31 October 2011

the replacements - don't tell a soul

side 1

1. talent show

c: where the hell to start with this one... jesus, fuck. i bought this damn LP the day it was released & i could not wait to get home, tear the plastic off & blare it on my stereo. i was not let down, not one bit & my love for the replacements was solidified by the end of the first song.

i discovered the replacements in 1987, when i worked at the local drug store delivering prescriptions to old people. they were always very nice to me & tipped well. anyhoo, one day a song came on the radio while i was driving to one of my stops & it was "alex chilton" by the replacements, though i did not know it then. it simply blew my brains out. i missed the dj announcing who the hell it was, but that damn song, on one fucking listen, stuck in my head for months. i never heard anything like it. ever. & i never heard it again on WHCN or any other radio station. a few months later, i was hanging out with a good friend of mine & he threw on this LP that he said i had to listen to, that it was right up my alley. i asked him who it was. he said they were called "the replacements." i noticed he skipped the first track & put on the second one for some reason... i was skeptical. but after hearing the opening riff, i nearly collapsed from relief. it was that song i heard that had been going on over & over in my head! i went straight out and bought "pleased to meet me" & loved every single track with a passion, but there seemed to me a slight disconnect (you have to understand, at the time i was into clapton & dire straits & stevie ray vaughn & i wanted to play guitar exactly like those turkeys.) i believed they could do even better & when "don't tell a soul" was released i thought they had & often times i believe that still. i guess you will see why...

"talent show..." one of the best opening songs to an LP i ever been blessed to hear. the number one rule when you make an LP is that the opening track has to be great & it is a sign of weakness, if it turns out to be the first single or the best track on the LP. it was not the first single & it is not the best track on the LP, but it is great. just fucking listen to it. it opens with the pristine strumming of a 12-string guitar & the lyrics "in my waxed up hair & my painted shoes, got an offer that you might refuse. tonight, tonight were going to take a stab, c'mon 'long we'll grab a cab. we ain't much to look at, so close yer eyes here we go, we're playing at the talent show..." and the song fucking kicks in & it rocks & it is a rock 'n' roll dream come true without all the thrills and chills... this subject matter has been approached many times, foreigner's "jukebox hero," bad company's "shooting star," styx' "superstar," etc... none of them ever rang true & made it feel like stardom was within yer grasp (or not), not like "talent show." this shit is real.

j: I pretty much got into the Replacements through Chris. Don't Tell a Soul was my first full Mats record, though I'd heard Gary's Got a Boner because some dude on the baseball team used to play it in the locker room after tennis practice in high school. In retrospect it's kind of an interesting choice for the locker room. I also have to say that I'm very interested in the music that came out from about 1988-1991 and this is an odd record even for 1989. In 1989 mainstream rock was basically hair metal. A straightforward rock record like DTAS was considered 'alternative.'

Talent show is a pretty amazing opener. I haven't listened to this in a while and apparently I have a skip during Talent Show, which kind of bums me
out. "Well it's the biggest thing in my life, I guess" is just a fantastic line and one of many reasons that young guys who listened to the Replacements went out and started bands. The Replacements are definitely on that list of influential bands that generated a ton of imitators. Dudes just wanted to be cool like them and not like the hairspray jerkoffs in White Lion or Skid Row. The breakdown with the clinking glasses rules. Westerberg is one of those great tasteful rhythm players and this is a good example.

2. back to back

c: probably one of the most realistic "relationship" songs i ever heard as far as the subject matter is concerned. musically, in 1989, there was nothing out there like this. even now, with all my current musical wisdom, nothing else in my LP collection from 1989 sounds quite like this. it is unique, like many of the songs on this LP & perhaps that is why "don't tell a soul" never caught on & still hasn't. the production is wondrous on this tune & that goes for the entire LP. the biggest complaint mats fans have about this record is that it was over-produced & sounds like a late 80's LP, that it is dated, that it is too adult. i never fucking understood that. all the parts sound clear, the lyrics are clear, the guitars sound like guitars & the drums sound much better than they did on "pleased to meet me" & "tim..." the biggest prob i see with this LP is that the old fans thought they were losing their precious band to commercialism. the fact is that they were just not ready to grow up along with the mats. perhaps this song was not about paul & his girl, but about paul & his fans...

j: This is as good as any song to talk about the production. It definitely was a step up from previous records and I feel like they got it right. Tommy Keene is another artist who has taken heat for the 'ass-rocky' sound of his eighties records, but personally I like the clean production if the songs are good. Big Star records sound great, too. Same for Teenage Fanclub. Eighties drum sounds are hugely underrated. If you complain about the sound of the drums on an album like this or Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, I feel sorry for you. You're missing out.

