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Rank Your Records: Tommy Stinson Rates The Replacements' Seven Iconic LPs

The founding bassist reflects on the musical output during his time with America's favorite Midwestern slackers.

by Mike Campbell
May 18 2017, 2:00pm

In Rank Your Records, we talk to artists who have amassed substantial discographies over the years and ask them to rate their releases in order of personal preference.

Being a Replacements fan is a lot like rooting for the New York Mets: you knew that nine times out of ten, they were going to fuck it up, often by their own design and intention. They were lovable losers. But it's always exciting to cheer on an underdog, and it was kind of beautiful to watch them get so close. Their reckless abandon was of legendary status, and their appetites for excess were tempered only by the emotional power, sincerity, and genius of their songs. Despite years of self-sabotage, The Replacements ended up being one of the most infamous and influential American rock bands of all time.

Tommy Stinson formed the Replacements with his brother Bob at the ripe old age of 11 in their mom's garage in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Joining them was drummer Chris Mars, and eventually principal songwriter Paul Westerberg. The band went on to record seven official releases in less than ten years, with probably the widest aesthetic wingspan of any band given as much time. Their first record was released in 1981 on Midwestern indie label Twin/Tone, and it is 18 songs of breakneck punk that are usually no more than two minutes in length, written about things that were important to ne'er-do-well teenagers in the early 80s. "I Hate Music," "More Cigarettes," and "I'm in Trouble" are among the subject matter covered here. Pretty juvenile stuff, made for and by juvenile delinquents. Fast forward to 1990 when the band released its final album, All Shook Down, off of which they toured the United States with Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, and were nominated for a Grammy. The album's lead single spent a month at number one on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart. That's some serious growth.

Add in the band getting wildly drunk in their dressing room, swapping clothes mid-broadcast, and yelling "Come on, fucker!" on network television during their Saturday Night Live performance, leading to them being banned for life from the show (though Westerberg did return as a solo act in 1993), and you get an idea of how the "one step forward, two steps back" approach to their career worked during their major label tenure.

Tommy grew alongside his band. As Westerberg was maturing as a songwriter, so too was Stinson as a person. Tommy and Paul ended up being the only two members to endure the lifespan of the Replacements. The band's discography is, in itself, the story of Tommy and Paul's evolving relationship.

Since the Replacements' breakup in 1991, Stinson has been tirelessly releasing music of his own, while taking gigs as a ringer bass player for acts as varied as Soul Asylum and Guns N' Roses. Bash & Pop, Tommy's post-Replacements band, recently reformed for the first time in almost 25 years to release the excellent Anything Could Happen, a collection of precisely penned Stones-esque rock and roll meets American power pop. Tommy still has a penchant for live television shenanigans, recently wrestling Stephen Colbert to the ground as his Late Night show's credits rolled. Ahead of Bash & Pop's May US tour, I sat down with Tommy Stinson over (a few) bloody marys to look back and get his personal ranking of the Replacements discography, each album a sort of a signpost in the span of his early life, musical and otherwise.

7. Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash (1981)

Noisey: I always find it interesting when artists consider their first release to be their least favorite. People can sort of then assume that the artist feels they've only progressed in a positive direct as time went on. Is that the case with you and the Replacements?
Tommy Stinson: Yes, definitely.

Had you ever made any other recordings prior to this, or was this your first proper studio situation?
We'd done some demos for Sorry Ma, and then we went into Blackberry Way, which was basically someone's house. It was well done for the time and circumstances and everything. But it was a funny little studio space. The whole thing was exciting. I was just a little shit then. That was almost 40 years ago, so I don't remember a lot about making that particular record. I want to say we finished it in a day. Maybe two. Paul might have gone back and possibly done some minor overdubs but most of the vocals were done live also, along with the band.

Because you were so much younger than everyone else in the band, you were leading probably the most drastic double life of everyone—being in the Replacements at night, and going to high school during the day. How was it for you to handle that?
It was tough, 'cause we definitely had gigs during the week, so it would be a little hard to get up in the morning. But I managed it. My mom had to sign a release for our manager Peter Jesperson to be my legal guardian when we were out on the road to make sure someone could look out for me if I got into trouble.

