Posts Tagged ‘Paul Westerberg’

People have been asking me since I started this site to list my favorite all-time bands. I kept putting it off because the task seemed way too daunting. Well, I began breaking it all down a couple weeks ago and finally I’m prepared to unveil my picks to the masses. Remember, these are my personal choices, so chillax. You may be shocked to find there’s no Rolling Stones, no Nirvana, no Aerosmith. Sorry, good bands all, just not in my upper echelon. Without further ado, my favorites.



George Harrison, Paul McCartney, John Lennon and Ringo Starr.

I know, shocking right? If there ever was a no-brainer this is it. My respect and love for The Beatles is well documented, and you can check out a few of my Beatles blogs by clicking any or all of the following titles:  The Transformation of a KidThe Fab 30: My Favorite Beatle Songs, Tomorrow Never Knows, but The Beatles Did, and The Beatles overrated? You, sir, are an idiot. If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a million times – The Beatles advanced music more in 7-years than music has advanced in the years since. As much as I love the bands that follow, they are all very, very far behind.

2. R.E.M.


I have loved these guys since the early 80’s and saw them live at several small venues back then. It’s hard to imagine now, but their sound was so different at the time. There have been so many imitators that their sound doesn’t seem so unique anymore, and that’s a testament to how influential they were. Any student I had in class from 1984 to 1996 will tell you – I’ve been an R.E.M disciple for a long time.

3. Eels


Mark Oliver Everett, A Man Called E.

Eels are basically a one man band, and that man is Mark Oliver Everett, also known as “E”. I wrote a pretty extensive piece about him called Mark Oliver Everett: A Man Called E awhile back that pretty much explains my love for him and his music. His music can be hauntingly beautiful, but he also plays full bore, raw rock and roll. Love E and The Eels.

4. Paul McCartney


Sir Paul.

Listen, I love Lennon and Harrison’s solo work too, and they almost made the cut. However, I’ve always been a McCartney guy at heart. John is always looked at as the “experimental” and “avant garde” Beatle, but Paul was actually the first to begin experimenting with different sounds and alternative styles and methods. Because of his wonderful ballads like “Yesterday” and “My Love” great, one-of-a-kind rockers like “Helter Skelter” and “Junior’s Farm” get lost in the mix.

5. The Beach Boys


Bottom: Mike Love, Carl Wilson. Top: Brian Wilson, Al Jardine and Dennis Wilson.

I wrote extensively about The Beach Boys in my two blogs entitled “The Beach Boys: America’s Most Misunderstood Band” and “Just a Little More on the Beach Boys”. Brian Wilson was a musical genius if there ever was one. The harmonies he arranged, the beautiful melodies he constructed, and his ground-breaking work in the studio have been unsurpassed in music history. In addition, the album “Pet Sounds” is widely considered, along with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” as the best ever recorded.

6. The Band


Richard Manuel, Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson.

The Band may be the finest group of musicians and vocalists ever assembled. They started as a backup band for the legendary Ronnie Hawkins, and then for some cat named Bob Dylan. When The Band went solo, however, their true talents were unleashed on the world. Do yourself a favor and rent “The Last Waltz” to watch these guys live, or buy the entire “Music from Big Pink” album, put on your headphones, turn off the lights and get lost in everything that is The Band. Quite possibly America’s first real country rock band.

7. Todd Rundgren


A Wizard, a True Star (look it up).

Todd Rundgren is not in the Rock Hall of Fame and that’s an absolute travesty. Not only did he record what in my opinion is one of the greatest albums in history (Something/Anything?), he’s produced the albums “Straight Up” by Badfinger, “Stage Fright” by The Band, “We’re an American Band” by Grand Funk Railroad, “Bat Out of Hell” by Meat Loaf,  and “New York Dolls” by the New York Dolls among many others. Folks, those are some amazing, historical albums. Rundgren also plays nearly every instrument extremely well, so there’s that. If you want to read my blog about his greatest album, click this link: Something/Anything?: Todd Rundgren’s Magnum Opus. Seriously, though, Todd needs to be in The Hall, man.

