My first encounter with the music of Paul Westerberg was my sister’s copy of the Friends soundtrack. I wasn’t impressed – his rough-hewn vocals were out of place among slick alt-rock tracks from Hootie and the Blowfish, The Rembrandts, and Barenaked Ladies.
When I snagged a copy of The Replacements Pleased to Meet Me some years later, my fandom began. While Westerberg’s solo work doesn’t entirely measure up to the greatness of the Replacements trilogy of Let It Be, Tim, and Pleased to Meet Me, he’s written many strong songs over his solo career.
Here’s my list of ten favourite Paul Westerberg songs. It’s a bizarre list that will satisfy no one – it skips over his best-known songs like ‘Dyslexic Heart’ and ‘Knockin’ On Mine’. It also skips some of my favourite Westerberg albums like Stereo, Mono, and Folker – apologies to songs like ‘High Time’, ‘Mr. Rabbit’, and ‘Baby Learns to Crawl’ that I couldn’t fit in this top ten.
10 Best Paul Westerberg Songs
#10 World Class Fad
from 14 Songs, 1993
The condescending rocker ‘World Class Fad’ was a single from Westerberg’s solo debut, 14 Songs. There’s speculation about whom ‘World Class Fad’ is written about – Kurt Cobain has been suggested, as well as Tommy Stinson, Westerberg’s former bandmate in The Replacements. The bluesy riffing and female backing vocals recall The Rolling Stones in their 1970s pomp, while The Faces’ Ian McLagan (who played electric piano on ‘Miss You’) also guests on 14 Songs.
#9 Whisper Me Luck
from Open Season, 2006
Incongruously (although nothing in Westerberg’s erratic career should really come as a surprise), ‘Whisper Me Luck’ comes from Westerberg’s soundtrack to the animated children’s movie Open Season. There’s speculation that Westerberg sneaked an f-bomb into the last repeat of ‘Whisper Me Luck’. ‘Whisper Me Luck’ is a lovely tune that could have fitted onto a standard issue album with a couple of lyrical tweaks – running for the pines makes much more sense in an animated film about animals.
#8 First Glimmer
from 14 Songs, 1993
Westerberg’s always been a tender songwriter – when he sings “I used to wear my heart on my sleeve, I guess it still shows.” in ‘First Glimmer’, it’s like a statement of intent. The best moment of the song is the little guitar lick that leads the key change into each bridge.
#7 Man Without Ties
b-side to World Class Fad, 1993
Westerberg’s early solo records are worthy, but also a little awkward; he’s not comfortable with the slicker production that’s shooting for the mainstream. The b-side to ‘World Class Fad’ sounds much more natural, Westerberg accompanying himself on a singalong that puns on two meanings of the word “ties” as a metaphor for singledom. It later provided the name for Westerberg’s unofficial fan website.
#6 Sorry For Tomorrow Night
from Wild Stab by The I Don’t Cares, 2016
Westerberg collaborated with Juliana Hatfield on 2016’s Wild Stab – she sweetens his songs with harmonies and lead guitar work. “Sorry for Tomorrow Night” is a typical Westerberg aphorism, and it’s irresistible when mixed with a lovely verse melody.
#5 Fugitive Kind
from Suicaine Gratifaction, 1998
After shooting for the mainstream with his first two solo records, 1998’s Suicaine Gratifaction was a more relaxed and intimate affair. ‘Fugitive Kind’ has two distinct sections – it’s a fragile piano ballad for the first minute before launching into a bluesy rocker.
from Suicaine Gratifaction, 1998
This gentle song from Suicaine Gratifaction is devastatingly sad. The simple presentation, with piano and a little French Horn, highlights some of Westerberg’s most poignant words. Earlier this year I named Westerberg as one of music’s ten best lyricists, and he’s amazing here, full of quotable lines. “As the poet drags the darkness/Within him to the light/It’s only in self-defense/That they drag you out into the night.”
#3 Love Untold
from Eventually, 1996
Eventually isn’t one of Westerberg’s most beloved albums – the songs aren’t as memorable as those on 14 Songs. Lead single ‘Love Untold’ is great, however, Westerberg’s crunchy guitar and raw vocals add some bite to a lovely melody.
#2 Outta My System
from 49:00, 2008, and Wild Stab, 2016
After recovering from an accident with a candle, Westerberg released the album 49:00 as two tracks. The first part features 23 Westerberg songs run together (including a classic rock medley of 8 further covers). Buried among the plethora of off-the-cuff tracks written in his basement, ‘Outta My System’ is tuneful and propulsive. Westerberg revisited the tune with Juliana Hatfield on 2016’s Wild Stab.
#1 A Star Is Bored
from Melrose Place: The Music, 1994
Friends wasn’t the only 1990s sitcom to feature Westerberg’s music – my favourite Westerberg solo song comes from the soundtrack to Melrose Place. It’s typical Westerberg – world-weary, tuneful, and heartfelt.
What’s your favourite Westerberg solo moment?
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Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person.
Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate both Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Based in Fleet Street (New Zealand), he's been writing this blog since around 2000. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.
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