Sevens :: The Replacements, Can’t Hardly Wait


(Sevens, a recurring feature on Aquarium Drunkard, pays tribute to the art of the individual song.)

Multiple versions of songs are often one of the more exciting things about watching an artist at work. Getting to see a song run through its stages of development, recorded in different ways with different lyrics and different instrumentation – sometimes even with whole parts rearranged and dissected – gives listeners an insight into the creative process that isn’t always available when the only thing to hear is the single finished product. This, I imagine, is why we enjoy the bonus tracks on expanded editions of albums so much.

It seems that no song in the Replacements’ catalogue has provoked as much ire as “Can’t Hardly Wait.” People come down on all sides of the debate as to which version they prefer, or which ones they even hate. The song wouldn’t surface on an official studio album until 1987’s Pleased to Meet Me, but it has its origins in the sessions for their 1985 album Tim. And this could be the source of the debate over the versions of the song as there is one, big, blatantly obvious difference between the two albums: Bob Stinson. By 1987 Bob was gone and so was the firebrand guitar antics that he had brought to the band’s live show and, to a much more increasingly controlled extent, the studio albums.

The versions that were recorded for Tim are probably the oldest that are easily available. One surfaced on the All for Nothing, Nothing for All best-of set in the late 90s. It features the oldest lyrical construct for the song (“I’ll be there in an hour / take half a month there on foot..”) and Bob’s guitar work gives the song an impatient feel, something teetering on exploding. It’s a tightly wound song with some amazing playing by Bob. Another version surfaced on the expanded edition of Tim from 2008 that is a bit sloppier – in vocals and in instrumentation – and the version from All for Nothing.. is clearly the more controlled.

Also on the Tim reissue from last year is the “air shaft” version of “Can’t Hardly Wait,” so dubbed because of the cavernous effect on every thing in the song. It, literally, sounds as if it were recorded in an air shaft or stairwell. This slower, acoustic version of the song highlights the song’s lyrics, still in their oldest incarnation here, and their melancholic twinges of hope. It’s the most subdued version of the song in existence and casts it in a new light.

The live versions of the song from this period reflect something similar to the electric versions. One of the most common bootlegs from that period, a show at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, New Jersey in February of 1986, has the band racing through the song at one of the fastest paces you’re likely to ever hear it. And it’s hearing the band firing on all cylinders and creating such a bracing version of such a great, unreleased song that probably creates the greatest loyalty for this era of the song.

Here’s where things get interesting. The re-issue of Pleased to Meet Me included an alternate take of the song recorded during the album sessions. This version is pretty bare bones – the band is a trio at this point – and Westerberg doesn’t try to re-create any of the lead guitar lines. It’s obviously a live take of the song and the no-frills version of this is a bit underwhelming compared to the numerous versions that had been floating around prior, but it gives us an interesting counter point to what is happening to the song. While the first lines of the song are the same as the earlier versions, the second half of the first verse has changed – so have later lines in the song.

Finally we hit the official album version, but by the time the song made it to official release status, the lyrics would change almost entirely (“Write you a letter tomorrow / tonight, I can’t hold a pen..”) and the melody of the song would be controlled by horn and string sections. Aside from a few small bursts of guitar at key moments, the swell of the song is driven by the horns and strings, and the result is an album closer unlike anything else in the Replacements’ catalogue.

Following the lyrics – one of the more noticeable shifts in the song’s evolution – you begin to wonder why they changed so dramatically in the song’s final thrusts toward album status. The song’s lyrics were loosely structured for most of its early existence, but whether just from Westerberg’s tendency to improvise adjustments live or the sometimes sloppiness of the band, the lyrics are rarely, if ever, completely identical in these various versions. Still, the last shift, from the Pleased to Meet Me alternate version to the final product, is a radical move. Why did it happen? Also, with the band re-arranging itself in the studio to operate as a trio, as well as bringing Jim Dickinson on board to produce the album as he had done for Big Star’s Third, was the horn/string treatment a bad move or not? It’s the aspect of the song that seems to get the harshest treatment from fans when the topic comes up and for some may predict the oft-criticized over-production of their next album, Don’t Tell a Soul. As a song that had been floating around the band’s playbook for awhile, did Westerberg feel a need to try to re-define the song for the band’s post-Bob Stinson era?

