“Stay right there, go no further,” is the first raspy-throated Paul Westerberg howl heard on the first song off the very first album from the one and only The Replacements. It’s as ferocious an introduction to a band as you’re apt to find. It sticks with you, blistering and memorable. The track itself, “Takin’ a Ride,” remains a classic from the Minneapolis band’s debut album SORRY MA, FORGOT TO TAKE OUT THE TRASH, released 40 years ago today.
How many bands can say that about a track one, side one offering from decades gone by? Not very many. Heck, they don’t make ‘em like The Replacements any more, and that’s a serious understatement. The Midwest legends arrived on the Minneapolis scene with intensity in spades, and even ambition in droves (or at the very least, ambition to ditch the factory jobs and the custodial duties Westerberg once held). Any kid who’s ever wanted to rebel, or any adult who’s ever wanted to stick it to The Man and perhaps pursue writing rather than a 9-to-5 (guilty as charged) can find some inspiration in the band’s early mission. Some might say that 1982’s STINK EP was the band’s true punk effort, but let’s not put the cart before the horse here—few artists arrive as well-defined, warts and all, as The Replacements, and it’s all right there in the punk epic that is SORRY MA, FORGOT TO TAKE OUT THE TRASH.
Apparently, the cutting room floor has been swept up when it comes to SORRY MA. This fall, the iconic debut is set to get a full reissue, packed with 67 never-before-released songs by way of rough mixes, demos, alternate takes and more. There’s a lot to uncover with the album, and 40 years is certainly worthy of celebration. SORRY MA isn’t most people’s favorite Replacements record (for me, that honor belongs to 1984’s LET IT BE), but a diehard legion of fans swear by it. Certainly these days, you can certainly see why—pick out any song, and you’ll find some elements that take fuller form on later Replacements records. As such, it’s an album I’ve appreciated more and more in recent years, especially as I dove even further into the band during the pandemic (I talk about my love of The Replacements in this essay, too). SORRY MA remains a remarkable debut from a band featuring Tommy Stinson, a bass player barely as tall as his amp, Chris Mars behind the kit, who “needs a watch to keep time,” and Tommy’s late brother Bob, a guitarist who played best between beers two and six.
If ever you’ve read the incredible OUR BAND COULD BE YOUR LIFE, a dog-eared copy of which I carry in my messenger bag at all times, you know the highlights and lowlights (it’s all explored with even more depth in TROUBLE BOYS, by the great band biographer Bob Mehr). The story is at once comical, sad, and often poignant. As documented as they are, the mythos surrounding the band grows by the year, but if you know anything about the ill-fated ‘Mats (a play off a misprinted show flier featuring “The Placemats”), you know how it starts.
On the way home from work, Westerberg heard the unmistakable sounds of a loud and rollicking outfit playing in the basement of what he’d come to know as the Stinson household. Inside, the late, great Bobby had roped his younger brother Tommy into playing bass, all in an effort to keep the two out of trouble (as it turns out, these attempts would fail in the years to come). Westerberg talked his way into the band, and even pulled a sleight of hand, convincing the inferior lead singer at the time to depart the group. SORRY MA, FORGOT TO TAKE OUT THE TRASH distills that early chaos into a distinctive debut album, rough edges and all. It’s a suitable complement to the band’s mythical origins, which remain the stuff of rock n’ roll magic.
Naturally, the name The Replacements signifies a band that’s second best, but it’s a fine sight better than the band’s previous moniker, Dogbreath. The songs on SORRY MA offer up something for everyone, an everyman sound, but the standouts are the kind of tracks you don’t hear all that often on a first record. It’s arguably the reason a great deal of bands owe a debt of gratitude (and potentially, their careers) to The Replacements. The real centerpiece of this album is the final track: the barn burner “Raised In The City.” The line “Raised in the city / Ready to run / Cruise to the lake / Fun fun fun” kicks off this song with a jolt, and strikes an immediate chord with this ‘Mats-loving, beer-drinking Michigan native. It’s apparently the first song that eventual Replacements manager and Twin/Tone Records co-founder Peter Jesperson ever heard. As the story goes, he rewound the tape to play the demo right after hearing it the first time, and then did so over and over—I still do the same thing when listening to this record, and that’s not likely to change any time soon.
Standouts abound elsewhere. “Shiftless When Idle” features many of the eventual sonic hallmarks of the band, with clever lyrics aplenty by the janitor-turned-singer Westerberg. As far as building blocks go, The Replacements didn’t put down just one stepping stone: They put down a whole album’s worth upon which to build. You might call it punk with soul, because Westerberg’s lyrical yearnings are evident from the get-go. The sensation of trying to talk to a cute store clerk but being “Nothin’ but a customer” on the aptly named “Customer” is so simple, yet deeply impactful (and triply so if you grew up in the Midwest as a shy teenager). “I Hate Music” is just about the most Replacements-esque take on the band’s chosen profession as it gets, and it foreshadowed some of the band’s goofier antics on 1983’s HOOTENANY. “Love You Til Friday” is a tongue-in-cheek cruiser of a song, and vintage Replacements. Is there a “bad” track on this album? I’ll leave that up to you to decide, but I’d say not.
Fans have plenty of reasons to go to bat for this album as The ‘Mats’ finest effort. It’s blazing and loud, an intense and speedy listen at just under 37 minutes. The punk roots of this album paved the way for what you might call a learning experience and a course correction, even as stellar as this LP happens to be. For that course correction, we got the all-time indie classic, 1984’s LET IT BE—as always, I’m ever-so-grateful that Westerberg listened outside that basement window to the Stinson brothers.
The Replacements are a band to take with you everywhere, best enjoyed loud, with a cold beer in hand. Good times are never far off with their music booming on the speakers, and SORRY MA drives home this point in epic fashion. It’s rare that any artist can come up with both punk thrashers on SORRY MA and widely respected tender rockers on LET IT BE, but that’s The ‘Mats for you. That the fandom lives on today is both astonishing and well-deserved. Even when I’m bummed I never got the chance to see them live, it’s alright because I’ve got the perfect version of the band in my headphones and in my heart. The sound you hear across the land, in the distance, is yet another future ‘Mats disciple discovering the loud, blistering highs and the chaotic joy that is SORRY MA, FORGOT TO TAKE OUT THE TRASH.