This month marks the 30th Anniversary of Let It Be. Now before you go and try and tell me that that already happened in 2000, when the Beatles’ album casually crossed that line, I’m actually talking about a different Let It Be. The Replacements’ ground-breaking album, which shares its name with that pivotal Beatles release out of a slight inside joke with the band’s manager/promoter Peter Jesperson, is filled with coming-of-age tales like “I Will Dare”, “Androgynous”, and personal favorite “Unsatisfied”.
Conceived in the wake of their 1983 tour supporting Hootenanny, the band entertained using R.E.M.’s Peter Buck in the producer’s role after having toured with them the previous year. However, in the end, Buck appeared only on “I Will Dare” with the band opting instead to produce the album themselves. After years of playing it fast, loud, and loose, the group sought to slow things down.
“Now we’re softening a little where we can do something that’s a little more sincere without being afraid that someone’s not going to like it or the punks aren’t going to be able to dance to it,” Westerberg once said about working on Let It Be. With a focus placed more on songwriting than on previous endeavors, The Replacements sought to meld influences like heavy metal (which is most obvious in the band’s decision to feature a KISS cover), large scale rock, and elements associated with the blues, all delivered with sincerity.
Thanks to warm critical and commercial reception, Let It Be began to attract the attention of major labels and eventually the band left Twin/Tone Records for Warner subsidiary Sire, who would go on to release 1985’s Tim. And while that album certainly marked a new direction for the band, especially the firing of Bob Stinson, any changes would always trail back to Let It Be.
In celebration, Consequence of Sound has collected a handful of thoughts, anecdotes, and tinseled tales from artists, musicians, producers, and writers all as testament to both the band’s influence as well as the album itself.
Sean Tillman, aka Har Mar Superstar
I grew up in Minnesota, so The Replacements are huge for me. Let It Be is my personal favorite Mats album. I became obsessed with it when I was 11 or 12. It‘s a masterpiece from beginning to end. A perfect stepping stone from their punk anthems to the thoughtful, fine-tuned songwriting gems we love them for. I’m just a little too young to have caught them live the first time around, so when I got to see them live last month in Queens, I almost lost my mind. The show was magic. They played “Androgynous” and “I Will Dare” perfectly. I felt like a kid again, and, like most of the crowd, cried like a baby when they played “Unsatisfied”. Also, Gary’s got a fucking boner.
Abigail Covington, RedEye Chicago
In an ideal world, Let It Be would’ve been appreciated in its own time. It would’ve been listened to by a mass of teenage boys and then stolen by their little brothers and played in treehouses across the midwest. It would’ve been considered the coming-of-age album of the ’80s, actually in the ’80s. But that’s not how it went down. Rather, it was resurrected by post-punk sleuths and redistributed for millennials to obsess over 20 years after its original release date. Knowing it wasn’t the cultural sensation that, say, Born to Run was assuages me because with every listen of Let It Be I feel envious. I long to be on that rooftop with the boys, talking about girls and getting angry at each other and the man all the while. But then I remember that nobody was. Let It Be didn’t spark a movement nor give birth to a chart-topper, which is likely for the best because had anyone actually been listening, Westerberg might not have had anything to say.
Jack Cooper, Ultimate Painting
I hear “I Will Dare”, and I melt slightly. My girlfriend put it on a mix she made me when we first started talking, and I can’t think of a song that better sums up that universal big step into the unknown of a new relationship. I guess she was trying to tell me something. The Replacements had a knack of tapping into that feeling, and by this point there was a sincerity to their songs and words that was pretty precious.
Drew Fortune, The A.V. Club
I’m a firm believer that everyone who is supposed to find the ‘Mats finds them at the right time. I came in backwards, discovering Stereo/Mono and working backwards. I related to All Shook Down and solo Westerberg instantly, as I came from a Wilco/Son Volt alt-country foundation in high school. It wasn’t until my early 20s, down on my luck, unlucky in love, and drinking and drugging way too much that Let It Be took over my consciousness. The first chords of “I Will Dare” slowly began to scratch on my worn CD, and I can’t begin to count or remember the nights spent staring out my Chicago apartment window, snow falling, with “Unsatisfied” providing the background score to my drunken heartache. Let It Be is the sound of a band finding itself while crumbling and retains the power to cut and heal simultaneously.
