In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, we’re talking about the songs we hate by bands we love.
The Replacements, “Merry Go Round,” 1990
If we were to graph the level of how much The Replacements rocked per album, we would find a straight line peaking with the 1981 debut Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash, then heading steadily downward at a 45-degree angle until the band’s egregious final release, 1990’s All Shook Down. While the Minneapolis quartet expertly straddled the pop/punk line, songwriter Paul Westerberg always slipped some extra vulnerability and emotion in somewhere. Most of the time, these odes offered a welcome break from punk tantrums like “Gary’s Got A Boner,” and added a deeper, thoughtful level to Replacements releases. Even a record as bombastic as Hootenanny contained Westerberg’s heartfelt “Within Your Reach” wail; Let It Be ended with a perfect, plaintive plea to an “Answering Machine”; Tim slid down into “Here Comes A Regular” (with one of the saddest descriptions ever sung: “You’re like a picture on a fridge that’s never stocked with food”); and Pleased To Meet Me free-fell into the pretty and wistful “Skyway.” No one can say there weren’t signs.
The energetic Stinson brothers, Tommy (bass) and Bob (guitar), usually helped tamp down Westerberg’s sentimental streak before it got out of hand. But after Bob Stinson’s departure from the band (and subsequent death in 1995), there was only so much that one Stinson left could do. Tommy tried, but the writing was on the wall with 1989’s pop-happy and radio-ready Don’t Tell A Soul. When Soul failed to take off, the discouraged ’Mats were on their last legs after six albums in less than a decade. All Shook Down—never a more appropriate title—started out as a Westerberg solo project, but was retooled into one final chance for the band in 1990. It turned into the first Replacements record I never bought.
All Shook Down’s single, “Merry Go Round,” was a travesty of everything that made the ’Mats so great to begin with. Without the Stinsons to balance out his moody self, Westerberg slid right into sing-songy treacle, with no rocking in sight. In the video, The Replacements look so bored, they’re barely moving. Tommy fiddles with his suspenders at one point, and drummer Chris Mars might be asleep, it’s hard to tell:
The rockers who released “Bastards Of Young” (and refused to make a video for it) just a few years earlier would have a field day with these clowns:
“Merry Go Round”’s lyrics turned out to be prophetic: “Hush is the only word you know / And I stopped listening long ago.” Mercifully, the band broke up (on an outdoor stage in Chicago’s Grant Park) soon after ASD’s release. Even Westerberg’s subsequent solo releases like 14 Songs weren’t as sappy as that frickin’ album, but perhaps relief after The Replacements’ end freed him from writing anything else that was quite so depressing.
Fans were thrilled after decades when the remaining Replacements returned for a Riot Fest reunion tour in 2013. The longtime fan was greeted with an inspired and lively set led by Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson, with cuts from the ’Mats earliest, brattiest albums, like Sorry, Ma’s kickoff “Takin A Ride” and Hootenanny’s anthemic “Color Me Impressed.” And yet, “Merry Go Round” was still on the play list. Only Westerberg himself could tell you why. Everyone needed a port-a-potty break by then anyway.