3. we'll inherit the earth

c: this is a tough one... it is an anthem, but not the usual one from the replacements. the subject matter is heading into john lennon territory here & the effort is valiant, but the song falls short. sometimes it reminds me of an out-take of "radio k.a.o.s." by roger waters, and it would have fit well on that said LP. the rhythm part is amazing. i do not think that pete townsend would be able to pull it off, try hard as he might. this could & should have been a big hit at some point in time. the thing is there is just something wrong with the song. yeah, perhaps they tried too hard... it may be simple as that. the song's saving grace is the lyric as the song begins to fade, "i got my hands in my pockets and i am waiting for my day to come..." come to think of it, this would be the perfect anthem for the "occupy movement" taking place right now...

j: This has always been one of my favorites off this album. It doesn't mean the same thing to me now that I'm not nineteen years old, but I still get a rush from it. I do love the 'want it!' going back and forth between the two channels. "And our eyes scream what our lips must quell" is on the verge of being a bit pretentious but Westerberg saves it with the delivery. And yes, the rhythm part! Especially during "The last bundle of twigs grew strong and young, you can't hold our tongues at the top of our lungs!" And that final breathless chorus where it almost sounds like they go up a half-step.

Your mileage may vary on Paul whispering the name of the album towards the end, but I like it.

4. achin' to be

c: even the old die hard mats fans like this song now. it is a self-portrait song, where westerberg pulls a gender change & turns himself into a woman. "achin' to be" was an early, nearly unnoticed kick-off to the 90' alt-country surge, bands like uncle tupelo cashed in on tunes like this. at the time this was released though, no one got it & the artsy black & white video did not help the replacements' cause at all. the song is nearly perfect though. my only complaint is that after listening to this LP hundreds of times, i believe the sequencing would have been better if they switched this track out with track 4 on side B... "achin' to be" & "they're blind" closes out side A kind of on a downer & it would have been better to throw a rocker in here.

j: Agreed about Uncle Tupelo. This is definitely a proto alt.country tune. But lyrically it is also very 1989 to me. Mars does his little snare double-pop thing in here. I still feel like this could really have been a big hit if it was handled correctly. It makes me sick how much money Poison made off the song Every Rose Has It's Thorn with this song out there.

5. they're blind

c: i have a love/hate relationship with this song. i love it because it really is a classic 50's sad, slow dance, heartbreaker of a tune. but if am in the wrong mood, i find it to be a sappy piece of shit & the lyrics make me wince at times, "if only i could date with her, only one more day with her, then i'll run back, then we'll run back blind..." like, gag me with a spoon.

j: You're right about the sequencing. It's not a good choice to follow Achin' To Be, and it's not good to close side one. I could see sandwiching this between two big rockers, or even using it as a really sweet b-side. Or put Satellite here instead. I think Paul was giving himself permission to be sappy here in the hopes of capturing something really special, maybe like a Chris Bell 'I Am the Cosmos' vibe or something like that. But it doesn't quite cut it. I'm wondering if the label had adult contemporary hopes for the record and this song as fitting the bill. Who knows.

side 2

1. anywhere's better than here

c: nice "yawp!" to start off the second side. this tune is a typical mats rocker toss-off, in the vein of "dose of thunder," "lay it down clown," "red red wine," & "shooting dirty pool" from their previous two efforts. this one is a little on the dark side though. the lyrics are pretty damn mean & because of that, this rocker has always held an edge over the aforementioned songs for me. when i saw them at the bushnell in hartford when "don't tell a soul" was released, this song really stood out & had a huge crowd response, i remember getting chills down my spine when the ENTIRE crowd sang-a-long "anywhere's better than here" during the chorus.

j: You pretty much nailed it (Dose of Thunder, Shooting Dirty Pool, etc.). I think Paul always had a thing for big dumb, KISS-type songs with better lyrics. And you also have the acoustic/electric contrast which is all over Don't Tell a Soul. A good song for Tommy to showcase his truly classic backing voice (and that almost sounds like a backhanded compliment but I don't mean it to be). He's like Kim Deal--perfectly fine being the main vocalist but there's something special about him backing.