6. Don't Tell A Soul (1989)

This is probably the most polished and produced sounding record in the discography. It really has a 1980s-specific rock production aesthetic. How much of that had to do with Slim [Dunlap, lead guitarist] joining the band, and how much of it was the producer or label's influence?
That record started out with a different producer all together than the one we ended up finishing it with. We were at Bearsville Studio in Woodstock, and talk about bad experimentation. That was what that was all about. It really started off on the wrong foot. Luckily, that record ended up actually getting finished. It didn't look like it was going to for a while. We ended up firing the producer, or, as Paul would probably tell it, I ended up firing the producer. All the ideas that he was putting it through were ass-backwards, and we were falling apart. It was a waste of time and a disaster on so many different levels. The fact that the record actually survived and made it from those Woodstock sessions to Matt Wallace in LA is kind of a miracle. He rebooted it, and helped us get through the nausea of that initial experience. He is a sweetheart of a guy.

To your other point: that record did have too much Paul and Slim tinkering around. I think they were given a little too much room to beat a song or a part up, and I think that's why it sounds a little more polished. We went in as a band and recorded the basics of it, but when the band left, Paul and Slim were left to their own mad scientist devices spending too much time with their beakers.

At the time Don't Tell A Soul was being released, you did an interview with Kurt Loder at MTV News in which you said that you didn't think any bands from the 80s would end up making the history books. Do you stand by that statement now, this many years later? Or would you today disagree with your 1989 self.
The Pixies immediately come to mind. I want to say the Clash too. I love the records they put out in the 80s but I guess they're more of a 70s thing. U2, obviously. We listened to them a lot back then.

Considering this era was probably the closest the band came to mainstream attention and success, were there any other strange occasions where you were lumped in with that crowd, or stories where it felt like Hollywood types were taking notice?
Matt Dillon and Paul hung out a bit. I think he was about to play Joe Strummer in some movie that never ended up happening.

There was a record release party for us around this time in New York. I forgot my backstage pass, so the security guys wouldn't let me in to my own party. I was saying to the guy, "It's my fucking band and they're all in there, the only reason you're working here tonight is cause of my fucking band!" and as I'm yelling at this guy, Winona Ryder walks right by us and she gets in to the party, and I don't.

5. Hootenanny (1983)

This collection of songs is probably the most varied, and all over the place of the entire Replacements discography. There are sloppy, scrappy messes of you guys just fucking off, and then songs that seem like they were really labored over. It feels like a really fun record to have made for that reason. Was the amount of fun you had making the record a big reason for it being ranked as high as you have it?
Yeah, totally. We felt more free, and we were getting rid of any baggage of "what are we supposed to be, what are we supposed to sound like?" We didn't hang on to any of that crap on Hootenanny. It's everything we were pretty much doing live, on the road. It's goofy, there is mischief; there was more of a haphazard element.

It kind of just sounds like you recorded yourselves hanging out at your practice space, and then put that out as your album.
That's the beauty of it. It was pretty much made that way, and you start to see some of the humor in our personalities.

This is kind of the period of time when your personal life hit a crossroads and you had to make a choice: school or the Replacements. Did you have to think twice about that decision, or was it an obvious choice for you to make at the time?
It was definitely a foregone conclusion that I wasn't going to be in school much longer anyway. I sucked at it. We were starting to make a little bit of a name for ourselves as a band at this point. I could kind of keep going on like this, going to school sometimes, skipping it often, getting into trouble, or I could go on the road and actually make something of myself. And I chose that road. My mom was cool with it because I had gotten into enough trouble already by the time I was 11. It was the road less traveled, but probably the lesser of several possible evils.

4. Let It Be (1984)

For many fans, this record is usually in the conversation for at least top two of the Replacements catalog. There was even a book written specifically about this album. So it seemed to have been a watershed moment for the band. Did it feel like that at the time of its release, that this would be a turning point? Was it kind of like Hootenanny was asking "Where is this band going?" and Let It Be was more, "Ohhh, this is where this band is going."
Yep. There ya go, you answered the interview question right there. Next! [Laughs] For sure, Let It Be, we got a little bit closer to figuring ourselves out. Paul's songwriting took a giant leap toward thoughtfulness, and really was becoming his craft. In terms of even opening up the production to experimentation and considering things to add that previously we never would have thought of. It just sort of naturally occurred.

