When Warner Bros. Records first began reissuing the Replacements' albums in 2008, Peter Jesperson tried to sell the company on expanding the Minneapolis band's raucous and rowdy 1981 debut record into a double-disc collection.
The label's response, in short: Sorry, Charlie.
"They weren't interested in it then," recalled Jesperson, the group's original manager and co-producer. "So it's extra gratifying to circle back to it now and revisit it in an even bigger way."
What a difference the past decade has made in the life — or afterlife, rather — of the Replacements. And what a strong case is now being made for the record that started it all, "Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash."
The fast-burning, determinedly lowbrow, 18-song rock opus has been turned into a remastered, four-CD, one-LP box set by Rhino/Warner Records,
Originally issued on Minneapolis indie imprint Twin/Tone Records with a marketing budget comparable to about what 10 of these new sets cost ($80-$110 each), "Sorry Ma" hits stores in its expanded form Friday following a playful promotional buildup that once again has Replacements fans excited to carry the torch for a band that infamously fizzled as a commercial venture in its heyday.
"In a lot of ways they're more popular now than they were when they were together," said Jesperson, who co-produced the new box set and helped dig up many of its most golden bonus nuggets. "For bands that were more influential than they were commercial, it takes a while to grow into that role and historic significance."
Jesperson pointed to two key elements that have upped the Replacements' status over the past decade: the well received "reunion" shows that singer/guitarist Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson played with replacement Replacements from 2014-2016 (the set lists for which picked heavily from "Sorry Ma"); and Bob Mehr's New York Times-bestselling 2016 biography "Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements," which offered a much clearer understanding of the often intentionally misunderstood Minneapolis rock greats.
Mehr, the Memphis music journalist who also served as co-producer of the new "Sorry Ma" collection and wrote its extensive liner notes, said he was extra amped-up about making a strong case for the band's noisiest and perhaps most overlooked record.
"I believe it's quite extraordinary to have such a thorough accounting of the genesis/chrysalis of a young band the way we do here," he said.
The "Sorry Ma" set follows similar Rhino deluxe reissues of the Replacements' 1987 album "Pleased to Meet Me" and 1989's "Don't Tell a Soul" (the latter recast as "Dead Man's Pop"). The band's revered mid-'80s albums "Let It Be" and "Tim" seemingly would have been the next logical choices, but Mehr said there were a lot more bonus tracks to work with for "Sorry Ma" — and a lot more to be learned from them.
"With all these projects, we're trying to tell a compelling story and expand the understanding of the band," he said. "To that end, 'Sorry Ma' was actually themost obvious candidate for an expansion/reappraisal, because of the incredible — truly — wealth of material we had to work with."
Among the box set's 67 unreleased tracks are many outtakes, proving how prolific frontman Paul Westerberg was just one year into his songwriting career. Those include: "You're Pretty When You're Rude," an acoustic finger-picked tune (believed to be the only such one); a smarmy rocker called "Lie About Your Age," recorded in the basement of bassist/guitarist brothers Tommy and Bob Stinson's house, and "Try Me," which the band had submitted as an entry for a radio compilation album.
"I think it's one of their key early songs," Jesperson said of "Try Me," which didn't make it into any prior reissues. "Paul, for whatever reason, didn't greenlight it before now. I'm thrilled we finally got it on here."
There are also many alternative versions of the original album cuts — ones that truly offer alternate views of the songs. As noted in Mehr's liner notes, the band often played the same song many different ways back then and messed around with them on purpose, as evidenced by extra versions of "Customer," "Shutup," "Shiftless When I'm Idle," "I Hate Music," the lead-off song "Takin' a Ride" and especially the dark Johnny Thunders ode "Johnny's Gonna Die."
"I love that we put in a couple other versions of 'Johnny's Gonna Die,' " said Jesperson.
"The lead guitar break is a two-part solo. Bob would do the first, and Paul would do the second. Bob's solo on all the versions is pretty static, because he had a part we all really liked and he stuck with it. But Paul's versions are all different, and all great if you ask me. Paul was an outstanding lead guitar player."
Maybe the most prized bonus material is a two-disc January 1981 live recording from 7th St. Entry, which proves the notoriously erratic 'Mats often were often rock-solid blasters early on. It was found on cassette amid the vast archive of live recordings maintained by Terry Katzman, the band's early soundman, who died in 2019.
"Terry's wife, Penny, had given me all of his Replacements tapes, which really meant a lot to me," said Jesperson, noting how he and Katzman would often dub live recordings after each of the band's shows. "This was one I guess I just forgot to dub. I'm so glad it finally turned up."