Val Loper, Bear Hands
I never fully understood The Replacements until I got sad and drunk alone in college. Then it all made sense. The first Replacements record I got was Tim from a dollar bin in college. That record is still reckless, but a bit more dialed in song- and production-wise. It had anthemic scorching classics like “Bastards of Young” but also had lower key songs like “Swingin’ Party”, which is among my favorite songs of the ’80s. Going back to Let It Be, I could hear a more obvious transition and progression from Hootenanny and their earlier punk stuff. It was definitely their coming-of-age record and a perfect soundtrack to coming-of-age myself. Still young and pissed but starting to get your ass kicked by life a little.
Christina Salgado, Consequence of Sound
Having been released a year after I was born, the masterful genius of the The Replacements’ seminal Let It Be didn’t implore resonance with me until years later. Inspired by the turbulent emotions that plague pre-adulthood, the album offered a clarion portrayal of adolescence, vacillating between themes like gender identity and sexuality. For me, it legitimized the idea that my struggles were far more complex and impassioned than the triviality it was often curtailed with. Hearing Westerberg bemoan the agony of confusion on “Sixteen Blue” gave credence to the vulnerability we all experience during our most pivotal growth periods. Further, it stood as a linchpin for Let It Be’s core ingenuity: a timeless ode to the turmoil of growth and change.
Zack Weil, Oozing Wound
Let It Be is maybe the funniest album title ever conceived. It‘s inspired me on a number of occasions to suggest, “Let‘s call our album Nevermind!” How funny that would be! Maybe it‘s less sacrilegious to poke fun at Nirvana in the 2010s than it was to take it to the boomers in the ’80s. If the ‘Mats album had sucked, it would have been even more hilarious, but magically, and I do mean that, here is a band that managed to take on Ted Nugent and fucking Kiss and actually improve songs by playing them worse. This is the band that has inspired way too many young-ins to believe in the power of drunken debauchery as intimacy.
I’ve never come close to being as off the wall as Westerberg on “We’re Coming Out”, though I have tried, and failed, to capture the terrifying anger of “Answering Machine” in my I’m-dark-and-mysterious phases. It‘s an inspiring album, but not for the usual reasons. Why is there a chorus on everything? So much chorus, and yet, I don’t hate it. That’s inspiring. It’s the only truly perfect Replacements record, even if they started writing better songs on the next record, because they also started writing worse filler. Let it be what it is, a crowning achievement of the barfly contingent.
Pierre de Reeder, Rilo Kiley & The SqueeGees
Like many I’m sure from my generation, this record was my introduction to The Replacements. And even there, for me at least, it was in bits and pieces… songs first showing up on mix tapes, where something like “Androgynous” would be nestled in between something from REM and Hüsker Dü. When I finally got Let It Be I was really floored by this raw sound that seemed so strangely honest and easy, as if the songs just plopped out of them right there for the first time as they were recording them, like some big conversation. Definitely one of those enlightening things where I thought, Oh wow, people can make music like that!
Matt Melis, Consequence of Sound
The Replacements aren’t one of those bands you stumble upon. You almost need to know someone – older brother, cousin, dorm mate – who quite literally shoves that first ‘Mats record into your hands, or else you probably go to your grave oblivious to Paul Westerberg, Let It Be, and all the rest. My initiation came thanks to a know-it-all neighbor in a band. “If you don’t have any Replacements albums, well, there’s not much I can do for you,” he told me with a dismissive, shooing hand motion. Nobody wants to be beyond help, so I stole his copy of Let It Be. Any other neighbor (not to mention the statute of limitations) and I probably wouldn’t be writing this right now. Instead, I’m typing and mumbling along to “Unsatisfied”, knowing that I’ll be taking that song with me to the grave – unless life goes unexpectedly well.