I also feel like it was the last album that my brother Bob was really in it in the same way we all were. He and Paul always had a "Push-me/Pull-you" thing going on. You can hear it in the records. Let It Be is the pinnacle of that relationship, and where their strengths come together in a really beautiful way.

All that being said about focus, and everyone tightening up and being a cohesive unit, there's still a bipolar kind of nature to it. For instance, within a couple songs of "Unsatisfied," a very heart-on-your-sleeve, sincerely written, emotionally honest song, you've got a KISS cover, and "Gary's Got A Boner". That's pretty all over the place, in so far as subject matter. Can you explain that?
Well, the more we toured, the less extra material we had to work with. We had less time to actually be in a room writing together, 'cause we were always on the road. I think the only reason the KISS cover got on the record in the first place was because we needed the extra track to make it a full-length album. [Laughs]

3. Tim (1985)

This record is the bridge between the wild punk roots that the Replacements had been to the classic, contemplative, American rock band that you would become. Your brother Bob is still in the band, but he's a little more restrained as a player on this album.
The reason Tim falls apart a little bit for me is that it was a somewhat difficult record to make because of Bob. He was going off the rails a little bit. He was losing focus of what we were doing. When I look back on this and think of where the band was heading… the four of us were headed in the same direction until we get to Tim. That's when Bob went one way, and the rest of us were going the other way. It had a lot to do with excess. Not that the other three of us were that much better. We were just still focused on the music, and the excess. Bob got more into just the excess and the shenanigans. It's a drag to talk about, to be honest. You hear some great songs on this album, but you can also hear a band sputtering out. We ended up having to do a lot of recording without Bob. It was a bummer scenario.

Does that negative personal experience of actually making the album impact your personal ranking of it?
That's basically it. The "Push-me/Pull-you" relationship between Paul and Bob flipped and they ended up pushing each other away. Paul was taking the helm as leader, and becoming a standout singer-songwriter. Bob was losing his footing as far as his role in the band dynamic. Bob and I started the band. It was his. Suddenly Paul was getting all this attention as the songwriter. Bob fought with that a lot at this point. He probably thought since he was the lead guitar player, there should be more attention paid, maybe a little brighter spotlight, on him. He lost sight of the fact that we were a group of people playing songs, and it's about the songs, not about any spotlight.

Were there any major label growing pains, or pressures, since this was your first album after signing to Sire/Warner Brothers?
We sucked at record label stuff. When we brought the master tape of the album to the label to show them, we just locked ourselves in the conference room and got fuckin' hammered and didn't let anyone else in. We did everything wrong. But we did everything honestly. We were just total misfits. There was no attempt to shake hands and kiss babies. We did everything with a smirk, and kind of made fun of the whole thing. In hindsight, it wasn't us fucking around 'cause we were above any of the glad-handing that was expected of us. It was mostly out of fear. I think Paul was scared to death of being a rockstar.

How much of that comes from your shared Midwestern working class background, or some pressure to not make too much of a big deal out of yourselves?
A little bit, but mostly it's because we all come from some pretty mentally depressed families. Everyone's upbringings had a ton of issues. Like I said, Bob at the time was just on the fringe of falling apart. There was just no way any of us were going to be able to handle that. Working a record label to make us more "popular," or take us to the "next level." We were just like, "What even is that level again? Fuck that. Oh good. A little bit more money to screw off with." We didn't know how to play that game. We didn't want to play that game either. Hell, we used the same music video for two different songs. Derp.

I've heard that [Tim producer] Tommy Erdelyi [a.k.a. Tommy Ramone] mixed the album in a rather unorthodox way. Can you explain that?
Tim is the strangest sounding Replacements record to me. There's some weird tonality happening. And only now in hindsight do I know why. First of all, Erdelyi's hearing wasn't so good anymore. He used headphones instead of studio monitor speakers to mix, I think because he trusted the headphones more [because of his hearing loss]. And they weren't even good headphones. For all the love I had for him, a total sweetheart of a guy, I kinda walked away from that thinking… "Hmm, why did we do that?"

