The Replacements Tim

10 Best Replacements Songs

In the 1980s hair-metal and synth-infusions represented the mainstream of rock, and a scrappy rock ‘n roll band from Minneapolis was relegated to cult status. Shortly after The Replacements broke up, Nirvana took aspects of their sound to the mainstream, particularly Paul Westerberg’s ultra-sincerity, on 1991’s Nevermind, but The Replacements remain an overlooked college rock act.

The ‘Mats didn’t do themselves any favours with drunken live shows, including an infamous performance on Saturday Night Live and the show captured on the bootleg The Shit Hits The Fans. As their albums became more polished, Paul Westerberg’s songs were either less accomplished out or became suffocated; 1984’s raw Let It Be, recorded on the indie label Twin/Tone, remains their masterpiece.

Westerberg’s noted as a great lyricist, but his unpolished voice also suits the material perfectly, a blend of rock bluster and raw emotion. Bob Stinson added chaotic lead guitar to their early records, while Chris Mars and Tommy Stinson were a serviceable rhythm section.

Here are ten of their best songs:

#10 – Here Comes A Regular

from Tim, 1985
Westerberg was adept at writing bratty rockers like ‘Gary’s Got A Boner’, making the gut-punching ballad like ‘Here Comes A Regular’ even more effective in comparison. The closer to 1985’s Tim is one of Westerberg’s best ballads. The lyrics about alcoholism served as a bitter swansong for guitarist Bob Stinson, who left the band in 1986 and succumbed to his addictions in 1995.

Well a person can work up a mean mean thirst
After a hard day of nothin’ much at all

#9 – Torture

The Replacements All Shook Down

from All Shook Down, 1990
The Replacements’ final album is essentially a Paul Westerberg solo record. It’s deflated and largely acoustic, a downcast conclusion to a career of unfulfilled promise. ‘Torture’ stands out as a perky little number where the upbeat strumming contrasts with the introspective lyrics.

#8 – I’ll Be You

Paul Simon Don't Tell A Soul

from Don’t Tell A Soul, 1989
1989’s Don’t Tell A Soul was an overly varnished shot at the mainstream, disappointing after three great consecutive albums. ‘I’ll Be You’ stands out as one of Westerberg’s best written songs. It was the band’s only Billboard Top 100 single, peaking at an underwhelming #51. Tom Petty lifted the “rebel without a clue” line for his song ‘Into the Great Wide Open’.

#7 – Within Your Reach

The Replacements Hootenanny

from Hootenanny, 1983
The Replacements expanded from straightforward punk with their second record Hootenanny. The record’s a little too oddball and eclectic for its own good sometimes – the members all swap instruments for the title track, and Westerberg reads personal ads from the newspaper on ‘Love Lines’. One experiment that work, however, is ‘Within Your Reach’, Westerberg expressing frustrated love, backing himself with drum machine, synths, and guitar.

#6 – Alex Chilton

from Pleased To Meet Me, 1987
The second single from Pleased To Meet Me was dedicated to Westerberg’s idol, Big Star’s Alex Chilton. It’s an expression of fandom, with lines like “I never travel far, without a little Big Star”. Alex Chilton appears on the record’s first single, ‘Can’t Hardly Wait’. Pleased to Meet Me is The Replacements Let It Bleed, with Westerberg handling lead guitar.

#5 – Hold My Life

The Replacements Tim

from Tim, 1985
‘Bastards of Young’ is the most famous rocker from Tim, but I’m partial to the opener ‘Hold My Life’. Westerberg mumbles his way through the verse before the song coalesces on the punchy chorus.

#4 – Little Mascara

from Tim, 1985
Westerberg was compassionate, as this song to a solo mother shows. The words are gentle, although there’s a twist at the end with the line “All you ever wanted/Is someone ma’d be scared of”, inferring the mum made some bad choices along the way.

#3 – Skyway

from Pleased To Meet Me, 1987
The Replacements are a rock ‘n’ roll band, but one of their best songs has Westerberg accompanied only by his acoustic guitar. ‘Skyway’ is about the Minneapolis’ famous pedestrian footbridges, with Westerberg playing the romantic loser with his “stupid hats and gloves”. It’s brief, sweet and pretty.

#2 – Unsatisfied

from Let It Be, 1984
Another sensitive rocker, ‘Unsatisfied’ starts with a pretty introduction before Westerberg’s yelp signals an oncoming wave of discontent. “Unsatisfied” isn’t a commonly used word; dissatisfied means displeased, while unsatisfied means not satisfied.

