Increasingly, the question surrounding Juliana Hatfield is simply “What can’t she do?”
In a career filled with band breakups (the Blake Babies) and significant solo triumphs, the master of guitar-pop songwriting has really been stretching herself out these last few years. Outside of getting to finally reissue her acclaimed 1992 solo effort Hey Babe, her albums have careened between the political firebrands (2017’s Pussycat) and loving homages (last year’s aptly-titled Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John), spanning a full breadth of emotions and tones in such a short time.
So for 2019, Hatfield continues her potent brand of catchy songwriting but marries it to lyrics dealing with ennui, alienation, and the difficulty of fitting into modern society with her new studio album Weird. In many ways, the vibe of the album is a bit of a throwback to her early-2000s records, but her maturity and wit is on full display even as she juggles some treacherous topics, just as her idols like the Kinks and the Merge Records family have done before.
So to celebrate the occasion, PopMatters asked Hatfield to fill out her own “Fave Five”, this time choosing the topic of “Top Five Albums That Were Spun the Most on the Record Player of My Pre-Pubescence”. Given how much she nods her heroes on Weird, it was as fitting a tribute as we could’ve asked for.
1. The Kinks – Soap Opera (1975)
I don’t think I understood that this was a concept album about a rock star living the life of an ordinary working-class man. I just liked the songs. There was so much vivid imagery to amuse my young self: the ducks on the wall, the domestic drama, the man and woman interacting with their funny British accents. It was musical theater brought to life in my mind. It seems to me now, as an adult, that the Kinks have always probably appealed to children. The melodies are so fun and bouncy, but the music is also raw and a little naughty; it’s wild youth rock.
2. Queen – Jazz (1978)
It’s still my favorite Queen album. I have two copies on vinyl. I bought the second one after I wore out the first one. Brian Mays’ guitar sound blew my young mind. It seemed to have come from another planet. It sounded like one guy was playing a hundred guitars at the same time. It filled me with a sense of wonder and possibility. Plus, “Fat-Bottomed Girls” and “Bicycle Race” cracked me up.
3. Carpenters – Carpenters (1971)
It’s classic Carpenters. (“Superstar” is on it!) Their melodic and harmonic sensibilities were sublime and the whole album is a master class in song architecture. I’m sure that all of the hours and hours I spent listening has seeped back into my own body of music. The way that they could fit a bunch of words seamlessly, rhythmically, into a sophisticated melody is pretty mindblowing. And it’s not easy to do. It can get really complicated and frustrating. But they made it seem easy. And helped give me something to strive for; a standard of excellence.
4. Original Motion Picture Soundtrack: Grease (1978)
Olivia Newton-John was a major inspiration to me as a girl. Her grace, her charm, her humility, her talent, her work ethic. I saw this movie multiple times in the cinema at the Hanover Mall. At the time I couldn’t get enough of it, or of Olivia. It didn’t register to me that a 30-year-old woman was playing a teenager. If I were to watch the movie again now I don’t know how I would feel. A lot of time has passed. But I do know that I just listened to “You’re the One That I Want” and the bass playing is crazily good, and loud, and I never noticed that as a child. So the music, or that song, at least, holds up.
5. Tom Petty – Damn the Torpedoes (1979)
Just a solid, great band and tunes and a unique voice — cool, unpretentious, smart. And so red. Deep red. Red on red. I could sing the verses of “Here Comes My Girl” exactly, perfectly matching Petty’s phrasing and inflections. (” ’cause it just feels so good … so free … so right, I know … we ain’t ever gonna … change our minds … about it, hey … here comes my girl”)