Album: Let it Be
. . .
How smart are you? How dumb am I?
“I Will Dare” might just be the greatest song Paul Westerberg has ever written.
And so, in the summer of 1984, this single just arrived at KFSR. A brand-new 12″ 45-RPM vinyl record from The Replacements, that scruffy sloppy garage band that had made one of my favorite records of the previous year. Maybe I knew that “I Will Dare” was coming, maybe I didn’t. Maybe I knew that some guy named “Pete Buck” played the guitar solo before I read it on the jacket, maybe I didn’t. I don’t remember any of that.
But what I do remember is knowing that it was a fucking classic before Paul Westerberg even opened his mouth.
How young are you?
How old am I?
Let’s count the rings
Around my eye
By the time Paul Westerberg started singing that amazing opening verse — rhyming “I” with “eye” — we’d already had Paul’s rhythm scrape of a guitar riff, Bob’s jaunty, curlicue lead, and, of course, whatever in the hell it was that Chris Mars was playing. Seriously though, what even is that? I guess it’s kind of a bluesy shuffle, but it had all those weird extra beats, without ever sacrificing any forward momentum. And while every other Replacements song previously recorded could be slotted into some kind of genre, “I Will Dare” was its own beast.
How smart are you?
How dumb am I?
Don’t count any
Of my advice
And then, of course, we’ve got the words. Paul Westerberg’s combination of cockiness and insecurity, and yet somehow feeling like it was ripped out of my own head, the theme song for every single time I fell in love from that moment forward.
Oh, meet me anyplace or anywhere or anytime
Now, I don’t care, meet me tonight
If you will dare, I might dare
And sung with his raspy voice — Bob Stinson’s guitar on point and echoing every single note of the sing-songy melody — the chorus of “I Will Dare” was the real deal, incredibly catchy and utterly universal. Who couldn’t relate to “if you will dare / I might dare” on some level? And while I’ve never had a dinner consisting of bacon and cigarettes, the next verse still rung utterly true.
Call me on Thursday, if you will
Or call me on Wednesday, better still
Ain’t lost yet, so I gotta be a winner
Bacon and cigarettes, a lousy dinner
How young, are you?
Then, after the second chorus, a truly remarkable thing happens: Paul’s friend Pete Buck — the guitarist for an up-and-coming-band from Athens, Georgia called R.E.M., plays a guitar solo that was actually longer than any of the solos that Buck had taken for his band. It fits in perfectly with the overall aesthetic of “I Will Dare,” after which Buck is never heard from again.
I think that might be the first time another person plays on a Replacements song, but it’s almost immediately trumped by Paul, who follows it up adding what is basically a mandolin solo over the rest of the song — which basically stops after the guitar solo and starts back up again, but now with mandolin — probably the first time Paul Westerberg well and truly showed off his full musical talent on a Replacements song. One wonders if hearing the mandolin on the final record gave Buck any ideas, but I guess we’ll never know, because as I mentioned in the last paragraph, he was never heard from again.
In any event, the back half of “I Will Dare” is suffused both both mandolin and melancholy, especially the final verse, where it seems like his prospects are dimming.
How smart are you?
How SMART are you?!
How dumb am I?
Dumb am I?
Just before the final “dumb am I”, there’s a weird honking noise from what I assume is one of the guitars, a weird cool thing that other bands might have taken off the record, but the ‘Mats left on probably just because.
While “I Will Dare” was pretty big on college radio, and also served notice that the next Replacements album — which wouldn’t come out for three more months, by which I could have been sick of “I Will Dare”, but as it turns out, it was just beginning to work its magic on me — could be exponentially better than even Hootenanny.
I’ve always said that in an alternate universe, a better universe — which, right now, anywhere is better than here — “I Will Dare” was the first of a string of Replacements songs that didn’t just connect with their burgeoning cult, but with the wider audience in general. So maybe, in this alternate universe, “I Will Dare” cracks the Billboard top 40, or even 30, and that’s just the beginning. In this alternate universe, maybe that up-and-coming band R.E.M. also have hit singles instead of disappearing forever, and the two bands become like the Beatles and Stones of the 1980s, trading off singles back-and-forth, culminating with a glorious month in late 1987 where the top three songs on the Billboard charts are “Alex Chilton,” “The One I Love” and “Where The Streets Have No Name” all hit #1.
OK fine, that was probably never going to happen, but it would have been pretty fucking cool if it had.
“I Will Dare”
“I Will Dare” live 1991
“I Will Dare” Live in Tempe, 2014
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