The ‘Apocalypse Now’ of Vocal Performances: The Story Behind “Unsatisfied” by The Replacements

When The Replacements made Let It Be, they were touring America in a van and making a name for themselves with their live shows. One night would feature a transcendent performance that tapped into the magical power of the foursome’s diverse influences, while the next could devolve into a drunken fight onstage between band members. The fact you never knew what you were going to get was part of the excitement of seeing a Replacements show. A band on the verge of total collapse at any given moment made the experience a chaotic thrill ride.

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Singer/guitarist Paul Westerberg, drummer Chris Mars, bassist Tommy Stinson, and his older brother, guitarist Bob Stinson, created more than the sum of their parts. Manager Peter Jesperson, who discovered the band from a demo tape dropped off at the record store where he worked, led the band to success, but did it lead to satisfaction? Let’s take a look at the story behind “Unsatisfied” by The Replacements.


The song began as an idea from Westerberg, who largely ad-libbed it in the studio. The emotion oozes out of the vocals and shows his vulnerability. The frontman’s interest in palmistry may have inspired the song. Multiple palm readers told him he was doomed to be unhappy forever. In 2006, Danny Murphy of Soul Asylum told journalist Jim Walsh, “One night when Paul and Mars and I were hanging out at Jesperson’s apartment, I bitched at Paul for playing like they were satisfied. It was during the Hootenanny (The Replacements’ previous album) days when, most of the time, they were just being funny or boring, and I needed so much more. It rankled Paul, and he stood in the doorway of Peter’s place, ticked off at me, and saying to Mars, ‘I’m not satisfied. Are you satisfied? Are you satisfied?’ The song ‘Unsatisfied’ came soon after.”

Look me in the eye
Then, tell me that I’m satisfied
Was you satisfied?
Look me in the eye
Then, tell me that I’m satisfied
Hey, are you satisfied?
And it goes so slowly on
Everything I’ve ever wanted
Tell me what’s wrong

The Guitars

Westerberg added the 12-string intro after the fact and overdubbed the lap steel parts. Guitarist Bob Stinson had yet to hear the song before recording it. Westerberg told author Bob Mehr, “We ran through it one time. Then [Bob] came in and played along for about half of it. [They] rolled the tape, and that was it. That one was really nice because there was no time to think. He played real well on that—reserved, but with emotion.” Bob disagreed: “If we’d put another five minutes’ worth of time into it, it would have sounded 50 times better.”

Look me in the eye
And tell me that I’m satisfied
Were you satisfied?
Look me in the eye
Then, tell me that I’m satisfied
And now, are you satisfied?

It Just Dawned on Him

The Replacements went on to sign with Sire Records and released critically acclaimed albums through the rest of the ’80s and ’90s. Their influence reached many artists. In 2006, Jacob Dylan told Jim Walsh, *I’ve always been a huge fan of Paul Westerberg. I really admired and was interested in the fact that he seemed to be this reckless character in this somewhat punk-pop group. He had this attitude; then somewhere, these songs started creeping through, songs like ‘Sixteen Blue,’ ‘Androgynous,’ ‘Unsatisfied,’ and ‘Answering Machine.’ You started to realize he had this undeniable gift for writing that the average guy in these kinds of groups could never touch on. He seemed to resist it for a long time, but he obviously was into something he couldn’t deny. To me, Paul Westerberg sounded like he never wanted to be a songwriter. He just wanted to be engulfed in this rock and roll outfit and make a lot of noise, play songs by the MCS, or something. Then, one day, it just dawned on him that he had this way of writing things that maybe he did or didn’t want to do.”

Everything goes
Well, anything goes all of the time
Everything you dream of
Is right in front of you
And everything is a lie

Apocalypse Now of Vocal Performances

The Replacements also inspired singer/songwriter Matthew Ryan. In the 2011 documentary Color Me Obsessed, he told film director Gormon Bechard, “It made me want to tell the truth in a way that was beautiful, and if it wasn’t beautiful, maybe it should be ugly.” He then referred to “Unsatisfied” as the Apocalypse Now of vocal performances.

Look me in the eye
And tell me that I’m satisfied
Look me in the eye
I’m so, I’m so unsatisfied
I’m so dissatisfied
I’m so, I’m so unsatisfied
I’m so unsatisfied

Entertaining Strangers

Playing in a touring band is taxing. It’s physically draining and emotionally exhausting. The constant travel and personal interaction really take a toll over time. Westerberg told Jim Walsh, “Everybody in the band has cried in the van on the way to the show. And Tommy [Stinson] did it the best once, when he was 15 or 16. He was looking out the window as we were passing some farm area, and he’s going, ‘That’s real; that’s life—a f–kin’ house, a home where you stay, where you live, where you wake up, where you work.’ Sometimes, it’s like what we’re doing is like this funky, weird little dream thing. And that’s the kind of stuff if you let it get to you, it’ll really get you down. That’s where ‘Unsatisfied’ came from. You just don’t know what you’re doing or why you’re doing it. You’re not really working a job for your life, you’re just sort of going around entertaining people; entertaining strangers. I feel like I’m doing something that’s sometimes fun and sometimes powerful but never really real. Not thinking about that stuff is the key.”

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Photo by Katie Stratton/Getty Images for Coachella

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