Everything about The Replacements' debut was fast and furious. Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash, first released in 1981 on the Twin/Tone label, introduced eighteen rip-roaring nuggets primarily from the pen of Paul Westerberg. More than half were under two minutes long, and only two cracked the three-minute mark. While the lyrics were filled with aggression and the spirit of youthful rebellion, they weren't devoid of self-aware humor. And though the sound was primal, abrasive, and rough, there were melodies lurking underneath the barrage of guitars, bass, and drums. Late in 2021, Rhino reissued Sorry Ma as the third in a series of box sets, following 2020's expansion of Pleased to Meet Me (1987) and 2019's Dead Man's Pop (an alternative presentation of 1989's Don't Tell a Soul) from the Minneapolis band. While Sorry Ma isn't as experimental as those later works, it nonetheless represents the building blocks of a group that aspired to more than just so-called "punk."
Paul Westerberg (vocals/rhythm guitar), Bob Stinson (lead guitar), Tommy Stinson (bass), and Chris Mars (drums) were too in thrall to classic rock to completely shed its conventions even if they may well have subverted some of them. Band historian Bob Mehr writes in his liner notes, "Although Westerberg's preferred brand of music was simple and in-your-face - the sleazy R&B of mid-period Rolling Stones, the hooky silliness of Slade, or the paradoxical magic of a hard-rocking but emotionally vulnerable band like The Faces - Westerberg plied his trade with whomever he could. He played southern rock with hippie stoners, jammed with a crew of Sabbath-obsessed metalheads, and covered Beatles tunes with perfect precision, yet he never seemed to find what he was looking for in those scenes or with those musicians." The Replacements proved the ideal outlet for his musical visions.
Though uniformly ferocious, the songs on Sorry Ma were rhythmically varied, incorporating blues textures into the punkish "Otto" and "Rattlesnake," and slowing down the frantic tempo for the pained but sad, heartfelt "Johnny's Gonna Die" about Westerberg's encounter with a strung-out Johnny Thunders; the punk progenitor succumbed to his demons in 1991 (though rumors of foul play have lingered). The latter - with Tommy Stinson's prominent bass propelling the groove, Chris Mars in perfect sync, and Bob Stinson giving his lead guitar more room to breathe than usual - had a haunting depth that would be further plumbed in future records. Westerberg is quoted by Mehr: "I figured this aggressive style of rock music is gonna get us out of the basement, so let's go for it. But I had Dylan records and Joni Mitchell records, and I listened to Frank Sinatra and Charlie Parker and all this other shit. I did have another side that I didn't share with the band."
Westerberg wrote what he knew, so the themes revolved around girls, drugs, smokes, booze, hitchhiking, and a seemingly bleak working-class future. But it wasn't all disaffected; there's a good-natured sweetness to "Customer" ("I'm in love with the girl who works at the store/Where I'm nothing but a customer...") that's easy to overlook in the righteous clatter of the album. He wrote about music, too, name-checking the 'Mats in "Shutup," taking good-natured (?) aim at Husker Du in "Something to Du," and asserting "I Hate Music": "I hate music/It's got too many notes/Are you listening?" This reissue adds the non-LP B-side "If Only You Were Lonely" following the original album sequence. It's not hard to see why it wasn't included on the album, as it's a wry, acoustic, and melodic country-flavored ballad. But it points to the ambition and versatility of the group as strongly as "Johnny's Gonna Die," albeit with a completely different sensibility. In addition to writing accessible lyrics, Westerberg rarely forgot about the importance of a strong melodic hook. He confesses in the liner notes, "I was into all the top 40 hits - the ones by people like Edward Bear ['Last Song'] that you find on that Have a Nice Day series by Rhino. I was glued to those records...I can't spend much time on anything that isn't catchy."
The second CD, Raised in the City - The Early Recordings, offers about an hour of music: 25 tracks, only eight of which have previously been released (all on Rhino's 2008 expanded edition of Sorry Ma). This fulsome assortment of demos, "Basement Versions," and rehearsals dates to March-October 1980 as the band was on the cusp of a label contract. Westerberg and co. were developing their blunt-force rock-and-roll attack on such early numbers as the catchy "Try Me" and rockabilly-rooted "Lookin' for Ya." That pair of tunes was entered into a local talent contest in part administered by Twin/Tone; the band, then known as The Impediments, summarily received a rejection letter. A second demo session (and first as The Replacements) yielded even more promising material including the ferocious "Raised in the City" and the snarling "Shutup," the latter of which would make the 'Mats' album debut. The third demo session here, recorded in July 1980, boasted even more songs that would catch Twin/Tone's ear, such as "I Hate Music," "Otto," "Shiftless When Idle," and "More Cigarettes." These are even rawer and more unvarnished than the album versions, all aggression and aural assault but with the occasional twinge of Motown or the blues. The final demo here, from October, is equally revealing as the band attempted a clutch of new songs (including the tongue-in-cheek, midtempo "Basement Jam") and tried "We'll Get Drunk" and "Johnny's Gonna Die" in alternative arrangements. Sound quality is variable from session to session, but the historical significance outweighs the audio deficiencies.
