Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Let It Be vs. Let It Be


Usually the eventual outcome of these battles can be as much of a mystery to me as you, dear reader - I don't know exactly how the votes are going to tally up, and I've surprised myself on occasion (notably the Byrds' debut trouncing Please Please Me - shocker!). However, in this particular case, I've got a feeling (pun intended) that it's a foregone conclusion. This is one of more logically fitting matchups (same title, you see?) from two bands that, in their radically different ways, both represented their respective generations.  There are stylistic similarities as well: it's as close as the Fabs ever came to off-the-cuff, garage rock territory, and well, the 'Mats - they defined sloppy, ragged-but-right, off-the-cuff garage rock.  Rough edges have their charms, yet while in the Beatles' case Let It Be sometimes comes across as a rough set of demos needing more polish (contrasting uncomfortably with the Phil Spector produced tracks that suffer from way too much polish), when it comes to the Replacements, rough, sloppy edges are an intrinsic part of the charm.  But don't feel too sorry for the Fabs - what we have here is arguably the Beatles' second-weakest album (after the 1963 debut) up against Westerberg & the Stinson Bros.' finest (barely over) half hour. (Arguably)  One more note:  to shoe-horn this in, I'm not counting "Dig It", since it's not a real song, and really only works in context as a jokey, deflationary intro to the pompous "Let It Be".

1.  "Two of Us" vs. "I Will Dare" - Bromance vs. Romance.  Paul bidding John a tender farewell to their working friendship, or Paul self-deprecatingly taunting a girl onto a date.  (There's a Paul leading each band, but trust me, you ain't a getting them confused.)  A tough one, as Sir Paul's folk-pop ode to the warm ties of close, long-term friendship has long been my sentimental favorite on this particular record.  On the other hand, self-deprecating fumbles at romance is just what Paul W. does (heck, it's what I do as well), and there's a Peter Buck mandolin solo.  Plus, "cigarettes and fingernails, that's a lousy dinner."  Replacements 1, Beatles 0

2.  "Dig a Pony" vs. "Favorite Thing" - Once again, a very good Beatles song.  However, unlike "Two of Us", not top tier and certainly not a classic.  Even when John was throwing it away, he could be great.  And then there's the finest, fastest, hardest, sloppiest slice of garage rock on this particular Replacements disc, which in other words means it's one of the finest, fastest, hardest, sloppiest slices of garage rock essayed by any garage band from Nuggets to the White Stripes.  Not a fair contest.  The moment when Paul moans "you're my favorite thing" over and over and then screams "but I'm NOTHING!" and Bob Stinson soars into his wailing, barely in control 10 second solo - that may be the most thrilling 20 second stretch those Minneapolis misfits ever achieved while half-drunk and in the throes of a full-on crush.  Replacements 2, Beatles 0

3.  "Across the Universe" vs. "We're Coming Out" - John's melodic highlight of Let It Be, if you can ignore the flaky Eastern mysticism (it was written on the sojourn to India), and the only Lennon tune on this album that wasn't a throwaway.  The Replacements track is a hardcore punk raveup that segues jarringly into Tom Waits-style bar room piano swing at close to the halfway mark.  I'm handing this one to the Beatles, since the hardcore punk half is ugly and half-assed, much as I enjoy the angrily bitter, self-pitying swing section.  Replacements 2, Beatles 1

4. "I Me Mine" vs. "Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out" - Self-important, furrow-browed seriousness vs. a goofball throwaway.  The Harrison song may be technically stronger from a melodic and hooky POV, but it sure as hell ain't half as fun.  Besides, "Hey nurse, what are you doing?  Later. after the operation?"  Replacements wipe snot on the roof with Beatles, 3-1.  (And hey, just noticed - both of these are concept albums about hanging out on the roof!)

5. "Dig It/Let It Be" vs. "Androgynous" - There's no doubt that both lyrics are sincere and heartfelt, and Harrison's buzzy solo in the midst of this sepulchral edifice to Catholic reverie almost tips the scales in favor of McCartney.  But something meets boy meets something girl just cuts deeper.  Usually with most songwriters it doesn't, but Westerberg is the heart-on-his-flannel poet of ragingly insecure romantic angst (more on that later - much, much more on that later), and identify is too weak of a word.  Replacements 4, Beatles 1

6. "Maggie May" vs. "Black Diamond" - A brief snippet of a traditional Liverpool folk ballad about a thieving prostitute, and a fully-fleshed out traditional NYC rocker about hanging out on the streets as a homeless teen, or whatever.  Look, let's get this straight - KISS weren't a real band, they were a marketing ploy that gussied up in the costumery of a rock band in order to swipe $$$ and screw 4,000 groupies (with photographic evidence), not necessarily in that order.  That the Replacements somehow make a stupid KISS kover actually enjoyable is to their credit, even if it is the weakest cut on side one.  Replacements 5, Beatles 1.

