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.
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