Just for fun, before writing about this week’s Great Song, I Wiki’ed the band: The Replacements. What I got first was a general Wiki link asking me whether I was looking for the movie, an episode of “Band of Brothers,” a short story, a TV series, or the “American alternative rock group.”
The fact that the greatest rock n’ roll band of the 1980s is even referred to as “alternative” is hilarious.
While everyone else in the rock underground were wearing paisley shirts and doing their best to imitate the English New Wave, The Replacements were getting drunk and singing about growing up, being confused, and being pissed off. In 1984, they released “Let it Be” (the title chosen to get the goat of their manager, a big Beatles fan, and to prove that nothing is sacred) on a tiny Minneapolis indie label called Twin/Tone. It may not have seemed too important at the time, but now its regarded as one of the finest rock albums ever recorded. (Spin called it the 12th Greatest Record of All-Time.)
Picking a favorite Replacements song is like picking the best Scorsese movie—there is an embarrassment of riches to choose from. The one I picked today is simple, honest, and absolutely universal. The title pretty much sums it up.
Written by Paul Westerberg, who always sang as if the weight of the world were on his shoulders (and he could give a fuck), “Unsatisfied” is simple, repetitive, loose, and perfect.
Opening with a 12-string guitar intro that’s reminiscent of KISS’ “Rock Bottom” (that band’s “Black Diamond” is covered on “Let it Be”), it sets the stage for a pretty little number. What you get instead is Westerberg mumbling, ranting, and crying for help.
90 percent of the lyrics in the song are right here: “Look me in the eye then tell me that I’m satisfied / Hey, are you satisfied?” It’s more than a statement, it’s a taunt. Summing up the listless feeling of youth and uncertainty about the future isn’t easy to do in language that plain-spoken, but Westerberg does it. And the delivery sells it.
Even with all the bright and pretty guitars, the band (Bob Stinson on guitar, his 17-year old brother Tommy on bass, Chris Mars on the drums) plays it reckless, like a punk rock tune. The song is mostly chorus, but the second verse goes something like this: “Everything goes, anything goes, all of the time / Everything you dream of is right in front of you / And everything is a lie” I’m not actually sure about that last line; never have been. It means what I want it to mean.
At the end, the song devolves: “I’m so , I’m so…unsatisfied.” There have been certain times in my life where nothing has seemed so poetic as this song. It’s cathartic for sure, but it’s better than John Lennon’s “primal scream therapy” stuff because there’s a melodic sense to it that thrives and lives through the chaos. I wonder sometimes where voices like this are for the younger generations right now. I wonder who it is that speaks to them like Westerberg and The ‘Mats speak to me.
The Great Songs series so far: