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The Late Movies: The Replacements' "Can't Hardly Wait" Turns 25

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The Replacements' classic album Pleased to Meet Me turned 25 this week. It debuted on July 7, 1987, and featured two of my favorite songs of all time: "Can't Hardly Wait" and "Alex Chilton." The rest of the album isn't bad either.

The song "Can't Hardly Wait" has stuck with me all these years, partly because of its ultra-sweet sound, largely attributable to its lovely guitar line performed by Big Star's Alex Chilton (in case you couldn't tell, Chilton was a big influence on Replacements singer/songwriter Paul Westerberg). For your listening enjoyment, here are some of my favorite versions of the tune. And for the record, this song has basically nothing in common with the 1998 movie of the same name.

The Blistering Tim Version

"Can't Hardly Wait" was first recorded for the 1985 album Tim, but didn't make the cut. This early version includes Bob Stinson on (loud, distorted) guitar before his ouster from the band, and it rocks the hell out of the version that made it onto Pleased to Meet Me. On the other hand, the lyrics are far darker, and the song is very clearly about suicide. Here's a snippet of the lyrics:

I'll be sad in Heaven
If I don't find a hole in the gate
Climb on to the top of this scummy water tower screaming:
I can't hardly wait
I can't wait [repeats]...
'til it's over.

There's also an early demo of this version, but it's very rough around the edges.

The Sweet Album Version

On this poppy version, Alex Chilton's sweet guitar forms the base of the groove, along with prominent horns and strings. The lyrics have been changed so the song is far less specific -- it now seems to me to be about the weariness of touring.

Also of interest: an alternate version of this recording, with cheesy keyboards in place of horns and strings.

Paul Westerberg Live Version

Paul Westerberg and band live in New York City in 1996. Note the crowd screaming along for the "hurry up!" lines. The minute-long break in the middle is utterly awesome -- like a built-in encore within the song itself. If you like this version, you might also appreciate this weird supercut of Westerberg playing the song solo.

Early Live Version

From the late Tim era, this live recording is from 1986 at Maxwell's in New Jersey. Note how the lyrics are still in flux.

Justin Townes Earle Cover

Justin Townes Earle does a fantastic acoustic cover version of "Can't Hardly Wait." Here he is live in Nashville, performing the song with his band. The sound quality isn't great, but the performance is. Also very notable: his album version.

Bonus Song: "Alex Chilton"

Here's the other song from the Pleased to Meet Me album that I can't stop singing. "Alex Chilton" had one of a string of music videos for Replacements songs that gave the finger to the whole notion of doing a music video. (The most famous of these is of course "Bastards of Young.") Also interesting: a demo version of "Alex Chilton" performed live in the studio.

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between an Opera and a Musical?
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They both have narrative arcs set to song, so how are musicals different from operas?

For non-theater types, the word “musical” conjures up images of stylized Broadway performances—replete with high-kicks and punchy songs interspersed with dialogue—while operas are viewed as a musical's more melodramatic, highbrow cousin. That said, The New York Times chief classical music critic Anthony Tommasini argues that these loose categorizations don't get to the heart of the matter. For example, for every Kinky Boots, there’s a work like Les Misérables—a somber, sung-through show that elicits more audience tears than laughs. Meanwhile, operas can contain dancing and/or conversation, too, and they range in quality from lowbrow to highbrow to straight-up middlebrow.

According to Tommasini, the real distinguishing detail between a musical and an opera is that “in opera, music is the driving force; in musical theater, words come first.” While listening to an opera, it typically doesn’t matter what language it’s sung in, so long as you know the basic plot—but in musical theater, the nuance comes from the lyrics.

When it comes down to it, Tommasini’s explanation clarifies why opera stars often sing in a different style than Broadway performers do, why operas and musicals tend to have their trademark subject matters, and why musical composition and orchestration differ between the two disciplines.

That said, we live in a hybrid-crazy world in which we can order Chinese-Indian food, purchase combination jeans/leggings, and, yes, watch a Broadway musical—like 2010's Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark—that’s billed as “rock opera.” At the end of the day, the lack of hard, fast lines between opera and musical theater can lead composers from both camps to borrow from the other, thus blurring the line even further.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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History
Lost Gustav Holst Music Found in a New Zealand Symphony Archive
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English composer Gustav Holst became famous for his epic seven-piece suite "The Planets," but not all of his works were larger-than-life. Take "Folk Songs from Somerset," a collection of folk tunes composed by Holst in 1906 and largely forgotten in the decades since. Now, more than a century later, the music is finally attracting attention. As Atlas Obscura reports, manuscripts of the songs were rediscovered among a lost collection of sheet music handwritten by the musician.

The Holst originals were uncovered from the archives of a New Zealand symphony during a routine cleaning a few years ago. While throwing away old photocopies and other junk, the music director and the librarian of the Bay of Plenty (BOP) Symphonia came across two pieces of music by Holst. The scores were penned in the composer’s handwriting and labeled with his former address. Realizing the potential importance of their discovery, they stored the documents in a safe place, but it wasn't until recently that they were able to verify that the manuscripts were authentic.

For more than a century, the Holst works were thought to be lost for good. "These manuscripts are a remarkable find, particularly the ‘Folk Songs from Somerset’ which don’t exist elsewhere in this form," Colin Matthews of London's Holst Foundation said in a statement from the symphony.

How, exactly, the documents ended up in New Zealand remains a mystery. The BOP Symphonia suspects that the sheets were brought there by Stanley Farnsworth, a flutist who performed with an early version of the symphony in the 1960s. “We have clues that suggest the scores were used by Farnsworth,” orchestra member Bronya Dean said, “but we have no idea how Farnsworth came to have them, or what his connection was with Holst.”

The symphony plans to mark the discovery with a live show, including what will likely be the first performance of "Folk Songs from Somerset" in 100 years. Beyond that, BOP is considering finding a place for the artifacts in Holst’s home in England.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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