In many regards, I probably shouldn't be writing about the Replacements at this point, since it must look to many like I can no longer be objective (... although I firmly believe I can be — for instance, I still think All Shook Down was a major disappointment; besides, during my time back in Detroit, I've discovered there are as many "conflicts of interest" in this town's music scene as there were in Hollyweird!). Still, the Replacements befriended me backstage at Ann Arbor's Michigan Theater back in the mid-'80s; almost delivered a mini-reunion of sorts at one of my parties (alas, we missed Westerberg's call) in the early '90s; dedicated "IOU" to me from the stage of L.A.'s Greek Theatre when they finally did do a mini-reunion (well, at least Paul & Tommy were there) two years ago; and, full disclosure, I wrote the liner notes to the Don't Tell a Soul reissue.
On the other hand, since these are reissues, there's certainly now been enough time for history to prove us Replacements fans correct. That is, in many ways, the Replacements were the last truly original great American rock 'n' roll band — at least the last truly funny great American rock band ... and I'll say it again: No band has ever recorded a better trilogy of albums than Let It Be (part of last year's first batch of reissues), Tim and Pleased to Meet Me (there have been trilogies that are just as good, of course — but none any better).
Rhino also hired me two years ago to write a new set of notes for the Pleased to Meet Me reissue — but when original Replacements manager Peter Jesperson took over the project last year, he decided there should be a different writer on each disc. And since I also wrote the notes for the Best of the Replacements anthology that came out two years ago, former Sire A&R rep Michael Hill took over ... and my notes disappeared into the haze. But just so they don't totally go to waste — hey, I interviewed both Westerberg and legendary Memphis producer-musician-character Jim Dickinson for my notes — I thought, "Why not post them somewhere?" So, if you go to metrotimes.com you'll find my original PTMM notes there for posterity.
Oh, yeah, and buy these albums, particularly Tim and Pleased to Meet Me, especially if you've never owned or heard them before. Objectivity or not, the Replacements were — and remain — one of the fucking greatest American rock 'n' roll bands of all time. (Maybe I should also mention that it says volumes about the music biz that, in this age of non-albums, Westerberg, who turns 49 on Dec. 31, released 49:00, one of the greatest records of this year — adventurous, complex, complete and even psychedelic, the way great albums used to be — online only, charged 49 cents for it, and then made it available for about that many, i.e., 49, hours. But maybe that's the topic of another review or column.)
These are Bill Holdship's original liner notes for the new Pleased To Meet Me reissue that were replaced last year when project producer Peter Jesperson ruled that each Replacements reissue should have notes by different writers. Jesperson decided to go with former Sire A&R rep Michael Hill for Pleased To Meet Me; the rereleased Don't Tell A Soul CD still features Holdship's liner notes.
THE REPLACEMENTS — PLEASED TO MEET ME
When the Replacements headed to Memphis in the winter of 1987 for the first batch of sessions that would become Pleased To Meet Me, there were questions as to whether there still even was a Replacements.
The group was now a trio, following guitarist Bob Stinson's dismissal at the end of the Tim tour. One of the final straws was a late spring show at Ann Arbor's Michigan Theater when Bob didn't even show up until six songs into the set, trying to convince security guards down front that, yes, he was indeed a member of the band. Things had to have gotten awfully bad to be fired from a band that was as notorious for their drunken kamikaze performances as they were for two spectacular albums in a row. But as great as they sounded that night as a three-piece — the Stones in 1969 couldn't have sounded any better — Paul Westerberg did comment "Now we got it!" when Bob finally plugged in his guitar. And at that moment, they suddenly went from being a great rock band to a spectacular one, despite at least three of them being so drunk they shouldn't have been standing up let alone doing a concert.
So the band wasn't unfamiliar with playing as a trio; they'd been doing it on occasion since their earliest days. "It did add pressure," Westerberg says, "but even when we were rehearsing in the basement, Bob would sometimes be upstairs and just come down and play when he felt like it."
Nevertheless, there were reservations at first from a band whose antics had always raised major doubts with the "suits," and they weren't totally amused when Jim Dickinson — the legendary Memphis producer and rock 'n' roll character helming the sessions — kept suggesting they title the album Where's Bob? But it was Bob's absence, according to Dickinson, that "enabled me to introduce some other instruments and elements that I wouldn't have been able to had Bob been there. Tommy would always say whenever I'd try to get him to do something he didn't want to, 'If Bob was here, he wouldn't let you do that!'"
"We liked him right away and thought it'd be a hoot," Westerberg says. It didn't hurt that Dickinson had produced Big Star's Third album and he was using the same Memphis studio, Ardent, where he'd produced Chilton and company. And Dickinson got a hoot out of the fact that Westerberg had brought a song titled "Alex Chilton" (changed shortly before from its original "George From Outer Space" title) to the sessions, though he still complains about the lyrics that "they're not even complete sentences." They never butted heads during the sessions, though Paul still laments "he did slip those strings on ["Can't Hardly Wait"] after we'd left town. I think he said, 'They want a hit record? OK. We'll put some strings on it.'" Westerberg is still perfectly OK, however, with the added Memphis Horns and piano from Dickinson's alter ego, East Memphis Slim. "We always got our way in the end anyow, so what really mattered was having somebody there who could sort of tolerate us." And Dickinson was the perfect choice for that: "When you're making a punk record, you can't do it without punks," the producer says. "So I pretty much let 'em do what they wanted."
