The Replacements' Pleased to Meet Me marked the moment when Minneapolis met Memphis. For their second major label album, fifth overall, first without founding member Bob Stinson, and lone offering as a trio, the 'Mats called upon Jim Dickinson. The producer and Memphis mainstay entered the picture after abortive demo sessions in the band's hometown during which time Bob had been dismissed from the band, leaving Paul Westerberg to pick up the lead guitar duties, Tommy Stinson on bass, and Chris Mars on drums. Dickinson had played piano for the Stones, produced Ry Cooder and Alex Chilton, and was by the time of Pleased to Meet Me frequently imparting his wit and wisdom to younger, less well-known bands such as Jason and The Scorchers and Green on Red. The saga of their shared journey has recently been chronicled by Rhino on the splendid new 3-CD/1-LP reissue of the 1987 album.
Jim Dickinson was a character unlike any with whom the band had worked, and initially wasn't impressed by his charges. Nor was he cowed by their raucous reputation. In the liner notes, Bob Mehr quotes the late producer: "I had heard a couple of records from their back catalogue but they sounded so bad that it never intrigued me. I didn't understand how good the songs were until I got into it." Ultimately, the union of The Replacements and Dickinson added up to one of the decade's most acclaimed albums. That original LP is reprised on the first CD of the new reissue in Justin Perkins' full-bodied new remaster.
Anyone concerned that The Replacements were mellowing on a major label would have been pleasantly surprised with the crunchy, rockabilly-on-speed opener "I.O.U."; a scant 30 seconds in, Westerberg snarls, "You're all fucked!" But the band did expand their sonic palette, incorporating textures of soul, pop, and jazz. Over the course of three sessions held in Memphis between November 1986 and January 1987, Dickinson delivered polish - he added piano and organ to the LP and also encouraged additional instrumentation including the band's first use of horns and strings - but retained the grit and immediacy of Westerberg's songs as well as the tight musical interplay. He also brought a touch of Memphis to the sound. Mehr quotes engineer Joe Hardy: "Dickinson and me, we were keen to make them try to have some element of Memphis in the recording, and that centers on the kick drum and the bass." Dickinson: "Chris Mars - he'd never even thought about what he was playing with his foot...[and] by the end of the session he was playing like Ringo with his foot!" (The Memphis connection was underscored by the original album cover modeled after that of Elvis Presley's G.I. Blues soundtrack.)
The material - primarily by Westerberg but with key contributions from Tommy Stinson and Chris Mars on four co-written songs - were a varied lot. "Never Mind" was an angry kiss-off to Bob Stinson ("All over but the shouting/It's just a waste of time") set to The Replacements' most commercial rock production yet. "Shooting Dirty Pool," on which Dickinson's teenaged son Luther took a guitar solo, was equally fiery and vivid in its disgust. Autobiography also crept into the slice-of-life "I Don't Know" during which Westerberg poked fun at their producer ("Who's behind the board? They tell me he's a dope!") and the band's infamous predilection for trouble ("What the fuck you sayin'? Our lawyer's on the phone/How much are you in for?/What did we do now?"). The Wrecking Crew's Steve Douglas handled the honking saxophone on the track but likely was surprised when Westerberg insisted that a bad note be kept on the record rather than re-recorded.
The haunting "The Ledge" depicted suicide ("I'm the boy they couldn't ignore/For the first time in my life, I'm sure") to an urgent, dark beat; despite - or perhaps because of - the controversial subject matter, it's one of the strongest tracks on the record. (Steve Douglas played subtle bass flute on "The Ledge.") On the opposite end of the spectrum, The Replacements went straight to the lounge for the late-night, faux cocktail jazz ballad "Nightclub Jitters," featuring Edward "Prince Gabe" Kirby on saxophone and Tommy Stinson on upright bass. (Sadly, Kirby died just weeks after laying down his part.) The acoustic ballad "Skyway" is so tender that it could genuinely be deemed pretty.
In the liner notes, Tommy Stinson recalls being fueled by Nyquil and Vivarin as the band cut the blistering non-LP track "Election Day" (included among the bonus material on CD 1 here) but most of the sessions were powered by more traditional booze, with Hardy recalling Dickinson preferring herb. The Zen of Dickinson: "When you're making a punk record, you can't do it without punks. So I pretty much let 'em do what they wanted to do." One thing they wanted to do was recognize their drug of choice, hence the ode to "Red, Red Wine" written and recorded twenty years after Neil Diamond's celebration of the stuff.
Big Star's Alex Chilton, already a mythic figure, would pop up in the studio. He inspired the enduring and surreal song bearing his name and recorded a blink-and-you'll-miss-it guitar figure on "Can't Hardly Wait." The latter featured boisterously poppy brass and strings as a tip of the hat to Chilton's Memphis-bred Box Tops sound, with Andrew Love of The Memphis Horns on tenor sax and Ben Cauley of The Bar-Kays on trumpet.
