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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I guess this is where we’re supposed to add in our own. So I’ll start:
-“Things” from 14 Songs. Paul’s done the “dissolution of a relationship while I still have feelings for ya” thing before (“Darlin’ One” off DTAS/DMP), so another one is no surprise. The downtempo shuffle fits the melancholy lyrics.
-“Angels Walk” from Eventually. Yeah, like you said, this is one of his least-loved albums, but after finding it meh when it came out in ’96 (including “Love Untold”), I’ve warmed to it over the years. I like the central guitar riff and again the melancholy lyrics. In fact, the closing three tracks from Eventually are all solid, “Good Day” and “Time Flies Tomorrow” follow. (As an aside, I remember reading a review that said “Angels” doesn’t work because of the “phased” guitar riff. I’m guessing Paul can’t use phased guitar? If that’s the case, then why do people dig “Within Your Reach” so much? And that riff is way more phased.)
-“Stain Yer Blood” which was on that Friends comp you mentioned. It just rocks in that Westerbergian way, and the lyrics–only Paul could coin a phrase like “stain yer blood”!
Thanks for adding your list!
I did find ‘Angels Walk’ surprising when I first heard it. It sounds like U2. I think ‘Within Your Reach’ is kind of sloppy and fits the Westerberg aesthetic better.
Stain Yer Blood is a good one – definitely considered it for my list.
I didn’t think that “Angels Walk” sounded like U2, but to each their own. Though “Darlin’ One” DEFINITELY has that U2 vibe. I know a few reviews have pointed that out.
Nothing much I can add here other than saying I like your selection. Essentially, I know Paul Westerberg by name only. I’ve also only listened to a handful of tunes by The Replacements. Both look worthwhile to further explore.
Lately, I’m coming to this conclusion quite frequently when it comes to artists I don’t know. At the same time, I’m finding myself with fewer opportunities to focus on music. It’s a bit frustrating and hopefully temporary.
I normally get a fair bit of listening time each week. Next two weeks are school holidays though, which means I’ll be subjected to a lot of Katy Perry’s Roar.
amazing timing. just picked up a live replacements set for record store day. westerberg is genius.
Yes, Westerberg is a genius songwriter.
I know a few of his songs like Dyslexic Heart, Love Untold, and a few others rather well. I do like his songwriting and voice…
I think he’s overlooked – obviously the big Replacements albums are canonical, but he has a bunch of good solo stuff.
I only heard through friends mostly…and some alt stations.
The 90s shows did feature some good music – interesting to read about him on the Melrose Place soundtrack, I think the Flaming Lips even appeared on an episode of 90210!
You know, I’ve never been a big fan of alternative music, but these guys rocked the house!
Good list i my book Aph.
Cool – glad you enjoyed!
I loved The Replacements- maybe I am alone but I’ve found his post- Replacements career a little less than satisfying.
I’m pretty sure you’re not in the minority on that. Have you heard Stereo from 2002? That one’s often regarded as a return to form – it’s my favourite, even though I included no songs from it.
Yes I have Stereo- haven’t listened to it in some time but I do like it- I had tickets to see the reunion tour back in 2015- they quit right before they got to Pittsburgh- I did see them twice back in the 80s.