Replacements, Let It Be (Twin/Tone, 1984)
It takes serious balls to name your album after the crowning achievement of the planet’s most revered rock band, especially when yours includes songs with titles such as “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out” and “Gary’s Got a Boner.” But there the Replacements are, on the cover of their Let It Be album, sitting on the roof of the Stinson brothers’ family home in Minneapolis, thumbing their noses at the Beatles — didn’t the Beatles do something on a roof at some point? — and at the music industry.
The nose thumbing continues once you put the record on: “Seen Your Video” openly mocks bands sucking on the MTV teat — the lyrics consist almost exclusively of the lines “Seen your video/Your phony rock ’n’ roll/We don’t want to know,” the vocals delivered with the sneer and savagery of a particularly stinging playground insult, the guitars piling on with musical nyah-nyahs.
And then there’s “Black Diamond,” a cover of a song by Kiss (quasi-members of the rock establishment), in what amounts to an Andy Kaufman–like performance-art gag. Is it ironic? Is it a Gene Simmons tribute? Is it a joke on fans?
Regardless of who they’re sticking it to — and they more than occasionally stuck it to each other, as the Replacements were notorious for infighting and fucking up golden opportunities — Let It Be was a landmark album. It showcased the songwriting talents of Paul Westerberg, who married Kerouac-ian alienation and angst, alcohol-fueled bravado, and adolescent foolishness to a do-it-yourself, proudly sloppy aesthetic that revels in its imperfections.
It’s also impressive in its breadth of styles. The New York Dolls–channeling assault of “Gary’s Got a Boner” and SoCal hardcore roar of “We’re Comin’ Out” are tempered by the Edvard Munchian, minor-chord gorgeousness of “Unsatisfied,” “Answering Machine,” and “Sixteen Blue.” And there’s plenty of pure musical chaos here, from the discordant, anarchic piano break midway through “Seen Your Video” to the last few seconds of “We’re Comin Out.”
In short, those ingredients helped set the template for the next decade’s worth of rock, from Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and the entire Seattle/grunge sound to the neo-punk of Green Day and the alt-country/Americana movement (note Westerberg’s lap steel in “Unsatisfied”).
And, oh yeah, they definitely passed the audition.
— Lance Gould
VIDEO: The Smiths, "How Soon Is Now?"
The Smiths, Meat Is Murder (Sire, 1985)
Abuse! Abuse of sons and daughters, abuse of schoolchildren, abuse of women, abuse of animals, and above all, abuse of Steven Patrick Morrissey — this was the theme of the second studio album from The Smiths.
Education is rot and sadism in “The Headmaster Ritual,” as dastardly pedagogues with cracking knee-joints attack the bodies and minds of their young charges. “A crack on the head is what you get for asking” in “Barbarism Begins at Home.” And as for the flesh we so fancifully fry . . . Moz himself, a rained-on Jean Genet, keeps a covetous eye on the lowlife — fairground greasers, tattooed boys from Birkenhead, cop-killers. But he wants the one he can’t have, and finally adjourns to the ice-cave of clinical depression for “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore.”
Musically, Meat Is Murder is upsy-downsy — very inventive on the one hand (the firestorm skiffle of “What She Said”), morbidly dated on the other (the lead-footed ’80s funk of “Barbarism Begins at Home”).