The teetotaling Dickinson did occasionally get frustrated with the heavy drinking. "Sometimes, they'd be just drunk enough; other times, they'd be too drunk." A lot of the album's outtakes came from the latter, when Westerberg was too loaded to record and just wanted to jam. The producer occasionally had to "sneak up" on the boys. "They'd never even had their amplifiers separated in the studio before! Their characteristic attitude was so bad that I think other uncaring engineers had probably said, ' Fuck 'em. You want to record with your amp next to the drums? Great.'" Dickinson also later spliced some vocal tracks together, as Westerberg was often singing totally different lyrics from recording to recording of the same song and "he was throwing away some of his best lines." ("IOU," the opening track, remained pretty consistent throughout the recording, however. Several people have worried over the years that Westerberg wrote the track about them but Paul says the lyrics and idea were based on an autograph "IOU nothing" that Iggy Pop had given Westerberg backstage several years before.)
For his part, Dickinson "talked more than any person we'd ever met and I don't think he ever repeated himself," Westerberg says. "But he would sort of distract us and in a way, I think it helped us relax about what we were doing. Because he had a million-and-a-half stories about everyone from Otis Redding to the Stones to Elvis. And then he'd say, 'Should we try one?' He certainly was 'us' and they were 'them.' He was one of the boys as opposed to the man." But just as Dickinson had to occasionally leave the studio out of frustration when the 'Mats were too soused, Westerberg occasionally had to leave when the producer was doing things like adding horns (though he did stick around long enough to hear Steve Douglas hit the one bum note while recording "I Don't Know" that the band insisted be included on the album).
A love and respect eventually grew. The band learned a lot about making records from Dickinson, though the producer claims "I honestly learned more from them than they learned from me. They were amazing musicians. They were a band in the biblical sense. I remember asking if they'd ever heard of Slade. Tommy jumped off the couch and I thought he was literally going to hit me. And he looks at Paul and says, 'He gets it!' It wasn't that far removed from the Faces — a little rougher, a little rawer. But the songs were so much better.
"Westerberg is the most sensitive of any artist I've ever worked with. And at that point in his career, he was like a raw nerve end. The guitar solo on 'The Ledge' was a live first take. It was a pleasure to work with someone like that." He recalls that Chris Mars had never thought about what he played with his foot before — "but he was willing to learn and by the end of the sessions, he was playing like Ringo with his foot."
But he saves his highest praise for Tommy, repeating his oft-quoted statement: "People say Keith Richards is the living embodiment of rock 'n' roll. Well, I know 'em both and Tommy Stinson is rock 'n' roll."
He elaborates: "Tommy may be my favorite musician I've ever worked with. Y'see, Keith remembers music before rock 'n' roll, as do I. It was like a conscious choice for Keith. But Tommy, as he told me, never even made a decision to be a bass player. Bob put it in his hand and then kept on him until he played it. And he just is rock 'n' roll — the whole fiber of his being, man. That's all he is. He ain't nothing else. It gives me faith in humanity to know Tommy Stinson."
Together, Dickinson and the 'Mats created a rock 'n' roll classic — an album some have compared to Exile On Main Street. Tim may have included some greater songs ("He didn't bring me an anthem," Dickinson still complains about Westerberg to this day), but Pleased To Meet Me is arguably the band's most consistent record. It flows together like a concept album, all of the band's heroes, influences and ghosts coming to roost in one place — though it certainly isn't a concept album.
Many critics of the era predicted big things for the disc, assuming the Replacements were poised to become "the American Rolling Stones." Unfortunately, it wouldn't be until another up-and-coming rocker borrowed the title "Nevermind" for his own breakthrough moment that the album's influence became fully realized. And, of course, shit happens. MTV banned the video of "The Ledge," fearing teen suicide, even though the song could've been as big as Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear The Reaper."
And the band wasn't about to give up those kamikaze moments, either. There was the night in L.A., on the eve of the album's release, that the drunken 'Mats went live on the highly influential radio station KROQ, with two Creem Magazine editors in tow, to repeatedly exclaim, among other things, in a play on words, that they were "gay." (This former Creem editor pleads the Fifth, although it still stands as some of the funniest radio he's ever heard.) KROQ broke a copy of the album on the air the following morning. Then there was the tour's opening night performance in that same Los Angeles, during which Chris Mars passed out early in the set and at one point there were so many people — both musicians and non-musicians — trying to jam on "California Sun" and Alice Cooper's "Be My Lover" that Slim Dunlap, the band's new guitarist and Bob's replacement, couldn't find a guitar to play. ...
But despite the bread and circuses, Pleased To Meet Me completes a trilogy of albums — with Let It Be and Tim leading the charge — that no rock band has ever bettered.
"And it was fun, too," concludes Dickinson. "It was a good experience in a lot of ways. And I think it served its purpose. It would've never dawned on any of us then that there could ever be such a thing as 'corporate punk rock.' I don't think any of us would've ever believed the concept of a Green Day, even if we'd had seen it back then. But certainly the Green Days of the world would've never had a place on this earth without that album." —Bill Holdship
Bill Holdship is the music editor of Metro Times Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.