Album artwork: Does it indeed affect our listening experience, and if so, how? Scratch the Surface, a recurring feature on Aquarium Drunkard, takes a look at particularly interesting and/or exceptional cover art choices.

“He [Daniel Corrigan; photographer] captured a moment. The one overriding thing that’s always been in the back of my head: It’s a great shot, and it’s become iconographic and it says ‘the Replacements’ and everybody recognizes it. And…from the very first time I saw it I was like, ‘What the fuck are they doing on a roof?’ You know, this ‘candid’ moment, and they’re on a fucking rooftop. They had to crawl out a window – there’s nothing candid about it.” – Dave Ayers, from The Replacements – All Over But the Shouting

Let It Be is (in?)famous for lots of reasons, its cheeky, idol-biting title not withstanding, but its cover is probably the most well known for its depiction of the band: four jeans and sneaker bedecked lads on a rooftop somewhere, a black and white photo with red, superimposed letters spelling out the band name and the album title. Photographer Daniel Corrigan was hired to do the promotional photos for Let It Be and his first attempt at getting the album cover was a bit ramshackle. Sent to do a portrait at a Replacements show at the University of Minnesota, Corrigan was having no luck getting the band to cooperate. “So I told ’em I had coke, but, ‘We can’t do it downstairs here. We have an office up on the top floor. Let’s go up there and we can all do lines.’ I didn’t have any coke, I just wanted to get ’em in the elevator because they’d be trapped.” The result, Corrigan’s favorite photo of the shoot, was his pick for the album cover.

But that wasn’t the end. Corrigan was asked to try again, and this time he ended up at the home of Bob and Tommy Stinson, the Replacements’ practice space. He took some standard practice room shots but then decided to take the band out on the roof. The rest is history.

The photograph is legendary because of how perfectly it seems to capture the very essence of the band. The individual members’ personalities seem etched into the image, whether it’s Paul Westerberg, talking and not looking at the camera at all, Tommy Stinson, sleepily rubbing his eyes while clutching a pack of cigarettes, Bob Stinson, peering around Westerberg and arching his eyebrows mischievously, or Chris Mars, at the very back, looking calmly and directly at the camera.

Every great contradiction that made the Replacements the best American rock and roll band of the past thirty years is ensconced in that photograph. The roof on which they’re perched seems the refuge of a heart-on-his-sleeve would-be romantic who escapes out his bedroom window to peer up at the stars on lonely nights, a few, random trophies, the evidence of attempts at conformity within the larger world, peering down at him through the window. Yet, the whole fact that they’re on a roof in the first place seems calculated, aimed at a depiction of the band as something outside the mainstream. This posed photograph, intended to help them sell records, couldn’t seem to matter less to the group of four who all seem preoccupied with their own intentions rather than looking focused in any way. And still, despite this perceived nose-thumbing, there is the juxtaposition of a band looking to be like the bands they so idolized, the ones that made them pick up a guitar or a set of drumsticks or a songwriter’s pen in the first place.

The photo is also as perfect a depiction of the album’s contents as one could ask for: swinging-for-the-fences hits like “I Will Dare;” howling, maudlin anthems like “Unsatisfied,” “Sixteen Blue” and “Answering Machine;” raspberries-as-songs like “Gary’s Got a Boner;” and even an ode to an influence posed to sound like a piss-take in their cover of Kiss’ “Black Diamond.” This is what album art was meant to do. When taken as a whole with the recorded music, it should be a natural extension of what’s underneath the album sleeve. “[The Let It Be cover] was a great little piece of mythmaking,” wrote Michael Azerrad in Our Band Could Be Your Life. In that manner is Let It Be and its cover truly what rock and roll albums are all about. words/ j neas

Related: The Replacements :: Shit, Shower & Shave (1989)

MP3: The Replacements :: I Will Dare

25 Responses to “Scratch The Surface :: The Replacements: Let It Be”

  1. Nice piece J – one of my favorites record covers of all time. Funny how this one is such a classic, but most of their other covers are really not very good at all.

  2. i spent a particularly arduous subway commute this past monday rocking out to this record. each time i closed my eyes trying to forget the rush hour madness around me, the first picture that popped onto the back of my lids was this album cover. absolutely iconic.

    great work (as always), AD.

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Matthew Thornton and Justin. Justin said: Scratch The Surface :: The Replacements: Let It Be: Album artwork: Does it indeed affect our listening experienc… […]

  4. […] those of you with more leisure time today, I offer up a consideration of the album art for the Replacements Let It Be, as well as Shit, Shower & Shave, a Replacements bootleg from 1989 that Aquarium Drunkard has […]

  5. Fantastic piece.

  6. probably would have been more interesting
    had you actually talked to me.