8. Bruce Springsteen



Young rock fans don’t realize this, but Bruce came along right when we needed him. In 1975 the rock world was full of glam, rhinestone covered jumpsuits, laser shows, dudes with makeup, elaborate stage shows, and overproduced bullshit. Along came Bruce with his straight ahead, hard-drivin’ rock and roll that was delivered with a no-frills, pared down stage show. Bruce and his  band wore leather or jean jackets, boots, and depended on the music to make the show, not a giant inflatable pig or dancing midgets. In addition, he’s a great songwriter, with the evidence being “Born to Run”, “Jungleland” and “One Step Up.”  Just a legendary, electric performer.

9. Paul Westerberg


Paul Westerberg.

Paul Westerberg was the lead singer of the legendary alt band The Replacements, and Mats fans will be infuriated that I chose the solo career of Westerberg over them. Tough luck, because I love Paul’s stuff as much or more than anything the Replacements ever did. He can rock with the best of them, then turn around and write a beautiful ballad like “Good Day” or “Sunrise Always Listens”. I took a buddy to a Westerberg show a few years ago, and as we walked to our car he said this: “That’s the first time I ever felt like I was watching a real rock star.” Amen brother. You can read my take on Westerberg here: Man Without Ties: Paul Westerberg.

10. Steve Forbert


Steve Forbert.

Steve Forbert is a rock troubadour, a master of the turn of phrase and a lyrical mastermind. He never made it big and had just one top selling single, called “Romeo’s Tune”, way back in 1979. Back then he was compared to Bob Dylan, which set expectations unrealistically high but never stopped me from buying every album he’s released in the last 37-years. He’s one of those guys that somehow, someway, fell through the cracks. He’s had a solid career, but nothing like he deserves. Just as amazing singer, songwriter and lyricist.

So there you have it. Believe me, cutting it to the Top 10 was tough for me. Leaving out some of the bands and artists below was nearly impossible. That said, I’ve separated my remaining bands into three categories: Extra Special Mention, Special Mention and Honorable Mention. Here ya go:

Extra Special Mention (Just missed the cut): John Lennon, George Harrison, Warren Zevon, Al Green, Electric Light Orchestra, Bob Dylan, They Might Be Giants, Carbon Leaf, Queen, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Avett Brothers, Neil Young, Traveling Wilburys.

Special Mention: Tom Petty, The Byrds, Fury in the Slaughterhouse, The Replacements, Cracker, Jimmy Buffett, Fountains of Wayne, Matthew Sweet, America, Dramarama, Jim Croce, Nerf Herder, Hoodoo Gurus, John Hiatt, Nick Lowe, Johnny Cash, The Ramones, Del Amitri, E, Eric Clapton, The Flaming Lips, James Taylor.

Honorable Mention: John Mellencamp, Ronnie Hawkins, Chi-Lites, Social Distortion, Blue October, Michael Jackson,  Alan Parsons Project, The Moody Blues, Meat Puppets, The Alarm, Alanis Morissette, Bob Marley, Chicago, Dan Fogelberg, The Doors, Frank Sinatra, The Stylistics, Meat Loaf, Sister Hazel, Teenage Fanclub, The Who.

I first laid ears on Paul Westerberg back in 1982. Somebody, I don’t remember who, had given me a mix-tape (ah, the mix-tape. I miss them terribly) and one of the songs on the mix was called Kids Don’t Follow by The Replacements (The Mats to hardcore fans). It was a full-bore slice of rock insanity, Westerberg was the lead singer, and I was hooked. I went out and bought the album the song was on, called Stink. By going “out” I mean I drove to Columbus where they actually had record stores that carried such non-mainstream rebelliousness. Hell, in 1982 you couldn’t find an R.E.M. tape in Ross County. I know, I’m old, but so is Rock ‘n’ Roll. Anyway, I loved the album. It’s hard to describe how different the sound was to me now, since “alternative” music was really in its infant stages and there have been a million imitators in years hence. The Goo Goo Dolls, Meat Puppets, Nirvana and Ryan Adams are just a few artists admitting to a strong Westerberg influence. Of course, every band has their own influences, and The Mats can pay homage to The Clash, Big Star, and The Jam as well.

