Cover tunes have always been an element of live performances by the Minneapolis band, the Replacements. For decades, their only official live album has been the cassette-only release, The Shit Hits the Fans. Confiscated from a fan bootlegging a 1984 gig, it’s a covers-heavy set—everything from the Carter Family and the Jackson 5 to Robyn Hitchcock and Tom Petty. Many are requests from the audience, with the ‘Mats acting as a kind of human jukebox.
Though they didn’t cover them that night, the band had a particular affection for the English group, T.Rex. The Replacements covered a number of T.Rex tunes, including one they recorded in the studio and put out as a B-side. On the surface, it seems the two groups are very different. The Replacements were outsiders, never all that comfortable in the limelight, while Marc Bolan, the leader of T.Rex, was the first glam rock superstar and fully embraced his fame.
I reached out to the Replacements’ first manager, Peter Jesperson, to see if he could shed light on the group’s affection for Bolan and the songs of T.Rex.
How did the Replacements come to record/release their version of “20th Century Boy”?:
Peter Jesperson: Like most bands as they’re first getting together, the Replacements started out primarily doing covers of other people’s songs. Even after they began doing original material, a cover could be the most impassioned and exciting performance in the live set. If memory serves, the first time we recorded one for real was “Rock Around the Clock” during the Stink sessions in 1982. In 1983, as we were recording tracks for what became the Let It Be album, several cover ideas were considered and recorded. The two that turned out the best were “Black Diamond” by KISS and “20th Century Boy” by T.Rex. We figured one should go on the album and one on the flip of the single, “I Will Dare.” I clearly remember having a discussion about which one should go where and we all agreed that putting the KISS song on the album would be less expected, less “cool,” so that’s what we did.
Why do you think they were so drawn to the T.Rex material?:
Peter Jesperson: All the guys in the Replacements were big fans of simple, catchy songs and T.Rex certainly fit that bill, but I seem to remember it was Paul [Westerberg] who especially liked them, especially the singles. I had the Bolan Boogie compilation, which had the semi-obscure B-side “Raw Ramp” on it, and I remember him asking me to play it quite often. The band toyed around a bit with that one, “Bang A Gong” and maybe “Jeepster,” but the only two they did seriously were “Baby Strange” and “20th Century Boy.”
Was the period in which Westerberg wore eye make-up on stage inspired at all by Bolan?:
Peter Jesperson: I never heard Paul credit anyone specifically with inspiring the make-up so I’m only guessing but I’d say it was bands like Alice Cooper, the New York Dolls, T.Rex, and later the Only Ones, that inspired the make-up.
In 1973, “20th Century Boy” came out as a standalone T.Rex single and went to #3 on the UK chart. It didn’t come out in America until 1985, when it was included on the stellar comp, T.Rextasy: The Best of T. Rex, 1970-1973.
The “I Will Dare” single, with “20th Century Boy” and a live rendition of Hank Williams’ “Hey Good Lookin’” on the flip, came out in 1984, ahead of Let It Be. “20th Century Boy” can currently be found amongst the bonus tracks on the 2008 reissue of Let it Be.
“Bang a Gong (Get It On)” was issued as the A-Side of a T.Rex 45 in 1971. It was their second #1 in England and first (and only) stateside hit, peaking at #10. The track was included on Electric Warrior.
It seems the original lineup of the Replacements (which existed from 1979-1986) didn’t play “Bang a Gong” much, but they did try it out at least once live.
The B-side of T.Rex’s “Bang a Gong” single is the non-LP track, “Raw Ramp.” It was originally part of a concept Bolan called the “Electric Warrior Suite,” which morphed into the similarly named album. The UK single includes the “There Was a Time” lead-in and the “Electric Boogie” coda. This is the version that’s on the aforementioned Bolan Boogie compilation. In the US, “There Was a Time” was omitted.
The Replacements stuck with the meat of the tune, shaving off the intro and the outro. As Peter Jesperson told us, the band would occasionally give it a whirl, but it wasn’t until their final tour in 1991 that they worked up a rehearsed rendition of “Raw Ramp.”
In 2013, Westerberg and Tommy Stinson revived the Replacements for the Songs for Slim benefit record, which led to a series of shows. In 2015, during what would prove to be their final run of dates, they regularly did a medley of “20th Century Boy” and “Bang a Gong,” along with one of their own songs, “All Shook Down.”
Prior the release of the fantastic T.Rex LP, The Slider (1972), “Telegram Sam” appeared in stores. In many countries, “Baby Strange” was the B-side, though not in the States. Most Americans would first hear the tune on The Slider.
Out of all the T.Rex songs the Replacements played, my pick for their absolute best Bolan-penned cover is of “Baby Strange.” It was performed live many times circa 1984-1986 and has turned up on a number of circulating audiotapes, with one particular version standing out from the pack. During a show that took place on February 4, 1986 at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, New Jersey, the Replacements tore up “Baby Strange.”
The recording of the Maxwell’s set has been cherished by hardcore fans for both its high fidelity and amazing performance by the band. I’ve heard a ton of Replacements bootlegs, and the Hoboken ‘86 tape has always been a favorite. So, over the summer, I was thrilled to hear that Rhino would be giving the Maxwell’s recording a proper release. The Hoboken show had been arranged by their record label in order to capture the group in a live setting, and was professionally recorded. The ‘Mats were prone to self-sabotage, especially if they knew there was something at stake, but blazed through a 29-song set. A selection of songs from each of their five albums to date are aired, along with the B-side, “If Only You Were Lonely,” plus a few choice covers. And as if to acknowledge their propensity to tackle songs they didn’t really know how to play, they attempt a request for Sweet’s “Fox on the Run,” which falls apart when they get to the chorus.
At the time, due to a variety of factors, nothing came of the Hoboken tapes. In 2007, the multi-track masters were dusted off and given a proper mix, but were subsequently shelved again. Now, after 31-plus years, this incredible Replacements show finally gets an official release.
For Sale: Live At Maxwell’s 1986, offers aural evidence that the Replacements—when they felt like it—could rock like murder. Even if you have a bootleg of the show, you’re still gonna need this. The sound quality is phenomenal. It’s available on MP3, 2xCD, and vinyl as a double LP set, with gatefold. Check out Rhino’s trailer here.
Rocking out during the Maxwell’s gig.
As many of you reading this surely know, there’s video of the Replacements playing a handful of songs during their Maxwell’s soundcheck. Even though I’ve watched it numerous times over the years, it’s still exciting to be able to just see the original lineup on stage, as there’s relatively little existing footage. Over the course of the eight-minute video, the ‘Mats burn through “Hayday,” “Bastards of Young” and “Color Me Impressed,” and take a stab at Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day.” Often viewable via crappy, high generation dubs, a very watchable version has recently been uploaded to YouTube. I will dare to say it’s the highest quality video of the soundcheck currently streaming on the web.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
The Replacements incite a riot: An exclusive excerpt from the great new biography ‘Trouble Boys’
‘We’re addicted to making fools of ourselves’: The Replacements’ ‘shaved eyebrows’ interview, 1987
The Replacements censored on live awards show (but get the last laugh), 1989
That time the Replacements & Tom Waits got shit-faced during an impromptu recording session, 1988