Diego Solórzano, Rey Pila
The first time I listened to The Replacements was during my junior year in high school. I remember that year was very exciting for me because I was discovering a lot of old bands that were new to me.
Around that time, I went to a David Bowie concert in Mexico City with a cousin that I knew I was related to but had never met in person. I was 14 back then, and he was 21. He had an amazing black leather jacket with a bunch of band pins, and one of them was an awesome Replacements pin. I was instantly intrigued by that band, so the next day I went straight to the record store and bought Let It Be. That record was stuck in my yellow Discman for a whole month. I went everywhere with the album.
“Unsatisfied” is my favorite track off that album. That song made me feel special; it made me feel like I was stepping into a new and unexplored world that went hand-in-hand with all the changes I was going through back then. I also had my first girlfriend that year. We used to lay in her bed and listen to Let It Be basically as I was coming of age.
I was utterly impressed by the lyrics. They were very direct and honest and literally described what I was living then, and as cliched as it may sound, I felt I was not the only one. A lot of anger, angst but also a lot excitement towards the future.
Let It Be opened a door in my life that I will never regret I opened. It changed my view on music and helped me develop my own voice as musician.
Josh Terry, Consequence of Sound
I discovered the ‘Mats in high school, listening to Let It Be in my basement around the same time I started sneaking beers and flirting with aimless teenage rebelling. There was something about the bouncy, opening chords of “I Will Dare”, the heartbreaking sentimentality of “Androgynous”, and the timelessness of a song like “Unsatisfied” that just floored me as a teenager. It wasn’t until college, though, that the band became my favorite of all time.
While I might pick Tim or Pleased to Meet Me as a personal favorite, it’s Let It Be that shows the Replacements at their very best. There are moments of hilarious debauchery (“Gary’s Got a Boner”), surging aggression (“Favorite Thing”), and pure, unadulterated, drum-less rock music (“Answering Machine”). It’s perfectly executed, and there’s not a dud on the record. Timeless and raucous, it’s one of the best albums ever.
I wasn’t even born yet when the band broke up after a disastrous summer show at Taste of Chicago in 1991, but I’ve already seen them twice on their reunion tour. Once when they played Riot Fest Chicago and the other during a rain-filled but still triumphant set at Shaky Knees fest in Atlanta. It’s a fact that’d make older fans groan, but being able to witness a band live I never thought would reunite and never got to experience in their heyday is something I’ll never, ever forget.
Stefanie Drootin-Senseney, Big Harp
Such a rad album. I was sort of late to the party on it though! I was playing bass in Bright Eyes when I first heard it. The tour manager, Bill Sullivan, was a Minneapolis guy who’d worked with the Replacements back in the day. He had tons of amazing stories about the band, so one night I finally crawled into my bunk and listened to the album. It was awesome; everything about the music was perfectly matched to the crazy yarns I’d been hearing. The energy and raggedness was what I related to more than anything. It was like punk in that way, but you couldn’t really call it punk. The album was probably around 20 years old at the time, and now at 30 it still holds up.
Britt Daniel, Spoon
What a great album title. I got to the Replacements just as they were breaking up. My initial impression: Aren’t they supposed to sound like R.E.M.?? This doesn’t sound like R.E.M.! They were more heartfelt and juvenile and American and way more loose. There’s some amazing songs on this album, and so many types of songs. Paul Westerberg could write actual ballads that hit me in the heart and were in no way sappy or filler — “Sixteen Blue”, “Answering Machine”, “Unsatisfied”. My favorite song off this one is “Answering Machine” — I love that they didn’t add drums, I love the canned operator recording, and the vocal + general sentiment ring 100% true. Emotional but nervy.
