Today, Oct. 2, marks the 30th anniversary of the Replacements' classic album Let It Be (which was, in fact, named after the Beatles song and album of the same name). Though initially formed in 1979 as a punk band, Let It Be saw the Replacements expand its sonic palette by incorporating elements of folk, blues, jazz and even unhip arena rock, and in the process pioneered the fledgling genre of alternative rock. It's largely considered to be the Replacements' best album, and one of the best rock albums ever made, so to celebrate, here are the album's 11 tracks, ranked from weakest to best.
11. Gary's Got A Boner
Though the Replacements largely moved away from punk for Let It Be, there are still a few elements of the genre left here and there. The other punk moments on the album worked brilliantly (as we'll get to later), but "Gary's Got A Boner" feels more like one of the goofball songs that they would throw onto their first two albums, as opposed to the more mature sound they explored on Let It Be.
10. Black Diamond
In his 33 1/3 book on Let It Be, Decemberists frontman Colin Meloy recalls hating "Black Diamond" as a kid, and thought that a Kiss cover had no place on an indie rock album. Meloy was a bit harsh in his assessment: the Replacements' version of "Black Diamond" is very well done, and is surprisingly one of the album's darkest songs. If anything, covering a "dinosaur" band like Kiss is more punk than covering the Ramones or the Clash because it's totally unexpected.
9. Seen Your Video
Anyone who's seen the Replacements' video for "Bastards of Young" can probably guess that they thought music videos were ridiculous, which is a stance they loudly declared a year earlier with "Seen Your Video." It's a mostly instrumental track, with the exception of singer Paul Westerberg's shouts of "Seen your video/That phony rock and roll/We don't wanna know" towards the end of the song. The riffs are excellent, but they would have been much better if there were vocals throughout the entire song, and not just the end.
8. Sixteen Blue
It's amazing that a band as snotty and reckless as the Replacements was able to write some of the most beautiful and intelligent rock ballads of its era. One of Paul Westerberg's favorite themes is the confusion inherent in adolescence, which he nails in Let It Be's penultimate track "Sixteen Blue," backed by some jangly, R.E.M.-inspired guitars.
7. Favorite Thing
Though Let It Be's opening track "I Will Dare" introduces the album with a bouncy, jangly swagger (more on that later), its second track "Favorite Thing" assures listeners that the Replacements didn't lose all of their punk edge. It's the album's most straightforward rock song, complete with a dramatic twin lead solo and some twangy rockabilly riffs.
6. Answering Machine
One common trick for sequencing a rock album is to put an acoustic ballad as the last track (the Replacements did this on their very next album, Tim). However, Let It Be slightly subverts this trend by closing with a solo Paul Westerberg number "Answering Machine," though instead of acoustic guitar, it's recorded with the same distorted, chorused guitar tone used for all of the other songs. For over three-and-a-half minutes, we're just waiting for the rest of the band to come in, but it never comes, which is brilliant choice.
5. Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out
At under two minutes, "Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out" is Let It Be's shortest song, and also its most traditionally punk song. It's 1:54 of blissful power chords and snarl, and sounds like something that could have easily been written by the Ramones seven years earlier.
4. I Will Dare
Let It Be's best, purest pop song is its opening track "I Will Dare," which might be the best pop song the Replacements ever wrote. It's the sort of song that you simply cannot play without shuffling your feet, and to make it even better, R.E.M.'s Peter Buck drops by to lay down a killer country rock guitar solo, followed by a mandolin solo from Paul Westerberg. This is probably where Buck got the idea to use mandolins for his own music.
Opening a song with a twelve-string guitar intro sounds like something Led Zeppelin or the Eagles would have done, but Paul Westerberg took this classic rock template and spun it into gold with "Unsatisfied." There's not really much to the song: it's mostly Westerberg screaming "I'm so unsatisfied" over and over, but it's done with a level of furious desperation that only Bruce Springsteen can match.
There aren't many punk bands that could have pulled off a tender piano ballad about a transgendered couple, but this is exactly what made the Replacements rise above its peers. This isn't a desperate song like "Unsatisfied" or a snotty song like "Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out": this is a legitimate call for acceptance of anyone who lives their life differently than you do.
1. We're Coming Out
For about 80 seconds, "We're Coming Out" is far and away the angriest, most punk song on Let It Be, and one of the most furious songs that the Replacements ever wrote. But then something strange happens; the guitars and drums fade out to make way for some finger snapping and jazzy piano. This breakdown quickly builds back up to the noisy conclusion, and it's the single greatest moment on the album, and one of the most brilliant songwriting decisions in all of '80s alternative rock.
What are your favorite songs off of Let It Be? What did I get wrong? Let us know down in the comments section!