Musicheads Essential Artist: The Replacements

Replacements 'Let It Be' cover shoot
An outtake from the Replacements' 'Let It Be' cover shoot (Daniel Corrigan)
Musicheads Essential Artist: The Replacements
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April is Minnesota Music Month. To celebrate, each weekday this month we'll be spotlighting a different artist with special coverage on air and online. For Monday, April 13, we're shining a light on the Replacements.

Known for their deceptively profound songs, notoriously unpredictable live shows, and their lasting influence on alternative rock, the Replacements helped put the Minneapolis punk scene on the map.

The roots of the Replacements extend back to the late '70s, when the 19-year-old Bob Stinson handed his 11-year-old brother, Tommy, a bass guitar to keep him out of trouble. The two brothers soon joined forces with the drummer Chris Mars to form the instrumental cover band Dogbreath — and in a twist of fate, their rehearsal was overheard by the songwriter Paul Westerberg, who was walking home from his job as a janitor and would soon be invited over to jam.

Dogbreath eventually morphed into the Impediments and then the Replacements, and made their live debut at the Longhorn Bar in downtown Minneapolis in the summer of 1980. Before long, they had earned a reputation in the local punk scene for their raucous and wildly unpredictable live shows. They became regulars at the newly opened 7th St Entry and signed to the burgeoning label Twin/Tone Records.

Even their earliest recordings capture what was so unique about the band: they were wild and loud, sure, but their songs also had deceptively complex melodies and lyrics. They were inspired by punk rock peers of the era like the Ramones and the New York Dolls, but also by the more songwriter-driven rock of the Rolling Stones, the Faces, and Big Star, whose lead singer Alex Chilton would be forever memorialized in a Replacements song.

The Replacements' landmark 1984 album Let It Be received rave reviews from critics, with the dean of music criticism himself, Robert Christgau, giving it an A-plus grade. Tommy Stinson, who dropped out of the 10th grade the previous year to hit the road with the Replacements, would joke that it was the only A-plus he received in his life.

The success of Let It Be led to major label offers and a deal with Sire Records, and also led to a chaotic appearance on Saturday Night Live that got the band banned from the set for life. Despite all their success and the obvious quality of their albums and some of their live shows, the Replacements had mastered the art of skating on the razor's edge of disaster, and their rampant substance abuse and shared impulse to self-destruct would lead to several lineup changes and eventually cause the band to implode.

The true genius of the Replacements' work is that it has endured for decades beyond the band's initial life. Though they never became a household name, they are revered by the fans who saw them perform and the countless artists they inspired. You'd be hard-pressed to find a band that gets name-checked more by icons of the alternative rock era; as Paul Westerberg once said, "we were either five years ahead or 10 years behind."

But as Replacements biographer Bob Mehr noted when he released his book, Trouble Boys, "In 2014, they filled a baseball stadium with 14,000 people singing back their songs to them as generational anthems, which they have absolutely become. In the long run, they won. The victory wasn't in the moment. It was for all time."

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