Dan Reilly, Rolling Stone
I don’t remember the first time I heard the Replacements, but it was sometime around 10 years ago after I graduated from college and moved to New York to, as fate would have it, become a struggling writer. At the beginning of my career, I spent a year or so working for a temp agency that usually involved wearing a dress shirt and khakis so I could hand out flyers for a Cole Haan sample sale, shred some office documents, or clean out Lucky magazine’s inventory closet for $10-12 an hour. I always had my Discman and a stack of CDs with me to pass the time on the subway and, if possible, during the job itself. One day, I was lucky enough to have access to a stereo while some other dude and I were trying to organize piles upon piles of Nautica shirts. “Beer for Breakfast” came on one of my mixes, and he told me about his love of Paul Westerberg and some more about the ‘Mats. It wasn’t long after that I started digging into their discography.
Even though I didn’t fully appreciate Let It Be until after it was old enough to legally buy a drink, the album takes me back to that period in my life because of the current of desperation that runs through most of the tracks. Back then, I was desperate for some writing success, a few extra bucks that would let me pay off my bank’s overdraft fines, and improve on an ultimately doomed relationship. I can’t help but hear some of the similar emotions in Paul’s shredded-throat wails on the album’s slower ballads, and can only assume he was desperate for a few extra bucks, a little recognition, and maybe a steady girl at the same time. It’s not too much to ask, after all.
Fast-forward to 2014 and lots has changed, but a few things haven’t. I hate my bank account, and I want more success, but I’m married to a Minnesota girl, and we shelled out for tickets to see the Replacements at Boston Calling because we never knew if they’d come to New York before the reunion tour imploded in true ‘Mats fashion. Not long after, we spent maybe five minutes wondering if we should then shell out more to see them headline a tennis stadium in Queens two weeks later (like a guy at the track who just can’t stop, I also bought a $60 vinyl copy of Let It Be, the white whale of my record collection). “That was our dumbest five minutes ever,” my wife later remarked, after we were awed by their set in Boston, coincidentally on the same weekend that my checking account went into overdraft again.
However many layers of stress I had with work, money, life, etc., didn’t exist when we saw Paul, Tommy, and their new bandmates end their New York set with “Unsatisfied”. Leaning against the rail with my wife, screaming along mere feet away from this band we never thought we’d get to see is a enough of a permanently great memory to make up for a few stretches of being broke.
Plus, my wife’s health insurance is pretty rad, so I won’t have to go to Tommy’s shitty doctor if I need to get my tonsils out, so that’s a huge bonus.
Founder of Twin/Tone Records
I’d like to get your take on the album title being something of a joke on you, a Beatles fan.
Well, ya know, the Beatle fixation is a huge part of who I am, and I totally understand how that could make someone I was around a lot want to take a poke at it. Paul’s feeling was basically – the Beatles were simply a great rock band, nothing is sacred and we can steal one of their album titles if we feel like it. But it certainly didn’t bother me; I thought it was a funny and cool idea.
Let It Be has generally been regarded as one of the greatest albums of its era. I am interested in your thoughts, feelings, effects, or even indifference, regarding both the band and the album. What are the Replacements to you (if anything)?
As an A&R person, finding them was unquestionably a career-defining moment. To have a brand-new, unsigned band that talented cross my path was almost incomprehensible to me. For a minute, I actually thought maybe someone was playing a joke on me – like this was a band that already had a record deal, and they were just pulling my leg! And, as a fan, it was one of those discoveries that people like me live for – here, suddenly, was one of my favorite bands of all time.
How/when did you first discover the Replacements, and when did you first hear Let It Be? Being that this album’s main themes are coming-of-age-related, did it have any effect on you, or were/are you able to relate?
I first discovered the Replacements in May of 1980 when Paul Westerberg came into the record store I managed and gave me a four-song demo cassette.
I heard the songs that make up the Let It Be album in dribs and drabs – initially as Paul wrote the first couple, then in the studio as he taught them to the band. “I Will Dare” was actually written in the spring of 1983. I clearly remember being in the kitchen of Paul Stark’s house, which was where the original Twin/Tone office was. Paul W. called and told me he’d just finished the best song he’d ever written and that we needed to record it immediately. I could hear the excitement in his voice, which, of course, got me very excited too. But I had to remind him that we’d just shipped off the recently completed Hootenanny to the pressing plant and that it just didn’t make sense to go in and record a new song. Not to mention the fact that we couldn’t afford it!
