of their time. This record put them on the map and laid the groundwork for their future records. It wasn’t hardcore, it wasn’t punk, it wasn’t rock, it was the Replacements, and the tape was rolling.

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STINK — ANNA THEODORA

Clocking in at just shy of eighteen minutes, the Replacements’ EP Stink is both the shortest effort the band would put out, and following Sorry, Ma… it’s the last time we would see the band really making a straightforward “punk” record. Even as compared to the records being being made by their peers (Descendents, Black Flag, et. al), there was always something different about the ‘Mats. It’s certainly loud and fast, and it even has a song called “Fuck School” on it, but the Replacements always seemed to be playing with rock n roll closer to their hearts than some of their contemporaries, and with lyrical prowess that could never really be shuttered in with a specific genre label.

Starting off with the gunshot blast that is “Kids Don’t Follow,” the next quarter of an hour provides the listener with raw energy and snotty, snide lyrics that would captivate any angsty teen’s attention (or, truly, the attention and heart of the angsty teen that remains inside all of us). “Stuck in the Middle” feels as simultaneously desolate and brimming with restlessness as any rust belt town, eulogizing and damning the Midwestern region that gave the Replacements their roots and shaped their sound.

Throughout their career, but especially when first starting out, the band was known and notorious for their live shows coming apart at the seams, leaking with beer and energy. Sometimes, like their appearance on SNL, it went down in history. However, there were countless performances lost to the chaos that ensues when you’re dealing with the force of four big personalities all up on a tiny dive bar stage together, attempting to act in unison but ultimately butting heads. Stink bottles up a lot of the best of those performances. The power comes through a car speaker as much as it would a  PA system in a back room or in a basement. For kids who lived miles away, or even now looking back in time at this era of music and the ‘Mats specifically, it portrays an idealistic picture of the raucousness and racket that they brought across the country and onto college radio stations.  Later efforts would branch out, but Stink exists immortalized in 1982 for better, worse, and everything in between.