Replacements fans are already salivating over the teaser tracks released so far from the forthcoming boxed set Tim: Let It Bleed Edition, but the group’s Tommy Stinson admits it’s not easy to comb through his musical back pages in this fashion, especially when it yields things like a previously unheard song he wrote during the sessions, “Havin Fun.”
“I don’t think I even heard it before,” he tells SPIN with a laugh of the hard-charging, anthemic track, which was sung by Paul Westerberg. “As great as it is to release all this old stuff, it’s very cringe-y for those of us in the band. I’m just going to be honest about that. But these packages are telling a bigger story than the original records told, and as long as there’s a marketplace for them, we don’t have anything to lose by having them out there. It may make us uncomfortable, but we’ve always been uncomfortable in the Replacements. We were the most awkward, malcontent fuckin’ rock band, I think, ever.”
Amongst its 50 unreleased tracks, Tim: Let It Bleed Edition sports several vault recordings from January 1985 sessions produced by Big Star’s Alex Chilton, after whom the Replacements later named one of their most popular songs. Only one Chilton-helmed song (“Left of the Dial”) made the original version of Tim, which wound up being produced by the Ramones’ Tommy Erdelyi, and in retrospect, Stinson admits the collaboration was a well-intentioned mismatch.
“Alex had been living in New Orleans and was almost coming out of hibernation — or the ‘whatever happened to him’ category,” he says. “He must have been wondering why this band called the Replacements wanted him to produce their record. It didn’t seem like he was ready to be able to do something like that himself either. We loved the guy, and we got along great, because we were Big Star fans. But we had songs and we had a record to make, and this didn’t seem like the right thing, so in walks Tommy Erdelyi.”
Tim, the beloved Minneapolis band’s 1985 major-label debut album for Sire Records, features some of the Replacements’ most enduring material, including “Bastards of Young,” “Kiss Me on the Bus,” “Left of the Dial,” and “Waitress in the Sky.” However, Stinson has been frustrated by its sonics since the beginning, which is one of the reasons why the boxed set features an entirely new mix of the album by producer Ed Stasium.
“I can tell you exactly why the original record sounded the way it did and why this sounds better,” he says. “Tommy’s ears were shot, by his own admission. He mixed and listened to a lot of things on headphones, which I’ve never seen anyone ever do before or after. So, Tim always sounded like it was mixed on headphones [laughs]. Also, in 1985, digital reverb was a new concept, but when you listen back now, it’s a bit of a dated sound, and you can hear that a lot on that record. Ed’s mix ditches that in favor of a fuller, more organic-sounding rock mix, as opposed to, ‘it’s 1985 and we’re trying some new things that we don’t even know what the fuck they do.’”
One of the band’s signature songs, “Can’t Hardly Wait,” appears on the boxed set in several versions attempted during the Tim sessions, but the track didn’t officially see the light of day until the Replacements’ next album, 1987’s Pleased To Meet Me. “We knew it was a special, albeit very simple, song that was still trying to figure itself out,” Stinson says of the track, which appears in a lovably ramshackle version on the set’s accompanying January 1986 live album, Not Ready for Prime Time. “Paul was trying to navigate that, and I’d say by the time of Tim, it just wasn’t ready yet, even though we’d played it a lot. He knew he had to keep it in the mix long enough until it was ready to rear its head, and it finally did on Pleased To Meet Me. When we finally cut it in Memphis, Paul even had me play the acoustic guitar on that one. I don’t know exactly why. I think it needed to be simplified and approached in a three-piece scenario, as that record was.”
Having improbably reunited for a two-year tour in 2013 after breaking up acrimoniously 22 years earlier, the Replacements have no plans to work together again, but Stinson says he and Westerberg “still love each other and always will. I just think what the Replacements were to both of us is probably different. I have nothing but respect and love and reverence for it. I’ve gotten on in life enough to where I don’t hold onto any of the bad memories. It’s amazing to me that we left a pretty good mark on the music history of rock’n’roll, in our own way. I think that’s pretty cool. Not a lot of people get to do that, and I’m pretty grateful we had a chance to.”