In high school I was lucky enough to have been introduced to The Replacements' album "Let It Be," just a few years after it was released, by a friend who had (and still has) impeccable taste in music. I remember falling in love with two songs in particular—Unsatisfied and Androgynous—both of which I still absolutely love to this day. To me both songs are pretty much perfect in every way. Someday I'll do a post dedicated to Unsatisfied, but for the rest of this post I want to focus on Androgynous.
If you haven't heard the song, you've really missed out—you should go remedy that right now (and you can do so, easily, by listening to the original and all of the covers I'm going to post here). If you HAVE heard the song, you know exactly how brilliant it is—lyrically, stylistically, and musically. When I first heard it in 1986 as a fifteen-year-old from a small conservative town in the Southern United States who had recently started attending a public residential boarding school with students from all over that same state, it felt like a glimpse into another world, where gender identity was fluid and creative and unbounded, where nobody cared if boys wore makeup or dresses, or girls shaved their heads or wore suits and combat boots. In fact, at my new school, everyone pretty much wore whatever they wanted to and looked however they wanted to. It was one of the first times I had encountered this kind of free gender expression, and Androgynous provided the perfect soundtrack.
Stereogum recently wrote about the song:
Do you ever think about the Replacements' "Androgynous," about how that song's existence is a total miracle? Nobody could accuse the '80s Replacements of performative wokeness, but in the perilous cultural era of 1984, these perma-drunk urchins still wrote and recorded a song about deep empathy that goes way beyond gender. There's nothing cynical or shitty about that song; it's just pure warmth and love. On top of that, it's a great song.
It's so great that lots of folks have covered it over the decades, and honestly, I love them all. First, though, here's the original version:
I know the Crash Test Dummies can be polarizing, but I personally love their version (1991):
Here's Ramin Karimloo's take on the song (2000):
Here's Joan Jett's version (2004):
Here's the delightful trio of Miley Cyrus, Joan Jett, and Laura Jane Grace singing Androgynous as part of the Happy Hippie Presents: Backyard Sessions (2015). Their YouTube page explains that The Happy Hippie Foundation, founded by Miley Cyrus, "is a nonprofit organization that rallies young people to fight injustice facing homeless youth, LGBT youth, and other vulnerable populations."
Here's a version by Ezra Furman (2019):
The most recent cover I could find is this one, by Nation of Language (2022):
Finally, here's a really interesting discussion/presentation by A Grrrl's Two Sound Cents (a "blog, podcast, and YouTube channel where we highlight queer artists, femme artists, and non-binary artists and focus on feminist historical recovery in music!") called "Exploring the Queer Text of "Let it Be" (2021), which they describe this way:
The Replacements' 'Let It Be' Album has inspired a legion of queer kids across several generations. But why is the queer text in their discography almost never discussed?"
I've heard Androgynous now hundreds, maybe even thousands of times. It's been on heavy rotation for me for literally decades, and I never tire of it. I hope you enjoy these covers—especially if some of them are new to you!