Playin’ Makeup, Wearin’ Guitar: An Appreciation for “Left of the Dial”

By Heather Douglass [CC BY 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons By Heather Douglass [CC BY 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The Replacements ca. 1985 were a weary, strung-out band that was nevertheless at a creative peak.  Tim was the last album with Bob Stinson still onboard, as frontman Paul Westerberg was near the end of his tolerance of the guitarist’s substance-fueled, accelerating, shoot-ourselves-in-the-foot work ethic.  The band had a natural aversion to playing the music industry game, but there are signs of them starting to tire of their own stance.  For chrissakes, Tommy from The Ramones was onboard as producer to try and keep them on task.  “Hold My Life”, “Swingin Party”“Lay It Down Clown”, and “Here Comes a Regular” all convey a desire to summon the courage/will to fly straight for a while.

And then there is “Left of the Dial”.   A song imbued with deep emotion and gravity even without knowing the backstory, to me it had always been a wonderful credo for any alt-rock fan worth their Doolittle LP scratches.  The music I liked could not be found on most radio.  Only the stations that fade before you even leave town, with weary voices laughing.  You might be able to pick one up in the very next state.

I recently found some of the backstory.  The ‘Mats toured the southeast in 1983, and played with North Carolina band Let’s Active at a gig in San Francisco (definitely not L.A.).  Paul was drawn to guitarist/singer Lynn Blakey, they exchanged numbers, and he lost hers.  He heard her in a radio interview months later with the band, and his regret at losing her contact info inspired him to write a song about where he thought he’d still be able to find her.


JimK is amidst a relatively healthy 3/4-life crisis.  Infrequently heard on 107.1FM, Chicago’s Northside community station (CHIRP).