Two of the most influential rock bands in Minnesota history just happened to hit the scene at the same time. Hüsker Dü exploded out of the Macalester College campus, while the Replacements crawled up from South Minneapolis. Formed in 1979, both groups became legends with international cult followings.
Lots of people were fans of both, and lots are still fans of both. You don’t have to choose… except, you kind of Dü. Which band do you stand for? Let’s consider their respective achievements.
In the words of the Replacements’ frontman and principal songwriter Paul Westerberg, “I.O.U. nothing.” There were no guarantees when you went to see a Replacements show, and their booze-soaked gigs were as much performance art as they were concerts. The band would often bang through a series of songs with little regard for what the audience expected, with deliberately provocative stunts that helped ensure that while you’d never forget the show, you might wish you could.
They were infamously banned from “Saturday Night Live” after taking to the airwaves intoxicated in 1986, and they would often invite their roadie Bill Sullivan up on stage to sing Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen.” It’s testament to the band’s shambolic appeal that when Rolling Stone reviewed a 1989 Tom Petty tour, one of the first things the story mentioned was Sullivan’s solo during the Replacements’ opening set.
Hüsker Dü, on the other hand, were ferociously organized. They upped the ante for frantic energy, smashing through their sets with a momentum that would make Guided By Voices look like the Grateful Dead by comparison. They were among the stalwarts of the short-lived but pivotal scene at Jay’s Longhorn Bar, and when they took their show on the road, the pace didn’t slacken.
Like the Replacements, Hüsker Dü also helped define the aesthetic of the 7th St Entry, a venue they encouraged First Avenue to open for the benefit of the burgeoning local rock scene. Their 1980 live album recorded there, “Land Speed Record,” became such a landmark that the Walker Art Center later released an album consisting entirely of drummer Yusif del Valle replicating Grant Hart’s drum parts.
Edge: Hüsker Dü
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Hüsker Dü had the benefit of two great songwriters: guitarist Bob Mould and drummer Grant Hart. The duo’s creative tension helped shape the band’s sound and spirit, and their greatest albums contain outstanding contributions from both.
The double album “Zen Arcade” (1984) may be the quintessential Hüsker Dü record, an exhilarating, almost overwhelming collection following the rough narrative of a young man on the run. It was so influential that when Spin Magazine set out in 1995 to rank the 100 all-time great alternative albums, “Zen Arcade” landed at number four, ahead of both Nirvana’s “Nevermind” and Patti Smith’s “Horses.”
The following year’s “New Day Rising” was slightly more accessible, with standout Mould tracks including “I Apologize” and “Celebrated Summer.”
Meanwhile, the Replacements also released their defining album in 1984: “Let It Be,” with an iconic cover photograph by Daniel Corrigan that had the quartet sitting on the porch roof at the Uptown Minneapolis house where band members Bob and Tommy Stinson grew up. The LP captured the mad energy of the band’s early years, but also found Westerberg coming into newfound maturity as a songwriter.
The ’Mats made their major label debut with “Tim” (1985), an album with no weak link. With songs like “I Will Dare,” “Unsatisfied,” “Sixteen Blue,” “Bastards of Young,” and “Little Mascara” already in their repertoire between “Let It Be” and “Tim,” 1987’s “Pleased to Meet Me” added “Alex Chilton” and “Can’t Hardly Wait.”
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The Replacements’ 1982 EP “Stink” opens with the sound of a Minneapolis cop breaking up a party, to a loud chorus of boos. Lots of listeners doubtless assumed it was a studio stunt, but nope: that was an actual cop, breaking up an actual show the Replacements were playing at an actual party in what was then known as the Warehouse District. (It’s since been rebranded the North Loop.)
Other Replacements stories are so good they couldn’t possibly be true…except they are. Mostly. Probably. The band did throw some studio tapes into the Mississippi River over a dispute with their label Twin/Tone, although it wasn’t off a bridge and they weren’t the master tapes. If there’s an official Replacements shrine in Minneapolis, it’s the C.C. Club, where the band killed untold brain cells on late-night benders—and where Westerberg was likely inspired to write his classic “Here Comes a Regular.”
Hüsker Dü landmarks are harder to come by: the Grand Avenue record store where the band bonded over their shared love of punk is now the Pad Thai parking lot. The Longhorn is closed, though the Entry is still loud and proud. The band also spent a lot of time in its office space on Nicollet Avenue, in what’s now the Pancho Villa Mexican restaurant.
While you have to dig a little deeper for Hüsker Dü stories, it’s worth the investment to hear the late Hart’s recollections about how the band had a breakout gig at Macalester’s Springfest, or to read Mould’s reminisces about how they used to practice in the basement of Northern Lights Records on University Avenue. That’s now a hair salon.
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When it comes to the legacy they’ve left, the Replacements and Hüsker Dü have far more in common than not. Both helped to set the bar for loud and emotive alternative rock, influencing countless artists to follow. Both have passionate fans, many if not most shared between the two bands. Both are often mentioned as worthy, if underdog, candidates for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Of the two, the Replacements were and remain the better-known band. Westerberg’s suitcase full of accessible, melodic tunes ensured that. They’ve also made more mass-culture appearances, from inspiring the name of the 1998 teen comedy “Can’t Hardly Wait” to Lorde’s cover of “Swingin’ Party” on her 2013 debut album “Pure Heroine.” The Replacements were all but officially deified as grunge godfathers when Westerberg made his solo debut with two tracks on the “Singles” soundtrack in 1992.
In recent years, though, Hüsker Dü have become increasingly recognized for their towering influence. The line separating punk power and melt-your-heart singalongs wasn’t as clearly defined in their oeuvre, and bands ranging from Nirvana to the Pixies to Metallica have cited their influence. The pop punk movement at the turn of the 21st century, rock’s last massive commercial moment led by bands like Blink-182, Good Charlotte, and Minnesota’s own Motion City Soundtrack before hip-hop and R&B claimed the Top 40, sounded a lot more like Hüsker Dü than like the ’Mats.
In addition to Westerberg’s solo work, the Replacements’ Tommy Stinson has released hard-rocking efforts under his own name and with Bash & Pop. Both Bob Mould and Grant Hart went on to have revered solo careers; Hart’s death in 2017 prompted a renewed appreciation of his catalog, while Mould’s discography will grow this month with the release of “Sunshine Rock.”
Edge: New day rising?
This article was produced as a part of a collaboration between The Growler Magazine and The Current, Minnesota’s non-commercial, member-supported radio station playing the best authentic, new music alongside the music that inspired it. Find this article and more great music content at thecurrent.org.