Later this month, the legendary underground rock icons/heart-rending poets/drunken screw-ups the Replacements will play their first shows since breaking up onstage in Chicago 22 years ago. (Well, Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson and some other dudes will play some Replacements songs, if you want to get technical about it.) Though the Replacements have not been an active recording or touring unit for more than two decades, their influence has never waned. Paul Westerberg was perhaps one of the most openhearted, emotionally fluent songwriters working in the 1980s college-rock scene, and this embarrassed him so much that he overcompensated by acting like a drunken lout. Plenty of artists have been inspired by the push and pull of Westerberg’s sensitive-brat worldview, and to celebrate the Replacements’ return, eMusic has gathered 10 of the best songs from their acolytes. All of these songs seem tough on the outside, even the ballads, but look closer and you’ll hear a strain of compassion, yearning and understated wit worthy of Saint Paul.
Against Me!, “Thrash Unreal”
Against Me! singer/guitarist Laura Jane Grace has never been shy about her love for Minneapolis's finest. Against Me! has previously covered both "Bastards Of Young" and "Here Comes A Regular", and during their first New York set after Grace came out as transgendered, Against Me! brought Joan Jett on stage to cover "Androgynous." That's an impressive hat trick, but perhaps an even more impressive tribute is the New Wave single "Thrash Unreal," which basically combines the wasted life chronicle of "Here Comes a Regular" with the ode to outsiders "Achin' to Be." The song tells the story of a lifelong alcoholic who misses the days of the "rebel yell," and in classic Westerberg fashion it finds empathy for its subject's problems without condescending or moralizing.
During the tour for their double-album opus Being There, Wilco regularly covered early Replacements classic "Color Me Impressed," and it's obvious from one listen to "Misunderstood" that Jeff Tweedy had spent serious time studying his Hootenanny. It's all there: a winding, detailed narrative of a lost young man who feels stuck in his hometown, losing himself in booze, bad parties and self-pity, culminating in a cathartic, mocking outro that finds him repeating "I want to thank you all/ for nothing at all" until he finally finds a moment of peace. Ever the A-plus student, Tweedy also slyly alludes to a few Replacement classics with the line "Take the guitar player for a ride/ 'cause he ain't never been satisfied."
Jessica Lea Mayfield, “Our Hearts Are Wrong”
Paul Westerberg's songs are filled with characters who want the wrong things, even though they should know better. Ohio singer/songwriter Jessica Lea Mayfield can relate. On this standout song from her sophomore album Tell Me, Mayfield does her best to figure out if she is in love, or if she hates someone so passionately that she can't tell the difference. Over an ominous, twangy shuffle, she eventually realizes that it's a bit of both, and she needs to leave well enough alone.
Justin Townes Earle, “Someday I’ll Be Forgiven for This”
Justin Townes Earle is the rebellious country outsider Steve Earle's kid, and his middle name is a tribute to the legendary Townes Van Zandt, but there's plenty of Westerberg in his songwriting DNA. On this piano-led barroom waltz from 2009's Midnight at the Movies (which, natch, also includes a cover of "Can't Hardly Wait"), Earle is a lovesick bastard who is mired in regret for breaking someone's heart, but he's able to take the long view and realize that one day it won't hurt so much. Well, he hopes so, at least. And like Paul at his best, he's able to extend some sympathy for someone other than himself. It takes two people to ruin a good thing sometimes, but someday she'll be forgiven as well.
Art Brut, “The Replacements”
With "Alex Chilton," the Replacements both introduced and perfected the songwriting sub genre of "Tribute to a Songwriting Genius Most of the World Wasn't Fortunate Enough to Get." So clearly, they required their own tribute, and Art Brut were only happy to comply. On the English band's third album, Art Brut vs Satan, lead ranter Eddie Argos talks about always being let down by the bands he loves, and then beats himself up that in his late 20s he's "only just found out about the Replacements." While it most have been agonizing for Eddie to realize how much better his teenage years would have been if he had a copy of Let It Be, it's better to come late to "Swingin' Party" than never arrive at all.
Lucinda Williams, “Real Live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings”
Lucinda Williams has called Westerberg an influence on this song, telling Billboard, "He's just really good at combining literary lyrics — really good lyrics — set against a really cool, rock 'n' roll musical bed." This track from 2003's World Without Tears proves that she's really good at that as well, saluting some wannabe rebel with the Westerberg-worthy quip, "You've got a sense of humor/ You're a mystery/ I heard a rumor/ You're making history."
Green Day, “Why Do You Want Him?”
What made Paul Westerberg a cut above was his ability to occasionally walk away from the pity party and write about the troubles that other people were going through with as much care and detail as the lyrics about his own heartaches. This is a lesson that longtime fan Billie Joe Armstrong got right away. One of the first songs he ever wrote, "Why Do You Want Him?" (found on the compilation 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours) is a plea for his mother to break up with a man Armstrong thought was unworthy of her. He sings his shockingly-insightful-for-a-teenager lyrics with enough youthful passion that it sounds like he's trying to make her value herself more through sheer force of will.
Ryan Adams, “To Be Young (Is to Be Sad Is to Be High)”
Adams is such a 'Mats fan that he even got Tommy Stinson to play on Pneumonia, the final album by his band Whiskeytown. The lead off song from his classic solo debut Heartbreaker sees him channeling Westerberg's cocky swagger and big-brother humanity, telling a character (probably himself) that the best way to get over heartbreak is get back out there and live it up. Which will inevitably lead to even more heartbreak, but Adams makes it sound like it's the only path worth taking.
Swearin’, “Here to Hear”
This Philadelphia- and Brooklyn-based group features two songwriters, Allison Crutchfield and Kyle Gilbride, both of whom have a knack for documenting youthful confusion while still sounding like a prime mixtape of '80s and '90s left-of-the-dial favorites. This highlight from last year's self-titled debut finds Gilbride back home and utterly lost, unable to fit in anymore or convince himself that this is where he belongs. When he sings, "I second-guess it all the time/ I'm losing my capacity to lie," it seems clear that he wishes he could make himself believe things will be OK, but he's gottten old enough to know better.
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “Into the Great Wide Open”
The Replacements were infamous for stepping one foot into the mainstream, and then promptly shooting directly at said foot. So when they accepted an opening spot for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, they promptly did everything they could to antagonize Petty and the crowd. But no matter how bratty they acted, Petty seemed to be listening, and the line "rebel without a clue" from their 1989 single "I'll Be You" popped up in Petty's 1992 single "Into The Great Wide Open." We're not saying that Petty ripped anyone off — just that he knew a great put down when he heard it, and knew it would fit right in with his tale of a young star who overdoses on his own hype.