Thursday, May 7, 2015

Notes on The Replacements’ unironic cover of Kiss’s “Black Diamond”

As I’m travelling to Washington D.C. on Friday to see my favorite band ever, The Replacements, who are currently on what they are calling the “Back by Unpopular Demand” tour, I’ve been re-acquainting myself with their glorious catalog - re-listening to their albums, live bootleg recordings, B-sides, etc. 

All of which reinforced that I consider them that '80s band that got me through the '90s.

Some may be skeptical that it's just Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson from the original line-up, but I really like the replacement Replacements - guitarist David Minehan and drummer Josh Freese - and loved the bejesus out of them at Riot Fest in Chicago in 2013, so I'm really game for more.

A friend who is also going to the sold-out show, which unless it's postponed (the last two shows in Pittsburgh and Columbus were called off due to illness) is happening at a place called Echostage – billed as DC's newest and largest nightlife concert venue - mentioned the other day that a song he’d love to see them play is their cover of Kiss’s “Black Diamond” that appeared on their 1984 classic Let it Be. Man, I sure would too – the Mats (as fans call 'em - short for the nickname Placemats) really rocked that one, and to my ears gave it a little more of an edge than the original.

I thought of this when reading yet another piece about the Replacements online today, you know there are so many these days what with their reunion tour ‘n all, and it mentioned that “Black Diamond” wasn’t credited as a cover on the album.

So I went to my CD, and also grabbed my vinyl copy, and sure enough, there was no writing credit for the song on either. There’s no “all songs by” credit either, but it’s funny that there’s no mention of Kiss or specifically the songs' writer, Paul Stanley, anywhere.

Ed Condran, in the piece that mentioned this for, “The Replacements offer a slice of musical history,” wrote: “The Mats failed to credit Kiss. Nobody else would do that. I always forget to inform Gene Simmons that the Replacements were punk rock enough to appropriate from the most business-oriented rocker in the business.”

Doing some further Google research, I can’t find any comment about the cover by any member of Kiss. Simmons, or one of his people, posted a video of “Black Diamond” as covered by Pearl Jam on his Facebook page, but no mention of the Mats’ version anywhere. Makes me think that Simmons is like Jon Bon Jovi (or Axl Rose) and has never heard of the Replacements, and if he has would probably not be impressed and loop them in with the bands that he says look like “pizza delivery boys.”

Jason Heller’s in the A.V. Club’s 2013 primer “A beginner’s guide to Paul Westerberg and the Replacements” wrote that that the cover “refuses to acknowledge the existence of irony.” It’s an apt description as most folks, particularly rock snob hipsters, would think covering Kiss would be a tongue-in-cheek gag but what makes it soar is how seriously straight the Mats play it. Even live, where the band could be at their drunk sloppiest, they never mocked the song.

In Jim Walsh’s book “The Replacements: All Over But the Shouting: An Oral History,” Craig Finn of The Hold Steady put it this way: “I had grown up on Kiss, but I understood them to be so square. And I was so blown away to hear them covering ‘Black Diamond.’ Because I didn’t have the perspective that of course they liked Kiss. I was still figuring it out. They were certainly embraced by critics and elitist people, but not for being elitist.”

Yes, of course they liked Kiss. That’s the feeling you get from listening to them tackle the 1973 track – they were sinking their teeth into delicious riffs and intense lines about street hookers doing smack, because they were genuinely down with it. They wouldn’t have put it on Let it Be, right before “Unsatisfied” mind you, if that wasn't the case. That album’s “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out" and “Gary’s Got a Boner” were the joke tracks, not “Black Diamond.”

According to The Replacements setlist wiki, they haven’t played the Kiss cover since 1989. I’ll be very surprised if the re-united band will break it out at tomorrow night’s show at Echostage in D.C. but I bet if they did, the response would be tremendous without a trace of irony in the house. And that’s definitely no joke.

Correction: On closer inspection of my vinyl copy of Let it Be (a French pressing btw), on the actual record the name Stanley is credited in tiny print. I don't have a copy of the U.S. version on vinyl, but I bet the upcoming re-issue will have it credited. 

For the record, here's Kiss's original:

And the Mats':

Which do you prefer?

More later...


  1. Love them both! Grew up on Kiss and recently became a 'Mats fanatic - saw them in Forest Hills last year. I was hoping that as an homage to Kiss (Stanley and Simmons grew up in Queens) they'd do the song, but alas, no dice.

  2. The live at maxwells version Definitly kicks ass!