#1 – Answering Machine

The Replacements Let It Be

from Let It Be, 1984
Westerberg ditches the rest of the band for the closer to Let It Be, thrashing out an accompaniment on electric guitar. This song of unrequited love is begging for a rhythm section, but it sounds unique without one, Westerberg shouting his frustration, about only reaching an answering machine, into the ether.

Did I leave out your favourite ‘Mats song?

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  1. Clearly, and I agree with you, Let It Be is their best album. I prefer Unsatisfied to Answering Machine, but it doesn’t change the point. Not one of my favorite Bands. They should have tried harder if they wanted to succeed. PW was a talented composer but is not enough. Professionalism, working hard and consistency are important too. For example, REM conquered America and the World being just decent musicians. But they had determination.

    • Enrique, the whole thing about The Replacements is they weren’t wired to “try harder”. When they DID attempt to be more professional, like with their 1989 album Don’t Tell A Soul, it alienated their fans without making improving their fortunes. For more backstory, check out the bio Trouble Boys, written by Bob Mehr. It shines a big light on their struggles with “professionalism, working hard and consistency.” Even if you don’t care much for The Mats, the bio is an engrossing read.
      I like REM, and they did get bigger than The Replacements. But they overstayed their welcome by a decade. The mediocre albums they released after Bill Berry left (though I hear the last couple were OK) probably tarnished their legacy. The Replacements broke up before that could happen, and their legacy has probably grown in the last thirty years.

      • They did sound better when they were a little sloppy and anarchic.
        I do like R.E.M.’s Up for the record – but it’s amazing how crucial Berry was, wrote the music for some of their biggest songs.

  2. Good list! I’m glad that you included songs from both Don’t Tell A Soul and All Shook Down, since those albums tend to get glossed over. (Though the re-release of DTAS as Dead Man’s Pop last year has elevated its stature.)
    I notice you don’t have anything from Sorry Ma or Stink. I can take a guess why: While there are good songs on both, the songwriting doesn’t resonate as much. Paul was good at writing songs that can connect on a visceral level, but not yet emotional level. The closest I can think is “Johnny’s Gonna Die”. But that’s about a specific person (Johnny Thunders) rather than the listener.

    • I like Sorry Ma, but it’s hard to pick out favourites and the songs don’t stick with me as much as their later records. Johnny’s Gonna Die is one of the standouts though.

      • I think I’m with you there. I love listening to Sorry Ma, and like all the songs as they play. But I don’t think I’d go back and listen to specific songs individually. “Johnny’s Gonna Die” is probably the standout. I’d also list “Customer”, “Raised in the City”, and “Takin’ a Ride”.

  3. Essentially, I know The Replacements by name only. Based on listening into the tunes you highlighted, they sound like a band I might like after further exploration – not necessarily love at first sight!

  4. I listened to them quite a bit in the 80s. I absolutely loved the rawness with them. I need to reacquaint myself with their catalog. Skyway is my favorite song by them.
    Just saw the SNL debacle this week during a youtube binge.

  5. Thank you for your answer! I will take your advice and read the bio. At the end of the day this is not science, it is art, and we all have our tastes and we are more attracted to some things and not others, and even we don’t know why. Or maybe our personality is showing there. In my case I totally prefer The Beatles vs. The Who or The Velvet Underground, I totally prefer The Police vs. The Sex Pistols, I like more Radiohead in the 90s vs. the rest of the Brit pop and I am not a big fan of Husker Du and The Mats. But I am not right or wrong. Everything is ok if you enjoy it.

  6. Nice choice for #1 – I quite like Let It Be’s bookends, I Will Dare’s toe-tapping intro starts things off nicely & then I couldn’t picture Answering Machine anywhere else in the running order

    • ‘I Will Dare’ is a big canonical song that most lists would have included I think. I think those middle three albums are so strong that most of the songs are contenders.

  7. Not including “Can’t Hardly Wait” is a bold move. One of the bands I never had the fortune of seeing. I live in Minnesota and the tickets to their final show sold out within minutes and the ticketmaster site went down when I was in line. It was a tragedy.

      • Yeah I think he said “he was done whoring out his past” or something like that.
        I’ve heard the demo version, maybe that’s the one from Tim. That’s great too. Nice job on the list! Great conversation starter.

  8. I love those guys. They are one of my absolute favorite bands of all time. Like a previous commenter, I suggest you check the biography Trouble Boys if you haven’t already. It’s great stuff!
    As for the list, awesome job! Answering Machine was never one of my favorites in Let it Bleed, but it is one raw emotional piece indeed. I was hoping Left of the Dial would be in the list somewhere, but it isn’t. Well, there are so many tracks that it is hard to narrow it down.

  9. Great choices – all of these would be in a Top 20 for me and many would be in a Top 10 though mine would include Bastards of Young. Especially happy to see more love for Within Your Reach

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