Okay, we need to get one thing straight right away: there’s no chance in hell I can rank these albums from least to best because I love them all in different ways and their two best albums really are so neck-and-neck that a photo finish result would be useless to determine the all-time champ. Instead, these are ranked in order of which Replacements albums mean the most to me, or which ones I go back to more than the others. In that way, I was able to slightly differentiate these into a more cohesive and organized list. Again, I love each dearly, so I present these with all the sincerity I can muster. Let me know which one is your own favorite!
Final note: I only included widely available LPs and EPs, but no live, compilation, or bootleg albums.
Songs for Slim (2013)
This little gem came out in order to raise money for Replacements guitarist and all around great guy Slim Dunlap, who suffered a stroke not long before. A lot of famous musicians pitched in and released cover singles of songs Slim wrote in the past, and the Mats did the same here, covering two of Slim’s and three other covers for a quick reunion release, which would eventually lead to a full reunion tour (well, for Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson). The songs are fun, haphazard, and come across like a bunch a guys just playing some old favorites in a rehearsal space, for good or ill. Chris Mars covered his own track separate from Paul and Tommy, and while all the songs are decent enough, it’s at best a reminder of how good they all were as a unit and how we will likely never get that on an album again, not even here.
Favorite Tracks: “I’m Not Sayin’,” “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”
All Shook Down (1990)
Replacements fans are well aware that this album was really more of a Westerberg solo release, but featured just enough of Slim, Tommy, and sometimes Chris so that using the Mats name makes sense, especially for marketing purposes. But you can tell in even the most cursory listen that this is the outro for the band. Many tracks are somber, slow, acoustic, or just feel awkward to the ear. Listening to this one always makes me a little sad. Even the more upbeat songs seem to be about losing something sweet and meaningful that will never return. However, there are definitely some highlights and callbacks to the bands brighter, sillier roots in songs like “When It Began” and “Attitude.” But this is not where I would recommend new fans go to begin exploring the bands’ output.
Favorite Tracks: “Merry Go Round,” “Nobody,” “When It Began,” “Attitude”
Stink is their second official release and features 8 whiplash tracks that show off their punk and garage-rock roots, although it does include the seminal track “Go,” which broods and burns at a slower pace and portends the insightful songwriting possibilities Paul Westerberg will flash with greater heat on later albums. Still, outside of a couple tracks, this feels like an EP of castoffs that didn’t make the cut of their first full-length album, Sorry Ma…, which is why I don’t go back to this one as often as I do others. But it’s a legendary offering, what with the open track’s audio clip of the Minneapolis police trying to shut down a Replacements show, and the rumor that Tommy quit high school by walking into the principal’s office with a boom box, turning on the track “Fuck School,” and walking right out for good. Truth or myth, I love it either way.
Favorite Tracks: “Kids Don’t Follow,” “God Damn Job,” “Go”
This is the last Mats album I ever listened to, which is a shame because there’s some classic material on this one. The style is spaghetti against the wall, it’s all over the place, from the heartfelt “Within Your Reach” to sneering punk numbers like “Run It,” and goofy shambolic toasts to inebriation like “Treatment Bound” and “Take Me Down to the Hospital.” The guys are clearly having fun, there’s just not much cohesion. But as with “Go” on Stink, you hear more and more yet of Paul’s burgeoning songwriting skills that are grounded more on semi-hidden emotional wells than empty beer bottles. Overall, the album is incredibly playful and you get the feeling they’re building up to something special, but they’re definitely not there quite yet.
Favorite Tracks: “Color Me Impressed,” “Within Your Reach,” “Treatment Bound,” “Lovelines”
Don’t Tell a Soul (1989)
This is the second Mats album I bought and it still feels special because I played it a ton while I saved up money to buy the others. I was seriously broke/unemployed at the time so each album was a battle to own. It’s also the album where you can tell Paul took a real intentional stab at writing from a more private and emotional place. Not that his work lacked that in the past but it feels more consistent here and it’s clearly utilized by producers to create a smoother and more pop-leaning album than Paul probably envisioned. Regardless of how he felt about the production being a bit too glossy, I think it’s fair to say this album is the biggest leap in the maturation of his style. It’s funny that they ended up touring with Tom Petty after this one because when I first heard “Achin’ to Be” and “I’ll Be You,” I could totally hear them as singles off mid- to late-80s Petty records. And I’m a huge Petty fan, so maybe that’s why I like this one so much. It’s a bit overproduced in places, sure, but it’s a solid and pretty consistent album. It’s also the album that probably lost the most ardent fans of their rollicking guitar-driven style on past albums, because that’s much less present here. But I’m okay with it.