Disc Three, Tape's Rolling, offers a nearly 70-minute deep dive into the album sessions held at Minneapolis' Blackberry Way Studios with producers Westerberg, Peter Jesperson, and Steve Fjelstad (also the engineer) between September 1980 and March 1981. (Note that there is some overlap with the time period covered on the second disc.) It encompasses alternate versions and mixes plus outtakes and four home demos, for a total of 29 tracks (five previously unreleased on Rhino's expanded editions of Sorry Ma, Hootenanny, and Stink). The immediacy of these alternate and often-embryonic takes is striking. Though The 'Mats weren't producing orchestrated rock or pushing the boundaries of the recording studio, there's still plenty to enjoy here including snippets of studio chatter, two vocal and one instrumental outtakes (any of which would have fit snugly on the original LP), and Westerberg solo demos which showcase another side of the artist. As he explains in Mehr's liner notes, "Ripping off punk and rockabilly stuff was exciting and fun, but then I thought, 'God, could I actually write something that had some words that meant something, where I bared my soul?'" These revealing, early explorations into more mature songwriting are represented via the surprisingly heartfelt "You're Getting Married," the dryly self-deprecating blues "Bad Worker," and the humorous, acoustic folk-oriented "You're Pretty When You're Rude" as well as two early, different stabs at "If Only You Were Lonely." (Westerberg has a coughing jag in the middle of the work tape version; these were clearly not meant for release but offer a fun fly-on-the-wall glimpse today.)
The fourth and final CD in the package offers a ferocious live show recorded on January 23, 1981 at The 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis for the city's KFAI community radio station. Unsuitable for Airplay: The Lost KFAI Concert is representative of the young band's typical sets of the period; they were regulars at the Entry and had actually played the venue twice prior in the same week this show was recorded. The band hadn't yet released Sorry Ma - they were still recording it when they took the stage - and it's unlikely that everybody in the 204-strong audience knew them. (The capacity was 250.) But based on this recording, they would have won over the naysayers with sheer energy and conviction. (An amusing ad for the show, reprinted in the booklet, has the crossed-out names of purported headliners including Queen, Meat Loaf, The Morman [sic] Tabernacle Choir, Donny and Marie, and Trini Lopez with the name of their literal Replacements scribbled beneath: "Don't ask why!") Though there's more than a bit of the ragged boozy quality for which the band would become notorious, the band sounds invested in sharing their music with a loose, gregarious spirit. A few eclectic covers are peppered throughout including Johnny Thunders' "I Wanna Be Loved," The Kinks' "All Day and All of the Night," Larry Williams' ever-apropos "Slow Down," and Billy Bremner's "Trouble Boys." Ultimately, KFAI only broadcast a portion of the concert and the two-track stereo master was lost. But Terry Katzman, name-checked from the stage in "Hangin' Downtown," had held onto a first-generation cassette copy of the mobile recording. Though Katzman sadly passed away in 2019, the tape was discovered among his possessions in 2021 and has been restored for this release by Jessica Thompson and Justin Perkins. Audio is far from perfect, but it's eminently listenable.
The final disc in this definitive look at Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash is a black vinyl LP comprising an alternate version of the album as cobbled together from the various alternate mixes, versions, and demos. All four CDs and the LP are housed within the same hardcover. LP-sized format familiar from the previous two Replacements deluxe editions as well as similar Rhino releases from Fleetwood Mac, The Doors, and Ramones. The 24-page paperback booklet makes for essential reading while listening. It features two pieces by Bob Mehr - a lengthy oral history with quotes from the main participants and an essay about the band's first year as live performers - plus a note from original and reissue co-producer Peter Jesperson. Justin Perkins has mastered the entire set while the vinyl lacquers have been cut by Jeff Powell at Take Out Vinyl.
Rhino's generous expansion of Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash is a potent snapshot of this era in Replacements history. It both looks to the band's future and more ambitious recordings while making a strong case for what made the quartet of Paul Westerberg, Bob Stinson, Tommy Stinson, and Chris Mars stand apart from the rest.