One of the most beloved songs by the Replacements is “Alex Chilton”. This hook-filled number from their 1987 LP, Please To Meet Me, is a tribute to Memphis musician and fabled cult hero, Alex Chilton (Box Tops, Big Star). It’s been performed during virtually every ‘Mats concert since its release. This includes their 2013-2015 reunion, in which it carried a new weight, as Chilton had passed away in 2010. In 2014, the Replacements appeared on The Tonight Show, and “Alex Chilton” is what they played.
Replacements leader Paul Westerberg first met Alex Chilton at a 1984 gig in New York City. Westerberg, not knowing exactly what to say, blurted out, “I’m in love with that one song of yours—what’s that song?” Chilton would produce the demos for the next Replacements album, Tim (1985), and sang back-up on their ode to college radio, “Left of the Dial”.
The Replacements recorded Pleased To Meet Me in Memphis at Ardent Studios, the same studio as Big Star. The man behind the board was Jim Dickinson, who produced the storied third Big Star album. Alex came into the studio a few times while the Replacements were working on the record (and laid down a guitar fill for “Can’t Hardly Wait”), but the band avoided the awkwardness of playing “Alex Chilton” whenever AC was around. Chilton eventually heard the track while on tour with the ‘Mats in April of ’87. He conceded that it was “a pretty good song,” and seemed to appreciate the gesture, which was to both honor him and increase his exposure.
Westerberg and Chilton during an AC gig at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, New Jersey, on November 20th, 1987.
Alex penned his own tribute, of sorts, for the Replacements. During a gig that took place at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa on October 23rd, 1987, Chilton performed the half-finished, “I’m a Replacement.” Not much is known about the tune, other than what AC tells the audience, and there are no other known recordings of the bluesy number. It’s been called a “spoof answer song,” which sounds about right to me. It’s definitely tongue-in-cheek.
The Replacements talk Alex Chilton—the man and the song—in 1987:
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘Downs’: A stoned and chaotic unreleased Alex Chilton track from new Big Star box, ‘Complete Third’
What’s Your Sign?: Big Star’s Alex Chilton and his obsession with astrology
‘We’re addicted to making fools of ourselves’: The Replacements’ ‘shaved eyebrows’ interview, 1987