If you want to hear a slice of pure Mats, give a listen to Color Me Impressed, a full blown rock guitar orgy of noise on 1983’s Hootenanny album. Then I think you’ll know precisely what I’m talkin’ about. Westerberg’s voice has been called a “raw-throated adolescent howl” and this song illustrates why. They had some brilliant stuff on many of those early albums, songs like Fuck School and Dope Smokin’ Moron were classics. Wait. Now I know why I couldn’t find their albums at Woolworth’s in Chillicothe. Damn.

The Replacements broke up in 1991 for reasons well documented – in-fighting, addictions, you’ve heard it all before. Westerberg has been a notoriously moody cat, and one can certainly imagine how tough he’d be to work with. The night I saw him he almost took a roadie’s head off, but more on that later.

Next up was Westerberg’s solo career, and he did not disappoint. 1993’s “14 Songs” was a great album containing the Westerberg classics Knockin’ on Mine and Mannequin Shop. Ah, Mannequin Shop. Who can resist lyrics like these?

You’re lookin’ fine, a little strange, Been working out? Losing weight?

You got that hunger, and I can see

You’re looking younger than you’re supposed to be.

One little nip, one little tuck, ooh, you’re lookin’ hip

You never ever stop, chop-chop.

You look bitchin’, you look taut,

I’m itchin’ to know what was bought

Are those yours? Are those mine? Are they paid for?

It’s a lie!

You’re looking great

You’re losing face

You’re looking fine

My little Frankenstein.

Oh yeah, that familiar sounding voice you hear in the background on 14 Songs is Miss Joan Marie Larkin, or Joan Jett to you neophytes.

By the way, if you’re watching the video links you’ll see that most of them are grainy and unfocused. That’s kind of perfect, isn’t it?

Westerberg has released several albums since then, and I’ve enjoyed them all. Specific songs that stand out for me are MommaDaddyDid and Dyslexic Heart, although my faves are way too numerous to mention here. He has a killer acoustic version of The Beatle’s Nowhere Man that is amazing.

Paul has had his critics over the years, and as usual I disagree with them because, well, critics suck balls. The criticisms are usually along the lines of, “Oh, he’s gone soft” or “He’s sold out.” I say bullshit on both counts. Anyone who thinks 1999’s “Sunrise Always Listens” is a too-soft tune should listen to “If Only You Were Lonely” from the mid-80’s or 1990’s “Sadly Beautiful.” Both were hauntingly beautiful ballads, shot straight from the heart, not much different than what he’s doing now. Sure, he wrote songs for the soundtrack to “Open Season” a couple years ago, but a guys gotta make a buck, right? I hear these criticisms all the time with guys like Westerberg or bands like Green Day, and I think it’s has something to do with maturity. Just because you’re stuck in 1995 doesn’t mean Billy Joe Armstrong is. Same with Paul.

I finally realized my dream seeing Westerberg at The Newport in C-Bus a few years back, and it was an unreal experience. Along with his solo stuff, he sang some old Replacements songs and even threw in some surprise covers like “If I Had a Hammer” and “Daydream Believer.” At one point he sang while lying flat on his back on the floor. Another time a roadie came out to help with a guitar strap and Paul yelled, “Get the fuck out of here!”and proceeded to lunge at the guy with an uncontrolled rage as the dude ran for his life. Of course, he had a cigarette dangling from his mouth most of the show. Helluva night. A friend who was with our group told me afterwards, “It’s the first time I felt like I was watching a real rock star.”


Paul Westerberg is obviously a troubled, complex guy, just like a lot of creative people are. There’s a story of him jumping off stage in Chicago and nearly choking the life out of a heckler before they stopped him. Good times.

Sometimes he touches on this through his music or during interviews. I recently read one where he spoke of receiving a book from a fan after one of his shows. Inside the book there was an inscription that read, “To Paul, who saved my life.” Westerberg said that he shook his head when he read it aloud. “It’s a horrible feeling,” he said. “I almost think ‘God, I saved you? Can you save me?”

Note: The Replacements have reunited. They play at Columbus next Wednesday and I don’t have a ticket. But I’ll get in.