The Entry show was captured via Twin/Tone co-founder Paul Stark's mobile recording RV for a KFAI radio broadcast. Incomplete, lo-fi bootleg versions have long circulated among 'Mats collectors.
This one was "miraculously cleaned up" by a cassette-conversion specialist, Jesperson said. It features the blisteringly loud show in its entirety, including nearly all the "Sorry Ma" cuts, some of the outtakes, plus freewheeling covers of songs by Thunders, Slade, Dave Edmunds and more.
"The timing on the set couldn't have been better," Mehr said of the Entry recording. "They were together almost a year as a band, and six months playing real shows. They were also rehearsing almost daily at that point and recording in between."
"Not only do you hear the band at a kind of early peak playing all the 'Sorry Ma' material, you also hear it fresh — in some cases written just days before the gig — and played with an excitement and a real sense of discovery."
That both Mehr and Jesperson still talk so ebulliently about the "Sorry Ma"-era recordings is a major endorsement, considering how much time each spent trolling through these recordings over the past year — and really, in Jesperson's case, for the past 40 years.
After being rather unceremoniously sidelined by the 'Mats after they signed to Sire/Warner Records in 1985, Jesperson went on to work with dozens of other great bands as an executive at New West Records in Los Angeles and other labels. But he still treasures the music he helped the Minneapolis troublemakers make above all else.
"I truly believe they made eight great records, and I love them all," Jesperson said. "But I do think the first four records are the best. There are no duds on them. They're great from start to finish, and 'Sorry Ma' is a perfect example of that."
7 fun facts on the Replacements' most fun album
Here is more insight on "Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash," most of it culled from Bob Mehr's booklet for the new box set.
- It wasn't a quick, wham-bam affair. While the songs' loud, rapid and rowdy style suggests they were recorded in a similar fast-tear fashion, sessions were actually spread out over six months at Blackberry Way Studio as the band and producers struggled to capture the 'Mats' live energy. "Some things took longer," drummer Chris Mars remembers in Bob Mehr's liner notes for the box set (from which all the comments on this list are taken). "There's some [songs] that you have to get a certain force [behind]. It's hard to get that raw sound on a tape."
- It included aborted sessions inside local rock venues. After hitting an apparent wall at the studio, the band tried recording without an audience at Sam's (now First Avenue) and the Longhorn Bar. "We sensed a little bit of a reserve displayed by the band in the studio," Jesperson recalls. "So we thought: Let's try to capture them a little more in their element."
- Recording had to be planned around junior high. Because the band mostly recorded live as a foursome, sessions had to be scheduled around the school schedule for bassist Tommy Stinson, then 13-14 years old. Says Stinson, "We'd mostly record in the afternoon, when Bob got off work or as soon as I was out of school. We'd hustle over to Blackberry and do whatever we could do. We'd play until I had to do my homework or go to bed."
- They had many more songs to choose from. Westerberg had begun songwriting only a year before, but by the time recording wrapped he had nearly 40 complete songs. The singer was driven by their live shows, he says in the notes: "I figured, well, if we play a couple sets, that's an hour and a half. And given how fast we play we probably need 30, 40 songs."
- They somehow never heard complaints from the studio's neighbors. Still a functioning studio now known as Blue Bell Knoll, Blackberry Way was housed in a house on 13th Avenue SE. in the heart of Dinkytown, with U of M students, a church and a senior housing facility for neighbors. Says co-producer Steve Fjelstad, who lived above the studio, "Why we were never shut down for noise, I don't know. Maybe everyone in the old folks' home was hard of hearing."
- A Suburb designed the album cover. The late Bruce Allen, lead guitarist for the Suburbs, did the graphic design using a live Entry photo by Greg Helgeson with Tommy airborne off the stage, then cutting and pasting all the imagery and lettering a la the Sex Pistols' designs. "Our big, daring statement was for Bruce Allen to tear the [cover] picture in half," said Westerberg. "We thought that was very punk rock."
- The band belied their ne'er-do-well reputation in those early days. While sessions for later albums are littered with stories of drunken debauchery, the young 'Mats stayed relatively sober, focused and driven during the making of "Sorry Ma." Remembers Twin/Tone's Paul Stark, "That band rehearsed more than most bands I've ever seen. They played hard and they worked hard." And as Westerberg himself looks back at it: "It was probably the thing of you only get one chance to make a first impression. I was pretty aware of that with it being our debut and all. Besides, who the hell knew if we'd even make another record?"