Discussion: What’s your favorite version of “Can’t Hardly Wait?” Do you hate or love the album version? Leave your thoughts in the comments and while you’re at it, enjoy Justin Townes Earle’s take on the song (he takes the lyrics from the album version) from his Midnight at the Movies album.   words/ j neas

45 thoughts on “Sevens :: The Replacements, Can’t Hardly Wait

  1. What a great song. A perfect illustration of The Mats as they evolved. I doubt Paul changed anything on Bob’s account. As Bob fell further away, Paul kept on making songs. The Replacements are the epitome of the American rock band.

  2. I’ve listened to all these versions several times now, and I really can’t decide which I like better. They all have their strengths and weaknesses.

    I’m too young to have experienced the Replacements while they were still together and making music (I actually came across them via Paul Westerberg’s solo stuff). Pleased to Meet Me was the first Mats album I ever listened to and fell in love with. So the polished sound of that album never shocked me, and It actually took me a bit of time to get accustomed to the more mussed sound of their earlier work.

    Bob Stinson was a great guitarist, so obviously his guitar adds so much to the Tim versions, but its absence in the later recordings allows for what I think is tasteful use of horns and strings.

    Can’t make up my mind! Either way its a brilliant song. Perhaps that’s why its a brilliant song – it has the structural fortitude to withstand any number of incarnations.

  3. This is a really really good song any way you slice it. Only being 25, I missed The Replacements train. As I approach my late twenties, I’ve been seeking out more Paul Westerberg/Replacements material. Much like the comment from Chris, I feel that it actually takes more getting used to listening to the less polished early stuff. Not that it’s bad, but it sounds different than anything that is considered to be “lo-fi” now. The “Tim Version” posted here definitely rocks more than either of the other versions. The noodling guitar brings to mind The weakerthans. However, the acoustic version seems like it would fit perfectly on any winter time mix. I would imagine with the whole folk revival going on, many people would love this acoustic version. And the third somewhat stripped down version puts the spotlight on Westerberg’s voice and vocals. I think he has one of the best and most desperate sounding voices in rock and roll. It’s a toss up. Every version is very strong in different ways. Thanks for a great post.

  4. I’d always understood that the lyrics were changed at the request of the label. They didn’t want 2 suicide songs on an album and The Ledge was already set to go on the album.

  5. Thanks SO much for this post! I’m a long-time ‘Mats fan, and of “Can’t Hardly Wait” in particular. Takes me back on any number of levels, mostly to playing the cassette over and over again driving ’round steamy Charles Village, Baltimore during the ol’ college days. But, yeah, this is a great song, so nicely balanced between the melancholy and the guns-a-blazing enthusiasm. And like any great song you can just put it through the blender any number of ways and end up with an immense range of effective results. I do wonder, as with much of the ‘Mats stuff, how much of this is “boy” stuff– not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, but does this stuff have broader appeal (no pun intended)? I have to say that the couple times I saw the ‘Mats (’86, ’90) it was definitely a sea of disaffected, beer guzzlin’ guys like me. Any thoughts?

  6. Interesting entry on this song. Thanks.

    I will attest to the fact that the Replacements don’t just appeal to “disaffected beer-guzzlin’ guys.” I am an Asian-American 40-ish female, not disaffected (at least not all the time) & don’t drink beer. I’m not an uberfan like some, but I’ve liked the band for reasons musical and lyrical — & maybe because I’m a product of the Midwest, too, I think I kind of just ‘feel’ them.

    Unlike some other ‘old’ music in my collection from back in the day — uhh, Pet Shop Boys, anyone? anyone? — I still listen to Replacements stuff.

    My daughter & I caught a Justin Townes Earle show earlier this summer. Right before he launched into “Can’t Hardly Wait” he mentioned how his mother introduced him to the Replacements when he was young. I chatted w/ him after his set & let him know that I’ve done the same with my daughter.

    And I have to say it is pretty darn amusing (& quite satisfying) to hear a 10-year-old girl singing this song (as opposed to stuff by Miley Cyrus or the Jonas Brothers).