A week or two later, they were playing a gig at a downtown club called Goofy’s Upper Deck. A few songs into the set, Paul started that catchy rhythm strum intro, and I knew instantly this was the one he’d called me about – it was clearly a classic. Next came “Sixteen Blue”, which Paul taught to the band in the Del Fuegos practice space in Boston on a tour day off, summer 1983. The first time I heard it was later that night at soundcheck at The Paradise. I was walking around the empty room, listening to how the live mix was sounding and noticed they were doing a song I didn’t recognize. It didn’t take long to realize the words were about Tommy, who was 16 at the time – gives me shivers just to think of it; it sounded so good!
I believe the next one I heard was “Black Diamond”. We were all in the van, driving to a gig at a Minneapolis club called The Cabooze, and Tommy was teasing me that they’d learned a new song at practice and I had a surprise in store. I forgot about it until, during the show later that night, they kicked into a massive rocker. I didn’t know it was a Kiss song, but whatever it was, they were nailing it, and I was knocked out. Later, during the album sessions, they recorded it along with another cover that had also become a live set highlight – The Grass Roots’ “Temptation Eyes” – plus one they just learned in the studio, T. Rex’s “20th Century Boy”.
As great as the Grass Roots song had been live, the recording didn’t quite make it. But the other two were both so good we had a hard time deciding which one to put on the album. In the final hour, though, we all agreed – T. Rex would be cool, but Kiss would be uncool and unexpected. The rest of the songs were introduced as the recording continued over the next several months. As for coming-of-age themes, I was 29-30 as those songs were coming together, so I probably related differently than, say, an 18-year-old, but the power of the songs transcended age and affected me deeply too.
Is the overwhelmingly positive praise for this album warranted?
Hell yes! It was a daring album that pushed the envelope and broke rules. Songs that were full of punk rock fury and humor but with writing that was incredibly sophisticated, full of a complexity and sensitivity that was hardly common in indie rock at that time. I can’t tell you how overwhelming it was to hear those songs as they arrived. Their first three records were great; I love ‘em all to death, but Let It Be was where it all came together, everything just clicked into place, primarily because of that incredible batch of songs. Five of them in particular were the best Paul had written to date: “I Will Dare”, “Androgynous”, “Unsatisfied”, “Sixteen Blue”, and “Answering Machine” – I mean, c’mon! I was convinced as Let It Be was taking shape that this was going to be an important record, regardless of whether or not the masses were ever going to “get it.”
In relation to the rest of the band’s catalog, where do you see this album? In relation to what else came out in 1984 (Minutemen Double Nickels…, Husker Du Zen Arcade, The Smiths debut, Van Halen 1984, Black Flag Slip It In, for example), where do you see this album? How do you think this album may have affected the albums and bands that came after it?
It’s the Replacements’ best album, hands down. I can’t really comment in relation to the other five you mention here, as none of them particularly resonated with me, but I think Let It Be smoked them all. As for how Let It Be affected what came after, I think it gave lots of younger bands a sort of permission to be themselves, to be more careful, thoughtful, and melodic in their material.
Peter Buck of R.E.M. was originally set to produce the album. Though he did contribute a little to the album (guitar on “I Will Dare”), what are your thoughts on that? Do you think the album’s rawness may have been compromised had he produced the entire affair?
The possibility of Peter Buck producing was a great idea that just didn’t come to fruition. He did come up for the early sessions and played guitar on the one song, and that was a blast. But, in retrospect, I think we felt confident in the material and in our ability to pull it together in the studio ourselves.
Editor’s Note: An earlier published draft wrote that Westerberg, T. Stinson, and Chris Mars had day jobs during the Let It Be era, which was not true. Also, Bob Stinson was a cook at an Italian restaurant called Mama Rosa, not a pizza place.