The Pitchfork 500 Alt Rock 101 Part 2 – Replacements to REM

So here’s the second part of the Alt-Rock 101 article I started last week. We’ve had Sonic Youth, Hüsker Dü and The Meat Puppets, now it’s time for these three:

The Replacements – I Will Dare
Minutemen – History Lesson (Part II)
R.E.M. – So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)

The Replacements, like Hüsker Dü before them and The Hold Steady after them, hail from Minneapolis. There’s a reason I mention The Hold Steady. In this great article, Craig Finn talks of how they saved his life. As an awkward, slightly geeky teenager, he found The Replacements and they set him onto the path he’s still on today. There’s a great story in which his dad takes him to the local record store to buy “Let It Be”, from which this song stems, and the guy behind the counter turns down the sound on the stereo, points at his dad and him in turn, and says “Cool dad. Cool kid”. You know what? You don’t get that kind of thing downloading MP3’s from iTunes or BitTorrent.

So, after hearing so much about them from bands like The Hold Steady, would the real thing stand up to scrutiny? To repeat a phrase I used in part One, hell yes. It’s not quite as bad as the feeling you get when you read a Gabriel Garcia Marquez book and realise that Salman Rushdie and Louis De Bernieres are plagiaristic hacks, but this more than stands up to some of the best bands around today. And it kicks the ass of the landfill indie currently clogging up the airwaves in the UK.

This is one great, great song. It fairly grooves along, mixing Squeeze and Bruce Springsteen, with a devastatingly catchy chorus in which the singer appears to be trying to get a younger lady to do something inadvisable. Better still, it features a fantastic guitar solo before going off onto a REM-esque jangly bit. No shock there, given that the band’s Peter Buck plays it.

I like it so much I’ve played it about 25 times in the past few weeks. It’s fantastic. It’s power-pop heaven. It’s the best bar-room rock you’ve ever heard. Listen to it now and see if you disagree; I’m sure you won’t. And it’s the same with this next song, by The Minutemen.

Now, I always assumed The Minutemen were a bunch of shouty shouty earnest US hardcore punks, but this came as a massive shock. Over a lovely, jazzy guitar line, singer D. Boon chats laconically about the history of the band, starting with the immortal line “Our band can be your life”. Indeed, for many people they were; part of the hardcore scene that exploded in the early ’80’s, The Minutemen would show up in your town, play, drink and sleep on your floor. Understanding that there was a huge number of disaffected teens in an uncountable number of towns round the US, The Minutemen spoke directly to them, and went out of their way to reach out to them.

And even with 25 years between recording and now, it’s fresh as a daisy. Like all great songs it speaks directly to you, and even though my “fucking corndog” pogoing days are long, long gone, I’m taken straight back to jumping around like a fool to the bands of my teenage years1, and the friends I had then. Tragically, D. Boon would be killed in a van crash a year after recording this. What a waste of a great talent.

And going back to The Hold Steady, here’s their own tribute:

Up against these two songs, REM’s “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)” really doesn’t stand up well. It’s that mid-tempo jangly alt-rock with opaque lyrics sung in a slightly irritating way that REM would release from 1983’s Murmur, right through to the present day. Whilst you simply can’t argue with the presence of “Radio Free Europe” on the list, I can’t think of a decent reason why this is on here. Maybe American alt-rock fans of a certain age look back on this song fondly, but for me, a number of their later songs would fit far more comfortably on this list than this song. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pretty good song, but one of the top 500? Nah.

That’s the Alt-Rock 101. These bands are influential beyond measure and there’s not a guitar band around today who doesn’t owe something to at least one of them.

On a personal level, I’ve gone from not knowing three of these songs, and not knowing anything by two of the bands, to absolutely loving the three songs I didn’t know. If I could go back in time, a thirteen year-old me would get a visit from a taller, slightly overweight, and rather older version of me, clutching vinyl copies of “Let It Be”, “Double Nickels on the Dime”, and “Zen Arcade”, along with a note reading “Play these. Play them every day, get a better guitar and practice it every day, and start that band.”. I dearly hope the thirteen year old would listen. This is music that can change your life, as the song says.

And now I’m off to Amazon to buy the CD’s for the adult me. I suggest you do too.

1 Dinosaur Jnr and The Pixies, since you ask. “Freak Scene” would get me out of a coma.

MP3: I Will Dare by The Replacements

MP3: History Lesson – Part II by The Minutemen

MP3: So. Central Rain by REM

The whole Pitchfork 500 series of articles can be found here.

Buy The Replacements “Let It Be” (CD)

Buy Minutemen “Double Nickels on the Dime” (CD)

Buy REM’s “Reckoning (Deluxe Edition)” (CD/MP3)

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1 Comment

  1. jkneale

     /  August 2, 2009

    Very nice, especially the HS Minutemen cover…

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