The first disc of the new set is rounded out by six non-LP singles including affectionate covers of the oldies "Jungle Rock," "Route 66," "Tossin' and Turnin'," and "Cool Water," plus Jimmy Iovine's remix of "Can't Hardly Wait" which downplays that aforementioned Memphis sound in favor of a slicker, arguably more commercial sheen.
The second disc offers 15 demos recorded at Blackberry Way Studios in Minneapolis in August 1986, the first seven of which feature Bob Stinson. Eleven of these 15 tracks are previously unreleased while the remaining four first appeared on Rhino's 2008 expanded edition of Pleased to Meet Me, albeit in different mixes. With the exception of one song ("Hey Shadow") sourced from an original cassette copy, the remaining 14 cuts have all been newly mixed from the original multitrack masters by Brian Kehew. The combustible Bob Stinson brings energy to the embryonic versions of "I.O.U." and "Red, Red Wine," while his brother Tommy comes into his own with a clutch of self-written songs that didn't make the final cut including "Awake Tonight" and "Hey Shadow." These are essentially Tommy solo recordings with Michael McKern on drums, and do not feature the other Replacements. Another Tommy demo, "Even If It's Cheap," introduced the lyric that was quoted for the album's title: "Pleased to meet me/The pleasure's all yours!" Westerberg also wrote a number of songs that didn't make the LP such as "Kick It In," "Bundle Up," "Photo," and "Time Is Killing Us," while Chris Mars authored the rollicking and goofy "All He Wants to Do Is Fish." (The finished studio version of "Fish" is included on CD 3.)
CD 3 opens with a rough mix of an early album assembly with a different sequence and "Election Day" and "Kick It In" present. This rough mix is the one made by engineer John Hampton and sent to the 'Mats in Minneapolis upon the conclusion of the sessions; the final album mix was later made by Dickinson using a Fairlight sampler. Dickinson added effects loops, and manipulated final versions from various takes, often going line by line in a Frankenstein approach. He also emphasized Mars' thunderous drums far more than Hampton did. There's still some disagreement over the extent to which the Fairlight was ultimately used (Hardy: "It's like fucking Rashomon!") but Hampton's somewhat less aggressive mix is nonetheless a fascinating alternate-universe version of the album.
The rough mix - which is reprised on the vinyl LP here - is supplemented by 10 Outtakes and Alternates, five of which are previously unissued. The remaining five first appeared on the 1997 compilation All for Nothing/Nothing for All. Of the never-before-heard material, the wistful, midtempo ballads "Learn How to Fail" and "Run for the Country" are further evidence of Paul Westerberg's increasing maturity as a songwriter and willingness to move away from what was expected of The Replacements. He plays piano on both and adds languid harmonica to the latter. Westerberg also supplied the raucous, Chuck Berry-aping "Lift Your Skirt." Tommy Stinson's "Trouble on the Way" is a tasty, straight-ahead rocker.
The non-LP cover singles are complemented by an outtake version of Billy Swan's Pop and Country chart-topper "I Can Help." Unfortunately, a take of "I Don't Know" incorporating Teddy Randazzo and Bobby Weinstein's classic "Goin' Out of My Head" is not among the outtakes despite being mentioned in the liner notes. (While this set is indeed packed with rarities, completists will need to hang onto the 2008 expanded edition of Pleased to Meet Me for additional alternate versions and the early mixes of the Blackberry Way demos.)
Produced by Jason Jones and Bob Mehr, this reissue of Pleased to Meet Me is packaged in the same LP-sized, hardcover book style as last year's Dead Man's Pop. It contains a 20-page softcover booklet boasting Mehr's fantastic oral history featuring Westerberg, Tommy Stinson, the late Dickinson and his son Luther, and engineers Hardy and Hampton.
While Pleased to Meet Me was The Replacements' highest-charting album to that point, it would be surpassed by 1989's Don't Tell a Soul (the basis of Dead Man's Pop) and the following year's swansong, All Shook Down. Today, Pleased to Meet Me is ripe for reappraisal as a turning point for the band, pressing forward without Bob Stinson but with a renewed spirit of adventure and a greater musical palette. Rhino's reissue is dedicated to the memories of Jim Dickinson, Joe Hardy, John Hampton, Alex Chilton, "Prince Gabe" Kirby, Steve Douglas, Ben Cauley, Andrew Love, and John Fry, all of whom played a role in bringing the album to fruition. Their work - and of course, that of Messrs. Westerberg, Stinson, and Mars - still speaks volumes on this power-packed edition.