It’s Wednesday and I’d like to welcome you to another installment of my weekly recurring feature, which explores a song I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date. In this case, it’s actually a tune by a band I haven’t written about until now, even though various fellow bloggers have covered them. Time for my first post dedicated to The Replacements! Courageously, I decided to pick I Will Dare.
Penned by the Minnesotan group’s frontman and main songwriter Paul Westerberg, I Will Dare first appeared in July 1984 as the lead single of their third studio album Let It Be. The album was released in October of the same year.
I Will Dare marked a departure from the band’s punk origins by embracing a more pop-oriented alternative rock sound. Like all but one of their other singles, I Will Dare did not enter the U.S. pop chart Billboard Hot 100. However, as Songfacts explains, the tune became very popular on college stations across the U.S. and got some airtime on commercial stations in big cities.
It probably didn’t hurt that R.E.M. lead guitarist Peter Buck frequently hang out with The Replacements at the time. They used his 12-string Rickenbacker on I Will Dare. While the band’s own lead guitarist Bob Stinson came up with the guitar riff, he had some challenges with the solo, so Buck ended up playing it. Songfacts notes his feel was inspired by Zal Yanovsky, guitarist and co-founder of The Lovin’ Spoonful.
Interestingly, Let It Be had a similar path to I Will Dare. While it missed the charts, became the band’s breakthrough album. It was well-received by music critics and subsequently ranked as one of the greatest albums of the ’80s by AllMusic and Rolling Stone. Let It Be is also included in Rolling Stone’s most recent September 2020 edition of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, ranked at no. 156.
BTW, in case you wonder, the album’s title was a reference to that other album you may have heard of. According to Westerberg, it was picked when The Replacements were looking for a title and decided to name the album after the next song they would hear on the radio, which happened to be Let It Be by The Beatles.
The Replacements also wanted to play a bit of a joke on their manager Peter Jesperson who was a big Beatles fan. Westerberg told Rolling Stone the title “was our way of saying that nothing is sacred, that the Beatles were just a damn fine rock & roll band. We seriously were gonna call the next record Let It Bleed.”
Following are some additional tidbits about I Will Dare from Songfacts:
U2’s “I Will Follow” irritated Replacements frontman Paul Westerberg so badly that he wrote two songs about it. The first was “Kids Don’t Follow,” the second was “I Will Dare.”
Westerberg saw U2 perform at Uncle Sam’s nightclub in Minneapolis in April 1981 on the backend of U2’s first international tour. Named the Boy Tour in promotion of the band’s first studio album, it started September 6, 1980, and ended June 9, 1981. (Peculiar though insignificant factoid: U2 played another club named Uncle Sam’s on that tour – this one in Buffalo, New York, on December 8, 1980.)
U2 played “I Will Follow” twice the night Westerberg saw them. He appreciated the sound but took umbrage with lyrics he interpreted as a statement about youth in general. This was a misinterpretation on his part because Bono wrote “I Will Follow” for his deceased mother, but Songfacts didn’t exist in 1981, so there was no way for him to know that.
Westerberg immediately wrote “Kids Don’t Follow” in response to the show. The song leads off Stink, the 1982 EP they made following their debut album, Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash. He wrote “I Will Dare” a couple years later in 1983 as the Replacements’ second studio album, Hootenanny, was being mastered. He felt it was the best song he ever wrote and wanted to get it on the album, but it was too late in the process, so it ended up on their next one, Let It Be.
“I Will Dare” has a few layers of meaning. In addition to sniping at Bono, it’s a statement about the Replacements themselves. In Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements, Westerberg says, “Part of it has to do with the band: we’ll dare to flop, we’ll dare to do anything.”
It was also “a kind of love song,” according to Westerberg. An unnamed confidant in Trouble Boys says they believe that Westerberg might have been messing around with some ladies that he shouldn’t have at the time.
The timing worked out well because “I Will Dare” wound up being the opening track on Let It Be, the band’s 1984 breakthrough album.
The words “I will follow” are contained entirely between the titles of the two response songs “I Will Dare” and “Kids Don’t Follow,” though Westerberg never claimed to have intended this.
Westerberg plays mandolin on this song.
The Replacements 2017 album For Sale: Live at Maxwell’s 1986 includes a performance of “I Will Dare.” (see second clip above – CMM)…
…Part of the song’s success was due to its promotion. The Replacements’ label, Twin/Tone, was in a significant upward transition. Using money earned after their act The Suburbs took off earlier that year, they moved out of cofounder Paul Starks’ basement and into a set of offices in South Minneapolis. They were able to bring in new staff and to devote more time to the business, which led to a proper promotional buildup for the single and its attendant album. It was a new thing for the Replacements.
“I Will Dare” remains a favorite for Replacements fans. Many consider it their signature song. It’s highly acclaimed among music journalists as well: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame included this song on their 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll list.
Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; Songfacts; YouTube