Saturday, June 27, 2020

Certain Songs #1854: The Replacements – “If Only You Were Lonely” | Medialoper

B-Side, 1981

. . .

Well I ain’t very good, but I get practice by myself

“If Only You Were Lonely” just might be Paul Westerberg’s greatest song.

Johnny’s Gonna Die” wasn’t the only anomalous song recorded during the Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash sessions. According to Twin/Tone founder Peter Jesperson in the liner notes of the Rhino reissue, he wanted to use one of Paul’s pretty solo songs — that Paul wasn’t even showing to the band — as the b-side to the planned single of “I’m In Trouble.”

Well, I walked out of work
And I was tired as hell
Another day’s come
And gone and oh, well
Somewhere there’s a drink
With my name on it

At first Paul resisted, but clearly “If Only You Were Lonely” was too good to ignore, even though — as an acoustic country song — it was miles away from anything else they’d yet recorded. That said, it was even more of a harbinger of the future than “Johnny’s Gonna Die,” as it introduced the concept of acoustic guitars and Paul-only songs. It’s also a fucking hilarious, heartbreaking song.

Well, I ordered a scotch
As I bust through them doors
Spilled half on my jeans
The other half on the floor
When I saw you standing
By that video game

And while “If Only You Lonely” has become one of the most-beloved songs in the ‘mats canon — to the point where we could all sing along in St. Paul in 2014 — I can only imagine how it went down in 1981. Quel scandale! Except, of course, I’m sure nobody gave a shit. It wasn’t like a zillion punks bought up the “I’m In Trouble” single and then rioted when they flipped the disc over. And clearly, the rest of the band was fine with it. And by the time relative latecomers like me — I didn’t discover them until Hootenanny! (about which more next week) — found out that there was a 7″ with a non-album b-side, not only were we used to these kind of shenanigans, we expected them.

In any event, I don’t honestly remember when or where I bought the “I’m In Trouble / If Only You Were Lonely” 7″, but I’m going to guess it was at some point in 1985, and I got it either at the Tower Records in Fresno or Rasputin’s in Berkeley, on some road trip. All I know for sure is that I loved it enough to lend it to KFSR because I wanted as many people as possible to hear it, especially the extraordinary third verse.

Well, I ain’t very good
But I get practice by myself
Forgot my one line
So I just said what I felt

If only you were lonely
If only you was lonely too
If only you was lonely
I’d go home with you

I mean, “Well, I ain’t very good / but I get practice by myself” is absolutely hilarious, and to follow it up with the poignant “Forgot my one line / So I just said what I felt” is head-turning genius, as is the alternating of “were” and “was” on the chorus.

Twenty push ups this morning
That was half my goal
Tonight I’ll be doin’ pull ups
On the toilet bowl
And somewhere
Somebody’s throwin’ up

And so “If Only You Were Lonely” goes, setting up an entire universe in which Paul is living, which he would do again and again, in songs like “Here Comes a Regular” or “Nobody.”

Well, I broke the seal on my door
And I poured myself to bed
The whirlpool spinning
Around in my head
Around in my head
There was liquor on my breath
And you were on my mind

Also, his singing. I occasionally forget just how extraordinary of a singer Paul Westerberg is. Yeah, at first there’s somewhat of a “heh, check out my country voice” aspect to it but every time he his the chorus, it all gets real, and Paul’s fully in the moment, especially the sad, resigned “I’d go home with you,” always sung like he couldn’t even look — well I was gonna say “her” but Paul refers to the object of his affection as “you” throughout, so I’m not gonna get all heteronormative here — them in the eyes.

And I’ll be dreamin’ of that smile
Without a care in the world
If only you were lonely
If only you was lonely too
If only you was lonely

And in fact, it was so vulnerable, he couldn’t even sing it the second time around, but you still kinda of hear it, don’t ya? And end the end, even though he struck out, he’s weirdly optimistic.

I walked out of the kitchen
I was tired as hell
Another day’s here
And oh, well
Somewhere there’s a smile
With my name on it

Given that “If Only You Were Lonely” showed a songwriter willing to ignore the confining box of “punk rock,” — or even “rock,” for that matter, it’s weird that it took Westerberg a couple more years to try it again.

“If Only You Were Lonely”

“If Only You Were Lonely” live in St Paul, 2014

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