  7. Great post. Great song. In fact, my favorite Mats song. I got into the Mats around the time of Pleased to Meet Me, and though I wasn’t familiar with “Can’t Hardly Wait,” the first time I saw them live, the one moment of the show that stood out above the rest was Paul singing: “Jesus rides beside me, he never buys any smokes.” I can still picture it, funny thing is in my head, I hear the horns even though there weren’t any there–just Tommy, Chris and Slim. Listening to the Please to Meet Me alternate version, you can hear the “holes” in the arrangement so I’d assume the horns were already playing in Paul’s head at that point. I like them all, but the definitive version for me is the album version.

  8. So, I read this post pretty soon after waking up this morning, and I commented above. I just can’t stop thinking about this song though. What a truly great song. I’ve listened to the Pleased To Meet Me version a handful of times today as well as the three posted here. I have to say, I think that all three versions posted here are better than the Pleased To Meet Me Version. The horns and strings make it sound like it belongs on a soundtrack. They don’t make it bad, just much more polished for sure. Once again, great great post…”Sevens” is one of my favorite things about this blog.

  9. In 1984 I was an East Coast prep school kid trying to decide whether I could handle going to Grinnell College so I went to visit for a “prospectives weekend”. I happened to choose the biggest party weekend of the year to fly out to Iowa and there I was, stoned to the gills, leaning against the small outdoor stage in a field in Iowa as a drunken band I’d never heard of stumbled through three, maybe four songs – I couldn’t tell when one was supposed to have ended and another begun – when a lime green guitar came within inches of smashing into my head. I’ve been a fan ever since, always straddling the line, nostalgic for the joy of a guitar nearly taking my fucking head off, yet maturing into someone who loved great songwriting and craftmanship. Long live the Mats, in any incantation.

  10. Hmm…I sort of see the different versions as Westerberg and the Mats growing up if you will. The “Tim” era one is all youthful brash and bravado, Westerberg spitting out the lyrics like he’s hopped up on lotsa coffee, nerves, and a subconscious anger, backed by the “impatient feel” you mention of Bob’s guitar. Their first big record for the big name record company.

    The acoustic version: they’re a little older now, and if I’m remembering things right historically, a little more into addictions. There wasn’t overnight stardom with “Tim” and maybe the reality that the dream may not become reality. Bob’s been kicked out by this point, and that anger that lingered beneath the surface has turned inward becoming something sad.

    The “PTMM” version: They’ve become older still, if only mentally. Maybe they were getting some flak from the record company like, “Hey we need a hit, something we can play on the radio.” PTMM has all sorts of influences (“Nightclub Jitters” anyone) that go beyond the typical thrashy rock they’d been doing. It’s super polished sounding (though not as bad as DTAS of course) and those addictions are chugging right along (that’s my theory for the lyric change of the first line to “Write you a letter tomorrow/tonight I can’t hold a pen.”) The Memphis influence is nice (horns) but in comparison to the “Tim” one, everyone sounds…tired. Almost as if to say, “Jaysus, this is what it’s like to be a grownup?”

    And as for the “boy band” question, two words: “hell” and “no.” If you love the Mats it wasn’t b/c you were a boy or a girl, it was b/c you loved smart (and smart-ass) lyrics backed by music that were those lyrics in the form of musical notes. IMHO anyway….:)

  11. My favorite song, ever. I love all versions. Even though I’m a Big Star freak and respect Jim Dickinson (there’s several benefits going on for him right now, a stack just finished in Oxford, Miss. last weekend), the first time I heard the Tim version (1999! From Napster, even!), I fell in love.

    Damn fine post.

  12. God bless the ‘mats. If it wasn’t for a tape copy of PTTM and REM’s “Reckoning,” in 8th grade, my life and listening habits would have been totally different for a lifetime.

    Thanks to the drunkard folks, as usual. Great stuff.

  13. As an avid Mats fan, I have all of the versions on cassette tapes procured through traders.

    The final version is always a high light of Paul’s solo shows, great song.
    The previous versions are awesome and are part of many Mats’ fans explanation of the bands’ demise. The earliest versions are the trues Replacements. Who gives a ___ attitude, care free, let’s conquer the world.

