The Replacements were one of the most beloved bands of the American underground in the '80s, due to their raucous live performances and Paul Westerberg's heartbreaking songs. They came out of Minneapolis, at the forefront of the indie rock scene that was exploding there in the early-to-mid-'80s. After dropping their initial hardcore leanings, they caught fire with a skewed take on classic rock, mixing Stonesy chord changes with the nihilistic attitude of punk. Though they tried to break into the mainstream, they never succeeded, spending their career as a cult act. Like many great cult acts, however, the Replacements inspired many fans to start bands of their own, and their mid-'80s albums remain highlights of the alternative era. Late in their career, Westerberg's songwriting became increasingly sophisticated, and the group essentially became a vehicle for him. After the final Replacements release in 1990, he continued to chart his own course in a solo career.
The band initially formed in 1979, when Paul Westerberg joined a garage punk band formed by brothers Bob (guitar) and Tommy Stinson (bass) and drummer Chris Mars. Originally called the Impediments, the Minnesota residents changed their name to the Replacements after being banned from a local club for disorderly behavior. In their early days, they sounded quite similar to Hüsker Dü, the leaders of the Minneapolis punk scene. However, the Replacements were wilder and looser than the Hüskers and quickly became notorious for their drunken, chaotic gigs. After they built up a sizable local following, the Minneapolis label Twin/Tone signed them.
Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash, a sloppy hardcore collection, was released in 1981 but failed to make much of an impact on the national scene. It was followed the next year by the Stink EP, which patterned itself after their debut. It was the band's second album, 1983's Hootenanny, that first garnered attention and helped build their fan base. On Hootenanny, the group started playing around with other genres, adding elements of pop, straightforward rock & roll, country, and folk, although sometimes the eclecticism was ironic.
Hootenanny set the stage for Let It Be, the band's critical and artistic breakthrough. Released in 1984, Let It Be showed that the band had successfully expanded their musical reach and that Westerberg had grown considerably as a songwriter; he was now capable of pop like "I Will Dare," full-throttle rock & roll, and introspective ballads like "Answering Machine." Critics and fellow musicians were quick to praise the band, and they developed a large underground following. The buzz was large enough to convince Sire to sign the band in 1985.
The Replacements' first major-label album, Tim, was scheduled to be produced by Westerberg's idol, Alex Chilton, but the sessions fell through, and the album was produced by former RamoneTommy Erdelyi. Upon its release in 1985, Tim garnered rave reviews that equaled those for Let It Be. Though the band was poised for a popular breakthrough, they were unsure about making the leap into the mainstream. As a result, they never let themselves live up to their full potential. The Replacements landed a spot on Saturday Night Live, but they were roaring drunk throughout their performances and Westerberg said "f*ck" on the air. Their concerts had became notorious for such drunken, sloppy behavior. Frequently, the band was barely able to stand up, let alone play, and when they did play, they often didn't finish their songs. The Replacements also refused to make accessible videos — the video for "Bastards of Young" featured nothing but a stereo system, playing the song — thereby cutting themselves off from the mass exposure MTV could have granted them.
After the tour for Tim, Bob Stinson was fired from the band, allegedly for his drug and alcohol addictions. The Replacements recorded their next album as a trio in Memphis, Tennessee, with former Big Star producer Jim Dickinson. The resulting album, Pleased to Meet Me, was more streamlined than their previous recordings. Again, the reviews were uniformly excellent upon its spring 1987 release, but the band didn't earn many new fans. During the tour for Pleased to Meet Me, guitarist Slim Dunlap filled the vacant lead guitarist spot and he became a full-time member after the tour.
Two years later, the band returned in the spring of 1989 with Don't Tell a Soul, the Replacements' last bid for a mainstream audience. The bandmembers had cleaned up, admitting that their years of drug and alcohol abuse were behind them, and were now willing to play the promotional game. Don't Tell a Soul boasted a polished, radio-ready production and the group shot MTV-friendly videos, beginning with the single "I'll Be You." Initially, the approach worked — "I'll Be You" became a number one album rock track, crossing over to number 51 on the pop charts. However, Don't Tell a Soul never really took off and failed to establish the band as a major commercial force.
Defeated from the lackluster performance of Don't Tell a Soul, Paul Westerberg planned on recording a solo album, but Sire rejected the idea. Consequently, the next Replacements album, All Shook Down, was a solo Westerberg record in all but name. Recorded with a cast of session musicians as well as the band, All Shook Down was a stripped-down, largely acoustic affair that hinted at the turmoil within the band. Chris Mars left shortly after its fall 1990 release, claiming that Westerberg had assumed control of the band; he would launch a solo career two years later. The Replacements toured in support of All Shook Down, with Steve Foley, formerly of the Minneapolis-based Things Fall Down, as their new drummer. Neither the tour nor the album were successful, and the Replacements quietly disbanded in the summer of 1991.
The Replacements returned to the stage in August 2014 to headline the Toronto Riot Fest, soon followed by Riot Fest dates in Chicago and Denver. The 'Mats played a handful of concerts and festival appearances, and began work on a new album. However, tensions between Stinson and Westerberg began to simmer during a spring 2015 tour, and in June 2015, at the end of their set at the Primavera Sound Festival in Portugal, Westerberg announced the Replacements had just played their last show. Westerberg soon formed a new group with Juliana Hatfield, the I Don't Cares, releasing the album Wild Stab in January 2016. Two months later, author Bob Mehr published the book Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements, a well-researched study of the group's rise and fall. Meanwhile, Stinson resuscitated Bash & Pop, putting together a new edition of the band and releasing the album Anything Could Happen in January 2017. With Westerberg and Stinson's projects feeding a revived interest in the Replacements, in October 2017 Rhino Records released For Sale: Live at Maxwell's 1986, a previously unreleased professional recording of a New Jersey club show that the band performed only a few months before Bob Stinson was fired. Two years later, Rhino released Dead Man's Pop, a four-disc box set that explored the Don't Tell A Soul sessions. It contained Matt Wallace's original mix of Soul, a disc of outtakes and the full concert excerpted on the Inconcerated EP. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine