When we decided on a track from The Replacements for today’s throwback, we faced a tough prospect: so many of Paul Westerberg’s compositions deserve mention. But “I Will Dare,” released first as a single on Twin/Tone Records in July, 1984— shortly before the release of the band’s album Let It Be that October, on which the song served as the opening track—has long been considered a particular high point in the Westerberg canon.
“I Will Dare” is also a song patently rooted in its era—as resonant of the mid-80s as John Hughes films, Reaganomics, Cold War dread, and the dolor of salmon-pink wallpaper. Jangly and ragged, with a sort of ramshackle insouciance, the track suggests the tentative desires of adolescence set amidst a stultifying suburbia:
How young are you
How old am I
Let’s count the rings
Around my eye
How smart are you
How dumb am I
Don’t count any
Of my advice
Oh, meet me anyplace or anywhere or anytime
Now I don’t care, meet me tonight
If you will dare, I might dare
Westerberg’s narrator is self-effacing and guarded, yet full of expectation, with an almost giddy sense of possibility. Few songwriters, then or now, have more surely depicted the simultaneous wonder and uncertainty of adolescence.
There are other songs which manage a similar sensitivity to the topic; The Smiths’ “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,” released a couple years later, springs to mind—though Morrissey’s melodrama on that track exists in another register altogether. A better corollary for “I Will Dare,” both lyrically and sonically, is Big Star’s “Thirteen.”
As we wind down the 2016 calendar, here’s a little lift for your December Thursday.