    The final version is a result of pressure to sell more records, make more profits, and fit in the Rock n Roll corporate world. Equally important was that early version(s) was similar to “The Ledge.” As mentioned in another post, I read that the final rewrite was because the they couldn’t have two songs on the album about suicide.

  14. Isnt there another version that starts out with a clean guitar, i know ive heard that somewhere?

  15. Does anyone have a link for the video of Paul performing this on SNL several years ago? It ain’t on YouTube these days.

    Great post.

  16. I love the official version of “Can’t Hardly Wait.” Why do we laud the (over)production of other bands, but not with our lovely, prized Mats? It’s really quite alright to make a fetish of “Sorry Ma,” but it’s equally fine to indulge in Paul’s first stabs at sophisticated production on “All Shook Down.” Both are pure Mats, which is why we love talking about it so much. And while we’re on the subject, “Don’t Tell a Soul” is start-to-finish brilliant, despite the dated effects. Sure, it could sound better, but they could have fired their producer, Matt Wallace, anytime they felt like it.

    Great post. Classic song. Second hand records are cheaper. Reissue CDs have extra tracks…

  17. Perhaps this is just urban legend, but I always heard that the strings were added by Jim Dickinson without Paul’s approval (nor appreciation).

    Paul was apparently cool having the Memphis horns on the track, but thought the addition of strings to the final cut was overdoing it.

    There’s also a version from the PTMM sessions with some strings/synth stuff, but no horns. Makes you really appreciate the horns. 🙂

    As for which one I like better – I fell in love with the studio PTMM version, but when I heard the Tim one with Bob, I was floored. Wish that version of the song made the cut for Tim.

  18. It’s worth mentioning the version on “The Shit hits the Fans”, which is probably pretty close to the bootleg versions. It was my first exposure to that song and still my favorite version. Speaking of versions, there’s a band in Tampa that calls itself “The Tim Version”.

  19. Ditto Mike E. I think The Shit Hits the Fans version is the first to be officially released. Might be my fav too though I do like ’em all. Great nearly complete Dickinson version on SNL that was mentioned above. They also blew the roof off the place with Knockin’ On Mine. Newly liberated Westerberg and a band that was beside themselves to be in on it.

  20. I think both the Tim version of CHW and the album version are the flipsides to a very amazing piece of rock n’ roll currency. There’s an immediacy on the Tim version that is absent from the album version…a desperation. The album version feels as though the ‘Mats have crashed a party they weren’t invited to; the horns and strings made it seem as though these punk kids might have crawled out of the gutter and cleaned themselves off if it weren’t for their own attempts to sabotage their chances. While the song represented them at their most “established” and “mainstream” up to that point it also represented them at their most “punk rock.” They chose to defy all expectations of them from both sides. Thumbing their noses at the industrial moguls and Top 40 radio DJ’s while flipping the bird to the mohawked little punkers waiting for Westerberg to rewrite Kids Don’t Follow for the 10th time. I don’t think there’s any version of CHW you can go wrong with. Which is what makes it a timeless song and a true classic. Barbara Streisand or Burt Bacharach could sing it and it would still be an amazing song. That’s the sign of something truly special.

  21. JTE has a version of the song on Daytrotter that I like better than the studio version from Midnight at The Movies. Definitely worth the download.

  22. I come down torn. I love the Tim version with Bob for what Bob brings to it – and which may be the last visible remnants of a guitar-playing style that defined the decade to come. IMHO, Bob Stinson had more influence on the early 90s “rebirth” of rock than any other guitarist.

    But while I love the Tim version for its reckless and ragged heart, I am simply in love with the PTMM lyrics. That opening line that you mentioned, “I’ll write you a letter tomorrow; tonight I can’t hold a pen” to me speaks to every ounce of Paul’s supreme songwriter talent.

    So I’ll take both, if I may. May I?

    And also a version I saw them do toward the end of their run in a staggeringly good concert at the Springfield Paramount Theatre in February 1991, where at the cold break Paul just began laughing in the silence, and soon Tommy, Slim, and Steve joined in. It was sloppy, it was memorable, it was genuine, and it was so very, VERY the ‘Mats.

  23. Great song from a great band. Its worthy of the attention here given. I like all the versions, but maybe the PTMM official version best. I think there is a bias against it among loyalists because it marks the Replacements at their most “professional” and polished. A glimpse of what they might have been if they’d have been able to keep it together longer (if ever they really wanted to do so).

