Throughout 2022 (and at the rate I’m going, 2023) I’ll be counting down my 100 favorite albums, because why not. I’m up to number eighty-eight.
“Nightclub jitters, I take a drink before I hit the town.”
- The Replacements, “Nightclub Jitters” from Pleased To Meet Me
I don’t understand. Why would you take a drink before you hit the town? Hitting the town implies going out drinking. Not for me, but definitely for alternative rock band The Replacements circa 1987, who ejected a member the prior year reportedly for hitting the town a bit too often. The song is called “Nightclub Jitters.” There must be alcohol at the nightclub. Why drink before you get there? To save money? That reminds me of the time shortly after I started dating Tommy H. when he wanted me to meet one of his best friends. We made plans to meet at an Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village and his friend showed up WITH A CAN OF COCA-COLA! He said he didn’t want to pay the restaurant’s prices ($1.25, for the record). Why not bring in your own store-bought pizza, too? “May I start you off with an appetizer, perhaps some bruschetta or focaccia rolls?” “No, I brought a loaf of Wonder Bread with me.” “Would you like to see a dessert menu?” “No, thank you. I have ice cream in my pocket.” “Shall I bring the check?” “Okay, but I have only $6 on me, so don’t go over that.” I was so embarrassed to be with this person. Making it worse was that he wasn’t embarrassed. Not at all. If you’re going to be such a cheapskate, in public, where you’re meeting your best friend’s new boyfriend, the very least you could do is make it clear that you hate yourself and are ashamed of your character, but nope. Not this guy, who later said to Tommy “About your boyfriend, I’m not impressed.” Not impressed with me??? Because I ordered a beverage? Because I said yes to dessert? Because I moved to a different table and told the waiter I didn’t know you? The can man and I had no more dinners together. Darn.
So, yeah. The Replacements. “I take a drink before I hit the town.” Another reason that drink bothers me is because if I have plans to hit the town, I want to hit the town. No delay. If our plan was to leave home by 10 and we’re still home at 10:01, I’m pissed, whether it’s because you’re having a drink or you misplaced your prosthetic leg. You should have looked for it earlier. That’s especially true if the plans involve going to a club – the getting there with no delay part, though I guess the looking for your prosthetic leg part, too.
Maybe it’s FOMO. That’s Fear Of Missing Out, not Friends Of My Orthodontist. It’s weird that you even thought that’s what that acronym means. I would hate to arrive at a club and learn that the deejay already played my jam.
I love to dance more than The Replacements loved to drink. I want to get to the club when the doors open and not leave the floor until closing time. First showing up at a club at peak time? I don’t understand. Come earlier and you’ll have that much more room to twist and jitterbug and loco-mote. I met Tommy (who didn’t have his tonsils out – inside reference for my fellow Replacements fans reading this) in 1989 at New York City’s LGBT Center (That’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender, not London, Great Britain Tourists. It’s weird that you even thought that’s what that acronym means.) on classic disco night, and I boogie oogie oogied till I just couldn’t boogie no more. I had gone to that party with my friend Frank, who was the head of the dance music department at Epic Records and my regular club buddy and occasional concert pal.
One Friday night in October of 1990, Frank invited me to join him to see Michel Camilo open for Michael Franks at NYC’s Beacon Theater, a venue renowned for its architecture and impeccable sound. Camilo, a jazz pianist, was signed to Epic Records and Frank got a pair of tickets from work. “We’ll watch him perform, then cut out and head to Columbia University.” Yes! On the first Friday and third Saturday of every month Columbia University hosted dances for the LGBT public. The deejays played Crystal Waters and Black Box and Deee-Lite and Madonna and all that G music. The Replacements? Nah, they never played them. We’ll get to them a bit. Like every essay that has never been written about them, you must take detours into house music and piano jazz and that thing that Michael Franks does. Speaking of…
The doors at Columbia U opened at 10 PM, so Frank and I stayed at the Beacon Theater after Michel Camilo finished his set at around 9 for some Michael Franks.
For those unfamiliar, Franks is a very mellow singer-songwriter who had a near-hit in 1976 with a song called “Popsicle Toes,” about his wife’s feet, which you may think an unusual thing to sing about, but chart hits in 1976 included “Convoy,” about trucks driving over the speed limit; “Muskrat Love,” in which a rodent named Sam proposes marriage to a rodent named Suzie while they’re doing the jitterbug; and “Disco Duck,” about a Black heavyweight prize fighter framed for a murder by a racist cop and corrupt legal system – oh, wait – that’s Bob Dylan’s 1976 hit “Hurricane.” “Disco Duck” is about a guy who goes to a club, hears disco music, and turns into a duck, so sure, write a song about your wife’s feet. It’s 1976. Anything goes. When introducing “Popsicle Toes” at his show, Franks told the story about how the ditty came into being. “It was the morning of my wife’s birthday and I had forgotten to buy a gift. The stores weren’t open yet, so I pulled out my guitar and quickly set to writing this song before she woke up. That’s why it has the lyric ‘I know today’s your birthday / And I did not buy no rose / But I wrote this song instead and I call it / “Popsicle Toes”.’” I whispered into Frank’s ear “And she said ‘I was hoping for a Longines.” For those unfamiliar, in the latter half of the 1970s the Swiss luxury watchmaker Longines launched a TV ad campaign in which one person gives another the gift of a wristwatch made by another company, to which the ingrate responds with “I was hoping for a Longines.” Say thank you! Someone just gave you a wristwatch. I don’t understand the lack of gratitude. You know what I get each year for my birthday? A book from my sister and a meal courtesy of my friend Scott, who thankfully doesn’t bring his own can of soda to the restaurant. Those are my birthday presents. Those and a couple of text messages and some greetings on my Facebook wall. A wristwatch? Ha! I’m not saying this as a complaint, though, readers, now would be a splendid time for you to bookmark my Amazon wish list. My point is to be grateful! “I was hoping for a Longines.” Yeah, and I was hoping for a twelve-bedroom mansion with a Kellan Lutz in every room. Maybe you’d get a fancy watch if you know that leaving at 10 means leaving at 10, you dickbutt. Say “thank you” and move on with your life. It’s not like this wristwatch bestower completely forgot about your birthday and tried to cover that up with some lame story about giving the gift of song. That brings us back to the Michael Franks concert and my whispering to Frank “And she said ‘I was hoping for a Longines.’” This was a well-known commercial back in the day. You may not remember it. Frank did. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA! Frank’s booming laugh reverberated throughout the Beacon Theater, bouncing off the walls of the venue known for its near-perfect acoustics. Heads turned. Michael Franks stopped his story. He probably thought “I’ve been telling this story every night for the last 15 years. Finally someone appreciates it!” And with that encouragement he launched into his near hit, but Frank and I couldn’t regain our composure. When Franks got to the chorus – “Popsicle toes / Popsicle toes are always froze / Popsicle toes / You’re so brave to expose all those popsicle toes,” I knew we best get out lest we get jumped by bellicose Michael Franks fans. Two subway stops later we were at Columbia University. Goodbye “Popsicle Toes;” hello dancing feet.
So, yeah, The Replacements. I’m getting to them. I need to make one more pit stop, with a pit stop on my way to the pit stop.
While Columbia U was my venue of choice, the hot club on Saturday nights at that time was The Roxy, a huge space that served as a roller rink during the week. As the head of Dance music at a major label, Frank always got us in free.
One Saturday night, on our way to The Roxy, Frank and I made a stop to pick up a friend of his who was also going with some of their friends. We arrived at his friend’s apartment at around 10:30. We were invited in and introduced to his four friends, three of whom were sitting on the living room floor, one in the kitchen cooking. It was obvious they weren’t yet ready to head on over to The Roxy. Grrrrr. Don’t they know what time it is? Did nobody in this apartment get a wristwatch for their birthday?
Our host brought Frank and me large glasses of vodka mixed with cranberry juice. You know how I feel about taking a drink before I hit the town.
Ten minutes later our host announced “We’re going to have some Special K before we go.”
I don’t understand. Who eats cereal before going out at night? First of all, cereal is breakfast. Second of all, I want to get to the club before they play my jam!
I whispered to Frank “Must we wait for everyone to have a bowl of cereal before we leave?” HA HA HA HA HA! Frank explained to me that Special K was a drug. The K stood for ketamine, and it is frequently used as an anesthetic for horses. I was wondering why anyone would ingest a bowl of cereal before a night out dancing. A horse tranquilizer makes a lot more sense. Frank and I didn’t partake. The others did.
Finally, at a couple of minutes past midnight, it was time to go to The Roxy. It ended up being only Frank and me. The rest of the folks were too tired. We bid them adieu. The host said to me “It was a pleasure to meet you, Greg. Don’t be a stranger,” to which I mindlessly retorted “I couldn’t be any stranger.” He laughed and nodded.
So, yeah, The Replacements. In “Nightclub Jitters,” the narrator sings “They say ‘Now don’t be stranger,” soon followed by “I’d be willing to wager that it don’t matter much if we keep in touch.” I would wager the same. I don’t think the guy subdued by the horse tranquilizer actually wanted me to keep in touch, though that could just be my low self-esteem talking. He may actually like you, Greg! I relate to this narrator, his pre-town-hitting-drinking notwithstanding.
“Nightclub Jitters” is a quiet song from a band who, despite having quite a few excellent quiet songs in their catalogue, are best known for their rockin’ tracks. Pleased To Meet Me has a couple of the band’s best uptempo numbers.
There’s “Alex Chilton,” wherein The Replacements lead singer/chief songwriter Paul Westerberg pays homage to Alex Chilton, he of the bands The Box Tops and Big Star. How much does Westerberg love Chilton? Like Big Star’s album Third and Alex Chilton’s solo album Like Flies On Sherbert, Pleased To Meet Me was produced by Jim Dickinson. How much does Westerberg love Chilton? In this song, he writes/sings “I never travel too far without a little Big Star.” Every time I work on a Big Star release, and I’ve worked on a few Big Star releases, that line echoes through my head the way laughter echoes at the Beacon Theater during a Michael Franks concert. The only way Westerberg could profess his admiration more strongly would be if in the song he compared Chilton’s body parts to frozen treats.
Chilton himself plays guitar on “Can’t Hardly Wait,” the album’s closer, which became the title song for a movie I never saw that starred Jennifer Love Hewitt, who once sent me an oversize fortune cookie that I thought was anthrax. I’ll save that story for another time, as this piece is about The Replacements and their great album Pleased To Meet Me, and I like to stay focused and not stray from the main topic at hand. Alex Chilton’s biggest hit, as a member of The Box Tops, went “My baby just wrote me a letter.” The first line of “Can’t Hardly Wait” is “I’ll write you a letter tomorrow.” ARE YOU KIDDING ME? “I’ll write you a letter tomorrow.” I love that! I double love that! I muskrat love that! And the song has horns. Horns! On a track by The Replacements! LMAO! (That’s Love My Alt-rock Orchestras! I’m afraid to ask what you thought it meant.)
The other peak moment for me is another quieter song, “Skyway,” a tale of missed connections, where the narrator is walking on the street, pining for his equivalent of Kellan Lutz, who uses Minneapolis’s above-ground building-connecting system. Then one day the narrator sees Kellan on the street…from the skyway! Dammit! I hate when that happens! It makes me all agitated and anxious and worked up and wired. Someone get me a horse tranquilizer.
On Pleased To Meet Me, The Replacements’ quieter, melodic, affecting ballads were just as good as the rock numbers we already knew them capable of, and in some cases better (which is not to say that they didn’t have stellar ballads on previous releases). That I already loved this band more than I loved dancing at The Roxy and yet they were able to delightfully surprise on their fifth studio album is a testament to their greatness and the reason every article that has never been written about them refers to them as the Longines of alt-rock bands.
So, yeah, The Replacements. There’s more from them coming up on this list.
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