2. Pleased To Meet Me (1987)

Between Tim and this album, your brother Bob leaves the band…
He was fired. We had to do it. We had paid to put him in rehab treatment. It didn't work out. He kind of laughed it off. Going into making Pleased To Meet Me, Paul and I had the conversation sitting at the Uptown Bar in Minneapolis. My mom was the bartender, as she had been for most of my life. Paul looked at me and said, "I like playing with you, and I like playing with Chris [Mars, drummer]. I can't play with Bob anymore. It's not working." It had to happen. The band was either going to break up, or we were going to get rid of Bob. And you can smell that all over this record.

How did that change things as far as the dynamic of the band, being a three-piece for the first and only time in the studio?
We turned a negative moment into a positive thing. By the time we got to Memphis to make the record, the three of us were a strong core and there was a lot of solidarity between us. We were all taking another step forward together, as opposed to feeling like not all of us were on the same page. It was a cool feeling, and one I will never forget. I think the record shows that. There are the standout defining Replacements songs on there, you know what they are. And that was a band that was just on the verge of breaking up right before making it. I think this was the last time we had that strength in solidarity.

"Can't Hardly Wait," one of the band's most enduring and beloved songs, had been kicking around for a few years at this point. There's a lesser-known version of it that was recorded while Bob was still in the band a few years earlier that was intended to be on the Tim album. On Pleased To Meet Me, the lead guitar parts are replaced by a multi-piece horn section. Was this arrangement decision made for any particular reason?
That song was so important. It was always special, and we knew it had to be handled in a particular way. It couldn't be too much of one thing, it couldn't be too little of another thing. To just put it out spontaneously or accidentally and to not give it the proper attention it deserved would have been a travesty. It had to be right. We had been playing it since late 1984, that was how long we were sitting on it. We didn't like the way it was coming together when we were working on it for Tim. The version on Pleased To Meet Me is the way it was supposed to be, hands down.

1. All Shook Down (1990)

The final Replacements album really feels and sounds like a breakup record. A fractured mood is hanging over it. Despite this feeling, it's your favorite. Can you explain that?
We knew Paul was going to be more hands-on with the production of it. We had Scott Litt there producing, but Paul had a batch of songs that were basically leading to the end of the Replacements. Paul had a particular idea of what he wanted to be, and kind of put himself in the hot seat. I think he made it happen. It's my favorite because the songs are just fantastic.

Chris Mars plays drums on only some of the tracks. Some other musicians came in and recorded bass parts that weren't you. How are you able to transcend those circumstances, look beyond the process of making it, to see it objectively for the album that it became?
Chris really took it personally that he wasn't on the whole album. It should have been an okay thing. The Rolling Stones have had tons of people that weren't Charlie Watts playing drums on their albums. Charlie is still the drummer of the Stones. I was fine with other people playing on the album, 'cause I was still in it. At this point, I think Paul and I were headed one direction, and Chris was headed another. It was a harder pill for Chris to swallow.

He ended up quitting the band shortly after the album was released, right?
Yeah, in working the songs for tour rehearsal, Paul would want certain things to be happening rhythmically. After having used drum machines, and other studio drummers in making All Shook Down, he'd gotten a little taste of what another player could bring to open up the possibilities. Chris was kinda like, "Oh, you like the way Charley Drayton played drums on that song on the record? Why don't you get that fucking guy to do it then, 'cause I'm out." It was a bummer, but the writing was on the wall a little bit leading into that. Chris had seemed unhappy for a while. Another comrade down.

Was this record always your favorite, or is it only with distance and time that you can look back at it with hindsight as your favorite?
It's always been my favorite. The songs were just so emotional and strong.

This initially was slated to be Paul's first solo record, instead of being released as a Replacements album. With that in mind, did it feel like this was going to be the last lap?
It did feel like it was coming to an end. And it was clear Paul wanted to go sew his own seeds, do his own thing. I knew I was going to do my own thing as well, so I was supportive of Paul growing into whatever was going to happen with him. We never even officially broke up. The last show we played was at Grant Park in Chicago. It never came to blows, or any huge row. It wasn't "Fuck you, seeya never." It was more, "Seeya later. I love ya."

Mike Campbell is on Twitter.