    Don’t get me wrong, I loved their live performances and appreciate the quality of their don’t give a shit attitude and the way it melded into their lyrics and playing. . . . sometimes, at any rate. But even in terms of their live playing, there is a tendency for fans to hold drunken debacles closest to their hearts and to ignore those nights when they were on their form professionally. Even in those cases, they had a tendency to veer toward the guardrails and squeeze off sparks just for the hell of it, and you were never far away one or all of them chucking it. What gets wierd, and what must have gotten wierd for the boys, was this expectation that arose — this waiting and anticipating in fans for their acting up. There are frequently undercurrents of anger in their live playing, which feels somehow distinct from any overt anger written or played into the songs, and I wonder if it wasn’t related to the loop closing in on them — the music industry, promoters, etc., wanting them to toe the line, their reacting in a defiantly childish way, but then being too egged on it by the fans, so that became just another pavlovian feedback trap. Still, with all of this maybe going on, they had something sometimes, right their in the palms of their hands and it remains thrilling and alive all these years later.

  24. I met Josh Freese once, the drummer from Westerberg’s SNL appearance, and asked him what he said during the gap at the end of “CHW” when he makes Westerberg crack up. He said, “Burt Reynolds.” The punchline to an inside joke apparently.

  25. The was also a version on the 7″ release of CHW that was remixed by Bob Clearmountain. I always liked it and I had hoped it would make it onto the PTMM reissue. Sadly, twas not to be.

  26. no one’s bringing up my favorite version. the original from the let it be tour featured on the cassette only twin tone release “the shit hits the fans”. for anyone who saw em live, that encapsulated the group.

  27. Fantastic song, everyone seems to agree.
    The “air shaft” version has long been my favorite version for its somewhat emotional impact when listened to in comparison to the others.
    The impact for me comes from the lyrics and the atmosphere which seems to sound somewhat lonely and bare bones. I do leave the others respectively, but they lack the imtimacy of this version.

    For what it’s worth, I once read that the tune was originally a suicide based song, and that by the time they did it on PTMM, it was decided to somewhat change the lyrics to make them less morbid – – I have no idea if this is at all true, but it does add to the alurement of the song.

    Also, the “air shaft” version has one of the boys yelling in the background “I can’t wai-hate” following Paul’s gritty howl – – gives me chills.

  28. Gotta go with the Shit Hits the Fans version too. That’s how I remember the song sounding for years before it hit vinyl.

    The crummy water tower from the earlier version got revived in the lyrics to the recent Hold Steady song “Constructive Summer”

  29. Doesn’t the PTMM version fit well with the album cover – the legit “corporate” arm shaking the frayed “punk” arm? I’ll venture an opinion:the Tim version would have weighted that album down with a little too much earnest longing. I mean, can you imagine “Can’t Hardly Wait” (suicidal version), into “Left of the Dial,” into “Little Mascara,” into “Here Comes a Regular?” 3 songs in a row like that are great, monumental, still maybe my favorite 3 songs in a row to end an album. Add “Can’t Hardly Wait,” and you’d start to feel like maybe it was just a bit too much. Just my opinion.

  30. I saw the Replacements perform this song live at Trito’s Uptown in Champaign, Illinois on the early 1985 “Let It Be” tour. Mr. Bob Stinson wore a dress to the show. A young long-haired Asian-American kept dropping dollar bills on Mr. Bob Stinson while he played, in a display of fandom. After the show, I bummed a light of Mr. Paul Westerberg, as he sat a table in the small club. It was a great great show, not one where they stopped playing and were all messed up. Probably due to its bitchin’ guitar riff, this was the song stuck in my head afterwards. BTW, I share the same birthday as Mr. Westerberg, December 31.

  31. The ‘Tim’ version from “All For Nothing/Nothing For All.” I have every version ever released on my iPod but by more than a 20:1 margin, I play that one more than the others. I’ve even programmed it into “Tim,” replacing “Lay It Down Clown” – makes the second half of that album feel like the greatest thing they’ve ever done. (Would also recommend replacing “Dose of Thunder” with “Nowhere Is My Home.”)

Comments are closed.