I’m Todd L. Burns, and welcome to Music Journalism Insider, a newsletter about music journalism. If you’re not familiar with the newsletter already, click here to find out more.
I’m constantly trying to think about unexpected places where music journalism happens. For those who grew up in a completely digital world, you wouldn’t expect liner notes to be a place for it. But I’ve often found great writing and information you can’t get anywhere else printed on the back of an LP or stuffed into a jewel case. Each year, the Grammys highlights a fraction of this writing in their Best Liner Notes category. I reached out to all of the nominees this year to chat about their work. Bob Mehr wrote the notes to The Replacements, Dead Man’s Pop.
Can you please briefly describe the release for those that may not be familiar with it?
The Replacements 2019 release, Dead Man’s Pop, is a 1-LP/4-CD box set focusing on the period surrounding the band’s 1989 album Don’t Tell a Soul. The project is built around the original album recordings, which have been finally mixed as the band intended, by the album’s producer Matt Wallace (Faith No More, John Hiatt).
The set also includes previously unreleased recordings the band made during that time at Bearsville Studios in upstate New York with producer Tony Berg (Michael Penn, Phoebe Bridgers), as well as a collaborative late-night session with Tom Waits at Cherokee Studios in Los Angeles.
The package is rounded out by a double live album from the group’s 1989 tour, called The Complete Inconcerated Live. In total, the 60-song package includes 58 previously unreleased songs, alternative mixes and outtakes.
Have you done much writing like this before? How did you get into it?
I have been involved with The Replacements for the past 12 years, primarily as their biographer. In 2016, Hachette published my book on the group, Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements. A New York Times bestseller, it was an NPR, Amazon and Rolling Stone book of the year. It also earned the ASCAP Deems/Taylor "Timothy White Award" for outstanding biography.
As a result of my work on the book and my familiarity with the band’s catalog, I proposed doing a series of archival projects and expanded reissues with their label Rhino/Warner in 2015.
Serving as producer and liner notes writer, I helped launch the series in 2017 with the release of the concert set For Sale: Live at Maxwell’s 1986. The success of that title (which became the Replacements highest charting Billboard LP) allowed us to become even more ambitious with Dead Man’s Pop.
What sort of primary material did you have to work with to write the liner notes?
In addition to drawing on the hundreds of interviews I had conducted for my book already, I also expanded and added to that material with new research, including access to the Warner audio archive and documents helping to paint a complete picture of that period in the band’s history.
What's the most interesting thing that you learned while researching this music?
Well, the making of Don’t Tell a Soul and that era for the Replacements was nothing if not colorful and full of wild anecdotes. But my favorite has to be the tale of the Replacements scaring Metallica while they were both recording at Bearsville (you’ll have to check out Trouble Boys or get a copy of Dead Man’s Pop to find out the full story).
What's next for you?
Since the release of Dead Man’s Pop in 2019, we completed work on another Replacements box set, this time a deluxe edition of the group’s 1987 classic Pleased to Meet Me. Released last October, it was another critical and commercial success, and we are hoping to follow up with another project later this year.
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