Ashtray Floors, Dirty Clothes and Filthy Jokes: Pleased To Meet Me at 35

Inside The Replacements’ classic 1987 LP

The Replacements 1987 concert poster (Image: Reddit)

The Replacements’ Pleased to Meet Me recently turned 35, but before talking about that album, we need to talk about what led up to it.

Decades later, the Replacements’ live shows remain the stuff of legend, notoriety or both.

Those shows could be transcendent or trainwreck,often fueled by alcohol either way and sometimes the trainwrecks could be more entertaining.

But what might play in a club and what plays on national television are two different things, as the ‘Mats found out when, while promoting 1985’s Tim, an album regarded as a classic now, but one with stalling sales when they were booked to play on Saturday Night Live in January, 1986.

 

VIDEO: The Replacements perform “Bastards of Young” on SNL 1986 

By the time they came out to perform “Bastards of Young” at the end of a long, tense week, they were well-lubricated with alcohol after being cooped up in their dressing room between soundcheck and going live.

The performance wound up getting the band in trouble with the show. As raucous as they were, complete with Paul Westerberg’s seeming indifference to singing some of the verse lyrics, it was an unintentional move by him that led a furious Lorne Michaels to ban them from the show.

During dress rehearsal, things went fine, except guitarist Bob Stinson had missed the cue for his solo.

Westerberg didn’t want that to happen live, and so, when the moment came, he turned to face Stinson. Even turning away from the microphone, it still picked up his voice yelling, “Come on, fucker!”

Between that and the damage the band did to their hotel room, the band was banned from the show. 

But, the appearance did result in a boost in sales and the band still had its supporters at Sire Records, with owner Seymour Stein convinced the right song could turn them into a huge hit.

And, so, move on to the next album. No problem, right?

Sadly, there was a problem — Bob Stinson. Even in a band full of members who were not teetotalers, Bob’s alcohol and drug abuse, with the behaviors it spawned, made things very tenuous.

There were also other tensions going on, but the issues with Bob, which were already flaring during the Tim sessions, weren’t going away even though Bob was trying to stay sober, having gone through rehab. 

It was hardly a black-and-white situation, either, given other guys in the band weren’t free of issues, particularly with alcohol. According to a Spin story years later, Westerberg had been drunk himself when he fired Bob by phone after a meeting with other band members in August, 1986. The dismissal came after Bob had shown up to just one of the demo recording sessions.

Manager Peter Jesperson was fired around the same time. He remarked later in Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life: “I couldn’t believe that it happened, and I still can’t believe it happened. It was kind of like the pot calling the kettle black.”

Although he later said in Bob Mehr’s Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements, “Everybody thought the band partied too hard, and it didn’t look good for me to be doing it, too.”

Bob, still an addict, progressed to heroin, which didn’t help his mental health issues. He never really recovered from his firing (and may have been on the path he wound up on regardless). He bounced around different local bands while working as a cook as a day job until he died in 1995, only 34, his body having given out from the years of abuse.

Regardless of the circumstances or wisdom of the firing, it was done. No going back.

Even so, the band knew replacing Bob would be no easy task so the decision was made to record the follow-up with just the three remaining — Westerberg would take all the guitar parts. Tommy Stinson, the quite literal kid brother who Bob had brought into the band (and had cast the deciding vote for firing him) remained on bass. Chris Mars was still there on drums. Finding Bob’s replacement could wait.

With no desire to bring Tommy Erdelyi back to produce (as great as Tim was, it was rather thin and trebly), they needed someone else, which became a challenge of its own. The Replacements were threading the needle between their available recording budget and finding the magic unicorn who could actually deal with the ongoing personal circus of their behavior.

The Replacements Pleased To Meet Me, Sire 1987

They finally settled on Jim Dickinson, whose credits ranged from Ry Cooder and Big Star in the 70s to the likes of Jason & The Scorchers, True Believers and Green on Red in the ’80s.

Even then, they were suspicious but Dickinson’s ability to handle them psychologically started to pay off. The band, who came into the sessions half-expecting to finish breaking up, started to feel like they had something. By the time they finished three months of recording at Ardent Studios in Memphis, against the odds and their own knack for self-immolation, they did.

Pleased to Meet Me contains the two contrasting elements of Westerberg. There was the snotty punk in his late 20s who sneered at what was required of success and any ambitions he harbored. But cut through the cigarette smoke and look past that bottle of whatever and there was a beating, sensitive heart of a guy who had what it took to be huge and, whether he admitted it or not, that scared him.

The album starts off with the rocking “IOU”, which could have been interpreted as a shot at those no longer in the band’s circle or an ex, but whose title came from an autograph Iggy Pop gave Westerberg that simply said, “IOU Nothing.”

