This is Listen ∞ An email of eclectic music for curious ears. Here is today’s recommendation.
"Sixteen Blue" by The Replacements
Let It Be’s “Unsatisfied” is usually held up as the definitive [Paul] Westerberg ballad, but this is the one that grabs me every time. His vocal is perfect – for a singer with a limited range, he was startlingly expressive, and his gravelly, battered tone gave him an unusual ability to communicate empathy. “Sixteen Blue” (another perfect title) is one of the greatest-ever songs about being a teenager. Westerberg was only 22 when he wrote it, and it helped to have an actual 16-year-old around, in the form of [bass player] Tommy Stinson. It veers from defiance (“You’re lookin’ funny/ You ain’t laughin’ are you?”) to vulnerability (“Brag about things you don’t understand/ A girl and a woman, a boy and a man/ Everything is sexually vague/ Now you’re wondering to yourself/ If you might be gay”). It’s witty (“You’re lying, now you’re lying on your back”) and it’s accepting (“You’re age is the hardest age/ Everything drags and drags”). And, musically, it’s beautiful: the melody is perfectly pitched, and it ends with a great miniature guitar solo from Bob Stinson. It’s easy when writing about the Replacements to concentrate on Westerberg’s songwriting, or to talk about the band’s couldn’t-give-a-fuck attitude, but this was a band that was genuinely greater than the sum of its parts, and [Bob] Stinson was the perfect guitarist: tuneful but fierce and wild. He seemed like someone who was trying to play classic rock and getting it all wrong, creating something even more memorable as a result.
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