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Welcome to my blog, where I’ll ramble on about some of my favorite things; an unsung rock band, a defunct pro wrestling promotion, or anything else that comes to mind. Enjoy!
LEFT OF THE CHARTS
An All-Time Classic Finally Gets Its Due
BILL WOOD | OCTOBER 14, 2023
The Replacements’ classic LP Tim has seen its definitive release in 2023 in Tim: Let It Bleed Edition, and yes, it does live up to the hype. Modern critics—many of whom probably weren’t even born when the album was originally released in 1985—are inventing new superlatives for this landmark achievement in album reissues. I’ll save my own opinions about the Let It Bleed version of Tim in favor of sharing a personal tale from way back when, one that hopefully puts the initial weight of this amazing album into perspective.
Circa 1985, I was a teenager working at a Bay Area record store while moonlighting as a guitarist in a struggling rock band. In between company-mandated sessions of Tears For Fears and Huey Lewis and the News, store employees were occasionally allowed to play their personal faves. I was actually reprimanded for spinning the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind The Bollocks (an elderly woman happened to walk into the store as “Bodies” was playing), and the fact that I chose an eight-year-old record above anything currently on the racks should tell you plenty about where my head was at the time, musically speaking.
And then one day everything changed. A co-worker put on a record by a band called The Replacements’ titled Let It Be. I glanced at the cover featuring four punks sitting on a rooftop and dismissed them as another cookie-cutter hardcore outfit, but it wasn’t long before the music began to take hold. My co-worker must have noticed my lapse in work detail.
“Pretty good, huh?” he asked, grinning.
Pretty good?!? I was floored. Here was a band that clearly identified as punk yet did just about everything possible to shatter traditional preconceptions. Sure there were plenty of noisy guitars and lots of raucous screeching about tonsils and boners, but there was also so much more. The opening song featured a mandolin, there were piano ballads and even a Kiss cover, played in true anarchic spirit by totally screwing up the main riff. Was this even punk? Suddenly it dawned on me; in an age of copycat artists without a shred of originality, perhaps the most sincere thing a punk could do was become an un-punk.
And then there was the songwriting. Brilliantly crafted, these songs were immediately unforgettable, the lyrics ranging from legitimately hilarious to downright touching. “Look me in the eye and tell me that I'm satisfied / now are you satisfied?” “How do you say ‘I’m okay’ to an answering machine?” Holy crap. I had no idea who Paul Westerberg was at the time but I found out soon enough, and it wasn’t long before Let It Be became my employee-break album of choice.
I was a massive Mats fan by the time their major label debut, Tim, rolled around. At first I was unimpressed by the record. It seemed as though the band had lost their edge; gone were the 120-mph punk numbers and guitarist Bob Stinson's off-the-rails wankery, the guitars were tinny, the bass barely audible, the entire recording coated in a smooth blanket of reverb. In short, the album sounded soft. Looking back on it now, the musical amateur in me had no idea that factors outside of the band’s sphere of influence could make that much of a difference. And let me make it perfectly clear: the production on Tim absolutely sucked.
But over time, something else dawned on me. Murky production be damned, the songwriting on this record was definitely a cut above Let It Be, or anything else on the scene for that matter. Ignoring awkward honorifics such as “the Springsteen of Punk” (yes, the ‘80s really were that cringe-y), Paul Westerberg delivered one brilliant pop gem after another. I loved every song on Tim—even the two dive bar disasters—but the songs that really took hold were “Swingin’ Party” and “Left of the Dial.” Mind you, I had no earthly clue what either was about and probably still don’t, but the melodies and chord progressions were powerful enough to make tears well up in my eyes. And then there was “Bastards of Young,” with that verse. Old-school Mats fans will insist that song should have been “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” but alas, the world wasn't quite ready, not just yet. Perhaps with a better video...
Within a matter of weeks, Tim went from being a personal disappointment to being one of my favorite rock records ever. As a songwriter, I tried to mimic Paul’s writing style but it never quite came off. I was completely unaware that open tuning was a huge factor in his guitar sound, nor that his lyrics belied a Midwestern maturity beyond his years. A 19-year-old kid from California was never going to write “Here Comes A Regular.” Nonetheless, I tried convincing my bandmates that the Replacements were the best thing going and therefore probably worth emulating just a little bit. It never took hold.
It was around this time the Mats were gaining a rep for being one of rock's most unpredictable live acts. A line from Tim's opener “Hold My Life” may have unintentionally summed it up: “We might crack up in the sun / or we'll lose it in the shade.” Often depending on the substances imbibed, the band's performances could drift from magical to wildly uneven. I ended up seeing the Mats live four times after they ejected Bob Stinson for… well, being Bob. The first gig at the Fillmore West was definitely the most memorable as I spotted a rather sullen Paul Westerberg at the upstairs bar before the show, staring at the floor and engaged a conversation with a young woman. I desperately wanted to introduce myself and give him a copy of my band's demo, but he hardly came across as approachable in that moment. And so I turned away.
Of course it’s the ultimate irony that the Replacements—who always seemed camera-shy (if not outright camera-hostile) but were definitely ready for their close-up toward the end—disbanded shortly before Nirvana hit the scene, ushering in a tidal wave of mainstream punk popularity while single-handedly rescuing popular music from the musical nadir that was hair metal. In fact, Nevermind was introduced to me by a friend whose pitch was, “C'mon, it sounds just like the Replacements!” The first single on Paul Westerberg's debut solo LP was titled “World Class Fad,” and he had a difficult time convincing anyone that the song wasn't aimed at a single band. Not to be outdone by the Seattle scene, the Goo Goo Dolls—a band of unabashed Westerberg worshippers if ever there was one—literally Xeroxed the Mats formula into the indie-friendly ‘90s and reaped massive rewards.
The new Tim reissue? Yeah, it’s amazing, of course it is. I wish every that music fan in the world could hear it at least once, but in true Replacements fashion, most won’t. Instead, Tim will forever remain one of rock’s most cherished and best kept secrets, prophesizing the title of a future Mats LP, Don’t Tell A Soul. The flood of sound-alike chart-toppers that followed may have dulled the luster for some, but not this old-school fan. The original version of Tim was powerful enough to bring me to tears in 1985, shoddy production and all. I’m happy to say those feelings are still intact in 2023. - BW