“I Don’t Know” was even more raucous as Westerberg posts a series of questions about the band (“Should we give it up or hang around some more?”, “Our lawyer’s on the phone/How much are you in for? What did we do know?) with the response always being the song title. It also contains one of those classic Westbergian lyrics in the chorus “One foot in the door/The other one in the gutter/The sweet smell that you adore/I think I’d rather smother”).

The two rockers were sandwiched around the more open “Alex Chilton”, in which Westerberg is too busy being a fanboy to put his shields up. With its killer hook, it’s both one of the greatest songs of music fandom and a valuable public service announcement in service of Big Star (although Chilton’s solo discography requires more caution).

 

VIDEO: The Replacements “Alex Chilton”

Westerberg’s sharp writing went into much darker terrain on “The Ledge.”  Written at home in 45 minutes and perhaps thinking of an old high school friend and bandmate who’d taken his life nine years earlier, it puts the listener right into the head of a suicidal teenager to heartbreaking effect.

His sensitivity found a more hopeful tone in the beautiful ballad “Skyway”, the sunnier, more optimistic sibling to Tim’s “Here Comes a Regular”, in which elevated walkways take the place of the dive bar.

It also shows in the album closer — “Can’t Hardly Wait”, which the band couldn’t get to their satisfaction. Westerberg had written it shortly after 1984’s Let It Be, a would-be hit that the band never could get right. It had appeared on the live The Shit Hits The Fans. They’d recorded it with Chilton producing early in 1985, then again for Tim, but to no avail.

It might have remained in the band’s dustbin of obscurity if the band’s A&R man Michael Hill hadn’t suggested they give it another go. It was an attempt after a long night before that unlocked the puzzle. The band went through it more quietly than usual at a tempo that was more of a groove. Westerberg had rewritten the last verse. Dickinson suggested the horns, which the band agreed with, then added the strings, which they didn’t know about.

The result was mystifyingly still not a hit. But damned if it doesn’t feel like one to this day, a forlorn letter to a missed lover set to beautiful music, complete with yet another one of those “Damn, I wished I’d written it” lines in one of the verses — “Jesus rides beside me/He never buys any smokes.”

The instrumental that became “Never Mind” was one the label thought could be a hit, but it wound up becoming more personal, as it was much more about Paul and Bob than “IOU.” Westerberg acutely details that exact moment when you become inarticulate when your brain wants to say what you wish you could — “The words I thought I brought, I left behind/So never mind.”

“Valentine”, is a scruffy heart-of-gold love song, with that memorable “If you were a pill/I’d take a handful at my will/And I’d knock you back with something sweet and strong” line. It made the album late, with Westerberg adding a solo and repeating the chorus one more time to pad out the unfinished track.

The punkish attitude was also there in “Shooting Dirty Pool”, an angry shot across the bow at the crappy club owners and promoters they’d dealt with. And it was there in the music of the ode to “Red Red Wine” (“Gallo or Muscatel, either one would be just swell”), which was ironically written while sober.

And Gallo would figure into one of the notorious stories from the recording. It started with Westerberg taking a big swallow of the wine and ending weeks later with Ardent owner John Fry, according to Mehr’s book, walking into the studio, noticing a stain and asking Dickinson, “I’m not complaining, Jim. I’m just curious. How did they get the vomit on the ceiling?”

“Nightclub Jitters” is the album’s outlier, a trip to the cocktail lounge with deceptively personal lyrics and a perfect little saxophone solo at the end from beloved Beale Street character Edward “Prince Gabe” Kirby, who died after a short illness weeks after recording.

It’s also worth noting that while Pleased to Meet Me is some folks’ choice for the band’s best album, it’s missing some tracks that could have pushed more people to choose it.

The deluxe edition released years later contained gems like the empathetic character study of young adulthood “Birthday Gal”, the winning rootsiness of “Run for the Country”, the Tommy-sung rockers “Trouble on the Way” and “Hey Shadow” that showed he could have been the Keith to Paul’s Mick and even the fun Chris Mars goof “All He Wants To Do Is Fish.”

Back cover of the expanded deluxe edition of Pleased To Meet Me (Image: Rhino)

The band found its new guitarist not long after the recording sessions in Slim Dunlap. But despite their efforts, the album didn’t become the hoped-for hit.

Only two more albums would follow — 1989’s Don’t Tell a Soul, which had a troubled production, and 1990’s All Shook Down, which played more like a Westerberg solo record. The band broke up in 1991 and has remained that way outside of a couple of songs recorded in 2006 and some well-received reunion shows from 2013 to 2015 featuring a lineup of Westerberg, Tommy Stinson, guitarist Dave Minehan and drummer Josh Freese.

If Pleased to Meet Me didn’t have the raw energy of Let It Be or the overall songs of Tim, it is the closest Westerberg got to getting out of his own way. In spite of the real threat of going off the rails, the Replacements, with help from Dickinson, put together a record that showed off what they could do well.

Thirty-five years later, even with the drama that led up to its creation, it stands as the last of the Replacements’ great albums.

 

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