35 Years Ago: The Replacements Begin to Find Themselves on ‘Hootenanny’
The Replacements began to turn away from their early punk aesthetic on Hootenanny, setting themselves up for stirring new successes. Unfortunately, this album also marked the beginning of the end for the band's seminal lineup.
They had begun their discography with the hardcore, thrillingly haphazard 1981 album Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash, followed by the similarly constructed Stink EP a year later. This was booze-addled co-founding guitarist Bob Stinson's forte, the place where he felt most at home. Frontman Paul Westerberg had other ideas.
"It had been a year or six months of touring and doing the Stink thing," Westerberg says in Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements, "and the last thing I wanted to do was really bash out another one like that. ... It was impossible to sing that shit anyway; it was ripping my throat raw."
Hootenanny, issued on April 29, 1983, re-drew the Replacements' musical boundaries. Suddenly, they were dabbling in pop and old-school rock sounds, and country and folk, too. Some of it was quite frankly ironic, but the album still represented a huge leap forward – and it completely reshaped the Replacements' audience.
They'd gotten there by finally speaking to their own deeper, quite fundamental contradictions. After all, this was a band that could somehow come off as both sensitive and sarcastic, darkly poetic and strikingly sophomoric. Westerberg's roving muse was actually matched by the built-in musical tendencies of bandmates Bob Stinson, his bass-playing brother Tommy Stinson, and drummer Chris Mars.
"If it doesn't rock enough, Bob will scoff at it," Westerberg says in Our Band Could Be Your Life, "and if it isn't catchy enough, Chris won't like it – and if it isn't modern enough, Tommy won't like it."
Having already changed recording venues in favor of a mobile 24-track unit at a warehouse in Roseville, near downtown Minneapolis, the Replacements began trying on new personas: "Willpower" brought to mind the Psychedelic Furs at their most atmospheric, while "Take Me Down to the Hospital" revealed a blues base. "Mr. Whirly" boasted an overt Beatles influence, and "Buck Hill" referenced surf rock. "Color Me Impressed" rankes as one of Westerberg's best early paeans to outsiders. "Within Your Reach" even included a bit of synth.
Listen to the Replacements Perform 'Willpower'
As he plumbed deeper emotions, Westerberg headed toward something that might be called singer-songwriter punk. "There was less concern of trying to make an album that was all fast rock and roll songs," Westerberg adds in Trouble Boys. "The record was going to be whatever turned out best on tape."
At the same time, however, Hootenanny still remained connected to their unstructured roots. The title track, a chaotic blues shuffle in which all of the Replacements switched instruments in order to annoy their fastidious co-producer Paul Stark, was placed at the top of the record. They then charged right into "Run It," an unapologetically hardcore romp. In these moments, the late Bob Stinson transformed once more into a revelation of guttural expression, weird angles and coiled aggressiveness.
“I mean, what he played just came from somewhere else," former manager Peter Jesperson told the Twin Cities Pioneer Press. "It was instinctual, more than most people that I've ever experienced. He just played a weird amalgamation of things that he admired, filtered through the weird Bob Stinson brain."
Through it boasts a surprisingly jazzy approach, the lyrics of "Lovelines" were also pure punk: Westerberg reads classified ads, verbatim, straight out of Minneapolis' City Pages; you can even detect the sound of turning pages as the song ends. They begin "You Lose" with Westerberg talking back to the control room. "Are we going to record this one?" he asks. Then, as the music suddenly surrounds him: "I see. Well, in that case ..."
Meanwhile, the Replacements were still an on-stage mess, as they consumed staggering amounts of alcohol before performing. "If it's a small crowd, it helps sometimes because you see double," Westerberg once quipped. "Then you can fill the joint."
That's part of why almost all of Hootenanny was cut live, with minimal overdubbing of lead vocals and guitar. They were constrained, quite frankly, by Stinson's outsized appetites. "The major consideration was how drunk Bob was going to be when he came to the sessions," Stark said in Trouble Boys, "and how much you could get out of him before he got too drunk to work. With Bob, we only had about 20 or 30 minutes to record every night."
Listen to the Replacements Perform 'Color Me Impressed'
Bob Stinson had tried to go on the wagon the summer before, but fell off again. At one point, Tommy Stinson was desperate enough to discuss replacing his brother with Dan Murphy of Soul Asylum. But Tommy, then still in high school, wasn't in any position to redirect his wayward sibling. Up to this point, the Replacements had been limiting their schedule to regional weekend runs so the younger Stinson could be back in class on Mondays.
So, Stark adjusted. "We realized [Bob Stinson's] lead guitar playing was best between his fifth and seventh beer, and after the seventh beer he was worthless," Stark says in The Replacements: All Over But the Shouting. "If he hadn't had the four, he was worthless, as well."
It all came together, somehow. Westerberg felt like they'd finally stumbled onto something special, something uniquely their own. He later called Hootenanny "the first album that sounds just like us." Certainly, it set the table for 1984's breakthrough Let It Be. A year later, the Replacements were signed by a major label.
Still, seeds of discontent were already sown. Bob Stinson had flatly refused to include the Westerberg ballad "You're Getting Married" on Stink. ("That ain't the Replacements," he reportedly said. "Save it for your record, Paul.") Westerberg actually recorded this album's more sensitive "Within Your Reach" all alone. The pair were clearly headed to a critical juncture: "When we played the loud, fast shit, it was his band," Westerberg says in Trouble Boys, "but I felt like I can only do so much of that. I have to do this [ballad] crap, too."
Westerberg closed out Hootenanny with "Treatment Bound," a brutally frank admission. "We're getting no place fast as we can," he lamented. But that would change soon. Hundreds of college-rock stations added Hootenanny, and it got great reviews. Meanwhile, Tommy Stinson quit school. The Replacements were his full-time job now.
In the spring of '83, they made their first East Coast trip. The Replacements played CBGB that June. By the fall of 1984, they had released one of the most important albums of the era. Within two years after that, however, Bob Stinson was gone. He didn't live another full decade.