And now let's flip the vinyl over to side two.

1. "I've Got a Feeling" vs. "Unsatisfied" -  Paul W. sounds like he's ripping his lungs out in anguish; this isn't a song that was written, it was carved out of stone, or more accurately, sliced out of Westerberg's very flesh.  John and Paul are throwing it away again.  Everybody had a hard year, everybody knows who wins this round. 6-1

2. "One After 909" vs. "Seen Your Video" - Neither composition is particularly strong, the Replacements throwing it away uninterestingly on this half-instrumental, while the Beatles tune is just some soggy rockabilly readymade leftover from the Quarrymen days.  Move over once, move twice, it's the Replacements because at least the quasi-surf twanging shows some mild originality as an actual piece of music.  7-1

3. "The Long and Winding Road" vs. "Gary's Got a Boner" - Eh, this is one of the most lopsided matches in this contest, and for once in the Fabs' favor.  You know it's the worst piece of dreck on Let It Be (either album) glancing at the credits - Ted Nugent rip-off?  As much as I find Spector's overproduction gruesome, if you dig beneath the lush syrup you'll find one of McCartney's more affecting and melodic tunes.  Replacements 7, Beatles 2

4. "For You Blue" vs. "Sixteen Blue" - Coincidental titles!  Now it's Harrison's turn to throw it away as he tosses his band a ragbone of a generic blues exercise, ridiculously underperforming in the originality department, and with his weak, nasal white English boy tenor, one of the least convincing essays on Elmore James committed by any British rock group of his era.  To be fair to George, he did have lots of much better songs in him - he was just saving them all up for All Things Must Pass.

Oh, and for "Sixteen Blue" - ever been a teenage virgin?  Ever cried yourself to sleep because you were lonely and had no clue how to get a girlfriend or even talk to girls you liked without shaking inside, and pretending to your parents that you actually have friends and a social life but when they drop you off downtown you just wander the streets feeling sorry for yourself and hating your face, looks, clothes, body because you look awkward and funny but you're not laughing, you're filled to the brim with self-doubt and loathing and angst and misery.

No?  Then fuck you.


5. "Get Back" vs. "Answering Machine" - Even if McCartney had kept the original lyrics spoofing racist paranoia about Pakistani immigrants, the Beatles still couldn't have won.  It's a nice little tune but nothing special.  "Answering Machine" on the other hand - sometimes I hate modern technology.  People communicate by email and Facebook and Twitter and voicemail and texting and whatever the latest social media apps/networks are, rather than talk to each other face to face, and while these modern technologies are convenient, you'd be a fool to deny that some vital human element is lost.  It's alienating.  The modern world alienates human relationships.  Westerberg is trying to tell some person that he cares deeply about that he's lonely and misses her but he's OK, but even though his courage is at his peak, he can't bring himself to leave that message on her goddamn answering machine.  All he needs at that vulnerable moment is to hear another person's voice, to make some sort of real human connection, but he gets the toneless robocall of the operator.  You finally have the nerve to call up somebody and she doesn't pick up - maybe she's busy or out at the moment - and you really should leave a message to say that you called, but it's awkward, and if you do that there's no guarantee she'll call back, so you resolve to call back later, but not too soon because you might come across as desperate (which you are) and anyway.....  Maybe Westerberg is overthinking it all and is feeling neurotically insecure when there's actually no good reason to be.  Maybe he should just let it be.

Final score 9-2.  Poor Beatles.  But like I said, it was one of their weakest albums, with John and George both saving all their best songs for their solo albums, leaving only Paul to put out his best efforts while he was still at the top of his game.  And Westerberg was at the top of his A-game in the mid-'80s, so the results could hardly be unexpected.


  1. Wow, I didn't expect it to be this lopsided. It kind of turned into a massacre. But a fun massacre to read - great job.

  2. It is like comparing an MBA basket team with an university soccer team. Maybe the MBA guys were not playing their best this time. But the soccer guys will always be almost amateur players, perhaps in a good day, but never as competent as the real professionals. I am sorry, I know from your old site that you are a fanatic. And it shows.

  3. It is like comparing an MBA basket team with an university soccer team. Maybe the MBA guys were not playing their best this time. But the soccer guys will always be almost amateur players, perhaps in a good day, but never as competent as the real professionals. I am sorry, I know from your old site that you are a fanatic. And it shows.