  7. Awesome post! When I was on tour with Henry Clay People a couple years ago we had a local give us directions to this house in Minneapolis. Here’s a link with a pic of Joey from Henry Clay standing in front of the house!

  8. In case it isn’t clear, and it might not be, with the exception of the Azerrad quote, all quotes are from Jim Walsh’s excellent book The Replacements – All Over But the Shouting: An Oral History.

  9. Cool story and pic Dane!

  10. I believe that’s 2541 Garfield, as in the Grant Hart song “2541”

  11. One of the true great albums, but not at all because of the cover art.

    The cover art’s not even particularly special for that era.

  12. Converse All-Stars, tatter jeans and floppy, messed-up hair: that’s the Replacements!

    I think the beauty of this cover is that it’s really them. It’s staged, but it’s as staged as the “real” Replacements (i.e. the band up Please to Meet, before it becomes purely a Paul Westerberg vehicle) could be portrayed.

    Every fan I’ve ever discussed this with agrees that Let It Be is their best work. Tim has some of my favorite songs, and “Alex Chilton” for Please to Meet Me is one of Paul best melodies, but neither can touch Let It Be. I think it’s fitting that Let It Be features their best album cover.

    Next, I’d like to see a cover analysis for Black Sheets of Rain

  13. Great cover, but even better album. The Replacements more than hold their own across time. This was a great article on a shitty day, great timing A.D.

  14. great album, great cover, great piece.

  15. there used to be a time when album covers and TV theme songs at least meant something relevant to the subject! Now thanks to the ipod (in the case of albums) and the DVR (in the case of TV) both are relegated to just being crass billboards to advertise their wares. There are some exceptions out there…examples?

  16. It’s always bothered me that the Spin record guide says that Tommy is picking his nose on the cover. How the hell can you not tell that he’s rubbing his eye? Dumbasses.

  17. I don’t know why this immediately lept to mind (probably my immense of love all things Moby Dick related), but Mastodon’s Leviathan album is pretty appropriate for its contents. Plus, it’s awesome.

    Check it out.

  18. recent examples might include pearl jam’s backspacer, band of horses’s infinite arms, and neko case’s middle cyclone (that one may seem silly on first glance but i think it perfectly encapsulates that record because it’s smart and also playful, just like neko’s lyrics and voice).

  19. I saw the Replacements play in Paris, of all places. it was probably a first with Slim Dunlap, and they had just finished Pleased to Meet Me. I was over from England on my own, having just broken up from my girlfriend. The poster said 8:00pm. I called the club to ask what time the band went on. They said 8:00, but I didn’t really believe it so turned up at 8:15. They were playing, to an audience of about 40 people. Tommy was flirting with every girl in the audience. They were fantastic.
    I had brought a cheap half bottle of Brandy in my jacket, because I knew I couldn’t afford to buy drinks for hours in a Paris club. After they played I talked with a beautiful American girl from Minneapolis next to me, who had arrived early thinking she wouldn’t be able to get in. We went and sat at the back, and Tommy walked by. I asked him if he’d like to join us for a drink; would you like a brandy? He said no, they were on good behaviour. I said it was only ‘Cooking Brandy’, so he said “Oh, cooking brandy?” and sat down for a swig. Soon the rest of the band came over and joined us. Later the girl wrote her phone number on a scrap of paper for me – on the back was a note for the band she wrote when she thought she wouldn’t get in, saying “can you play Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out”.

    I don’t know anything about this guy, but I love this song about the Replacements…

    Also, Slim Dunlap’s two CDs are great, if you can find them.

  20. love ur anecdote phil!

  21. alternate shot of the rooftop was used on the scarce 12″ sleeve for I Can’t Wait, it’s nice to have these side by side here in the office –

  22. correction: 12″ was I will Dare –

  23. “2541” was a reference to the Huskers offices which were at 2541 Nicollet Ave, right?

  24. I came to the ‘Mats party kind of late — Tim was my introduction, and I worked my way back to Let It Be. I don’t know the lore of the address where the photo was taken or anything. But I always figured the cover shot was an explicit spoof of the Beatles’ rooftop antics in their own Let It Be opus. Was I overthinking it?

  25. Great article. It puts a little more light on this Replacements polaroid I found in a “Don’t Tell a Soul” CD several years ago. You can read about it here:

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