Favorite Tracks: “Achin’ to Be,” “I’ll Be You,” “Anywhere’s Better Than Here” “Talent Show”
Pleased To Meet Me (1987)
Okay, the weird thing about this album is that it was the last I bought, and by the time I finally listened to it I might have been burning myself out of The Replacements. My impressions felt very…well…meh. Even the good tracks felt oddly thin, and with the horns, it just didn’t impress me overall. But it grew on me, and now some of my favorite songs are on this one. Knowing where it falls in their timeline, it definitely has the feel of a group of guys who had some success, some upheaval, and now they’re not 100% sure where to take it next. Some songs are goofy and self-depreciating (“I Don’t Know”), others are rollicking throwbacks (“I.O.U.”), and some are the most touching and considered tracks they’ve ever produced (“Skyway” – such a beautiful, painful song). But no matter how you feel about the other tracks, “Alex Chilton” and “Can’t Hardly Wait” are just powerhouse songs that perfectly blend Paul’s sardonic writing with the pop sensibilities he shows off more and more with each album. They both stand up to this day. It started slow in my rotation, but now it’s one of my absolute favorites.
Favorite Tracks: “Alex Chilton,” “Can’t Hardly Wait,” “Skyway,” “Never Mind,” “The Ledge”
Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash (1981)
When you think about seminal punk albums, I don’t think many people think of The Replacements, but this is hands down of the most rambunctious, chaotic, and turbulent sets of garage-punk ever thrashed, while also being one of the most accessible of its era. It wasn’t political or vicious, but it was absolutely defiant in terms of being a “this is the messy, dirty, fringe-of-Americana life we lead and we don’t give a shit what you think of it because you clearly don’t give a shit about us either” type of album. But in a tongue-sorta-in-cheek way. It’s a fun album and Paul’s songs are really good and really clever, offering coy insights into the struggle that is growing up feeling like a “nobody” with so few avenues leading anywhere decent. He never really says that in so many words, but you feel it, you sense it, and you connect with it. At least that’s how I felt listening to it. Best punk album of the 80s, I say, and I couldn’t care less if you disagree.
Favorite Tracks: “I Hate Music,” “Customer,” “Takin’ a Ride,” “I’m in Trouble,” “Careless,” “Johnny’s Gonna Die,” “Love You Till Friday”
Let It Be (1984)
And this is where might I lose some Replacements fans I know. Let It Be is rightfully hailed as their best by many, and for me it’s the “most Replacements” album the Replacements ever released, that perfect blend of punk (“Favorite Thing”), goofiness (“Gary’s Got a Boner”), sincerity (“Unsatisfied” and “Androgynous”), and radio-friendly, guitar-driven, pop-rock songs (“I Will Dare”). So much of this album is so damn good, and nothing really sucks too much (ehh, Gary’s is so-so), and like Hootenanny, the styles vary a lot from songs to song. That’s not a bad thing, that’s a Replacements thing. They can and will do it all, from covering Kiss (“Black Diamond”) to writing a song about their teenage bass player getting his tonsils out (the aptly named “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out”). Yeah, yeah, I’m telling even the most casual fans shit they already know. The reason why this album is number two and not number one in my opinion is that for as fun and strong as the album is, the high points on Tim just barely reach beyond the high points on this one, and the negligible low points on Tim skim just above the negligible low points on this one. It’s so close, but if you put a gun to my head and made me choose, I’d go with Tim. Let It Be is the album I’d give most new fans first, but Tim is the album I’d keep for myself. Both are immediate classics, but my heart can only belong to one.
Favorite Tracks: “Unsatisfied,” “Favorite Thing,” “I Will Dare,” “Sixteen Blue,” “Androgynous”
The first time I heard “Bastards of Young” I was driving through southern Vermont on my way to college and I had to pull over because it was so mind-blowingly good. I had heard of The Replacements before and later realized someone included a couple of their songs on a mix tape (on an actual damn cassette) I had borrowed in the early 90s when I was in middle school, but somehow their importance eluded me back then. It didn’t after that drive through the Green Mountain countryside. I became obsessed, especially with Tim. From the boisterous opening track “Hold My Life” all the way through to the haunted and heartbreaking “Here Comes a Regular,” each track held something special and unique and pulled me deeper into the Mats universe. While there’s still a variety of styles, from the snotty silliness of “Waitress in the Sky” to the full-out rockers like “Dose of Thunder,” nothing strays too far off track, and the best songs on the album are the best songs the Mats every recorded, in my opinion, specifically the devastating one-two punch of “Bastards of Young” and “Left of the Dial,” epic tracks that may have been somewhat overlooked at the time but have since become epic generation-defining songs. Had they included two other songs that ended up on the cutting room floor, “Nowhere Is My Home” and an early version of “Can’t Hardly Wait,” this would hands down be in the “Best Album Ever” conversation, or at least it would make it far easier to say it’s the best of the Mats. All this despite a somewhat shaky production value. The sound really isn’t the best, and I’ve heard arguments for and against this, with some saying it may have been intentional to give the album an indie label sound despite being their first major label release, and others griping (perhaps justly) that Tommy Ramone didn’t quite nail the proper sound needed to give the Mats the level of sonic bombast needed to match their charged-up slate of songs. Regardless, the final result is too good to ignore and it’s the Replacements record I come back to time and time again before any of their others. The age of finding bands like the Mats on the left of the dial may be over, but thanks to albums like this, the Mats will never be left behind for good.
Favorite Tracks: “Bastards of Young,” “Left of the Dial,” “Little Mascara,” “Here Comes a Regular,” “Kiss Me On The Bus,” “Hold My Life”