2. asking me lies

c: what an amazing grove & i sometimes wonder why this song was not the first single. it still sounds incredibly fresh to me today & again, at the time, no one was playing cool tunes such as this, no one really is now. there is a fucking xylophone part in it! and it fucking works perfectly! what a toe-tapping, timeless pop tune. i will never be sick of it. incredibly strong start to the second side so far & it gets better.

j: Yeah great song. If you watched Yankees games on WPIX in the early nineties, they used this as bumper music. I couldn't believe it then and I still kind of can't believe it. But I can see longtime Mats listening to this for the first time and getting really frustrated. Contains the line "At a Mexican bar mitzvah for 700 years..."

3. i'll be you

c: putting the single on the second side in the third spot tells you just how strongly the band and the record company felt about this LP. no one ever puts the single on the second side, unless they felt they had a winner & this LP should have been a winner, damnitallanyways! talk about "a dream too tired to come true..." the video was perfect for the song as well & it is one of the few times that i always associate the video along with the song every time i hear it. if the timing was right, this song could have been the "smells like teen spirit" of our generation... i certainly can relate to these lyrics more than "smells..." how different would things be if that happened? i am kinda glad it didn't.

j: Well, even with good timing I don't think this song could ever have been a 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' type song, even though it is absolutely one of my favorite Replacements songs. It's just an amazingly crafted rock song. The guitar parts are really odd. One guitar ringing, one kind of abrupt and wandering. I'll never get sick of the middle part and the solo being played over the singing. Inspired drums from Mr. Chris Mars. I have a big grin on my face listening to this. Songs like this are the reason I'm so interested in this period of music. Nirvana buried hair metal, but it also buried stuff like this in a way. Westerberg was trying to move towards Chilton-esque rock songcraft, but the world wanted a bludgeon.

4. i won't

c: the second toss-off rocker of the LP. the mats usually have at least two & they made good on their promise here. like i said, i wish they swapped this tune with "achin' to be" on the first side. another mats tune that translates even better when played live. just turn the fucker up and throw yer beer bottle against the wall & have some goddamn fun!

j: This is one of my favorites of the Mats' big dumb KISS rockers. It's got a little something extra, kind of a Chuck Berry feel. And I believe this song actually does go up a half-step a la Surrender (Cheap Trick). A lot of people hate that, but I think it's cool.

5. rock 'n' roll ghost

c: this song, out of all the ballads westerberg has produced in his time, is the one that never fails to bring me to tears (boo fucking hoo.) more so than "here comes a regular" or "skyway...", "unsatisfied" comes damn close... years later the meaning of "rock 'n' roll ghost" has become even more relevant to me. it is so damn gut wrenching that i cannot even listen to it at times. i will just lift up the needle & go to the last track. simply "sadly beautiful" in paul's own words.

j: The album takes a really somber turn for the rest of the way out. This really is beautiful song, and I think songs like these give DTAS a slight edge over All Shook Down for the Mats later period. Definitely on the list of Westerberg gut-wrenchers like Unsatisfied, Here Comes a Regular and Skyway. Kind of the forgotten classic of that group of songs.

6. darlin' one

c: an absolutely beautiful & perfect closer. oddly enough, it is the only tune that the writing credits went to the replacements & not to paul westerberg. this final track, though sad, leaves ya' with a sense of hope even though most of the LP, at least lyrically, is quite depressing & desperate as much as they tried to hide it at times...

i read an interview, long ago, where paul was admitting that "don't tell a soul" did not measure up to what it supposedly should have, but he also believed that this LP was a "sleeper" and that sooner or later, people would look beyond it's context & file the damn thing as a classic. it still has not happened, but it is a classic. the weird thing about great bands is that it is often times difficult to pick a favorite record out of their catalog. when the mood strikes me right, i honestly believe "don't tell a soul" is my favorite thing...

j: Well, this song definitely had to be the closer. Again, how great is Tommy's backing vocal? He just yells "Hey!" and holds it and it sounds brilliant. As I'm listening right now I'm tempted to say it is at least the second best tune on the record with I'll Be You (and maybe Talent Show). The solo is fantastic (that is Paul, correct?). [editors note: no, that is slim dunlap. he is the master of those weird, jumping all over the place slide guitar solos without the slide.]

In 1995 or so I went to Cheapo Records in Central Square in Cambridge, and in the basement there was an entire bin of sealed DTAS vinyl cut-outs for a buck apiece. I didn't but ANY of them! And now my copy as a skip during Talent Show. DAMMIT!!! I did see that this was recently reissued on 180g vinyl, but it's like $22.