My Essential Juliana Hatfield Discography

Building off of my post from the other day, here's what I consider to be essential listening for those of you out there wanting to explore the music of the excellent Ms. Hatfield for yourselves. This is by no means complete - and won't be particularly enriching if you're looking for anything in the way of decent rock criticism - but I like this, and hope you will, too. And if you do, there's plenty of other material out there worth checking out on your own.

Solo:
Become What You Are (recorded under the name The Juliana Hatfield Three) - As I said earlier, the album that started it all for me, the one that shook my 17 year old life to its core (in a good way). Hook-laden alterna-pop that's alternately quiet and powerful, and occasionally both at the same time. The one CD in my collection I'd immediately go out and re-buy if it were broken/lost/stolen. Out of print, I think, but still pretty easy to find

Hey, Babe - Her solo debut. Musically, probably a better, tighter album than BWYA, but I discovered this later, so I lack that initial connection with it. Unsurprisingly, it still feels very much like a Blake Babies records, but the blueprint for her future releases is pretty much laid out here.

Universal Heartbeat - Came out just as the Alternative wave of the early 90s was starting die down, so it wasn't nearly as well-received as it probably should have been. The first third of the album is very strong, I'd even say almost flawless, but then songs alternate between very good and decent-but-not-memorable. The highlights outshine the lesser bits, though.

Bed - Lots of fuzz, feedback, and rawr on this. After her anticipated album God's Foot failed to materialize and an EP called Do Not Disturb came and went on a tiny label, I suspect she had a lot of anger to get out, and she did so here. Very late 80s/early 90s Boston alternative scene sound on this, and it suits her very well.

In Exile Deo - Sort of like Hey Babe or Become What You Are, but 10-15 years later. Killer power-pop hooks, melodies that nest in your brain, and clever lyrics, but benefiting from the experience and maturity those years brought with them. A return to form, but in a good way.

With Other Folks:
Blake Babies: Innocence and Experience and Sunburn - If you're unfamiliar with the Blake Babies and want an idea of who they were from start to finish, go with Innocence and Experience, a best-of compilations that also includes some demos, covers, and a live track or two. If you want the band at their best, or just want to hear one of the greatest under-appreciated alt-rock albums ever, Sunburn is the way to go. It's the perfect power-pop confection.

The Lemonheads: It's a Shame About Ray - Juliana plays bass and sings back-up here, and her presence is felt strongly throughout the album in terms of both sound and the general, I don't know, feel of the songs themselves. Also, IMHO, the best album from the Lemonheads' entire catalogue (which is pretty great in and of itself)... coincidence? Nope.

Saturday Morning: Cartoons' Greatest Hits - An album of cartoon theme song covers recorded by a variety of well-chosen bands and artists: Liz Phair & Material Issue did "The Banana Splits" theme, Matthew Sweet recorded "Scooby Doo, Where Are You?," and so forth. Juliana teamed up with Tanya Donnelly on the "Josie and the Pussycats" theme song, and it's about as awesome as you'd imagine.

Some Girls: Feel It - A side project with fellow Blake Baby Freda Love and Heidi Gluck from The Pieces. More power-poppy goodness. If you like the rest of the stuff above, you'll like this. 'Nuff said.

Juliana Hatfield & Frank Smith: Sittin' in a Tree EP - Juliana has a voice and guitar style well-suited for Alt.Country, so it's unsurprising that this team-up with Alt.Country band Frank Smith is quite good. Captures the sound, but leaves the twang at home. Always a good thing.

Other stuff worth checking out:

As I said, God's Foot, the follow-up to Universal Heartbeat, was never released. Most (if not all) leaked out onto the internet a few years later, and though the quality of the recordings that made it out weren't great, they certainly support the theory that it would have been among her very best albums. "Can't Kill Myself," a love song about how she could no longer even consider suicide because she doesn't trust anyone to look after her dog, is particularly good.

Her spoken word recording of Jack Kerouac's "Silly Goofball Pomes" from the Kerouac: Kicks Joy Darkness CD is freakin' adorable.

There's a live cover of the Jayhawks' "Blue" that's absolutely worth taking the time to find. I'm telling you, she's really good at the Alt.Country thing.

"Number One," a non-album track she released through her website a year or two ago, is one of the better record company kiss-off songs I've ever heard. I'd suspect it has its roots in the God's Foot debacle, but I'm not 100% sure.

3 comments:

De said...

Saturday Morning: Cartoons' Greatest Hits was one of the first CDs I ever bought (my parents wouldn't let me buy a CD player for years let alone while I was still in college). "Josie and the Pussycats" still gets a lot of play in my iPod.

My first experience with Juliana Hatfield was when the local alternative station WHFS played "For the Birds", which made me go out and buy the cassette tape of Become What You Are. She later appeared on the WHFS acoustic show and sang "Spin the Bottle" without being censored. No way that could happen in this day and age.

I'm not the fan you are, Bill, but I wholehearted agree with you that those songs definitely resonated more than the nascent grunge music that was taking over the airwaves at the time.

Diane said...

I want to find Juliana Hatfield's version of Blue (saw her last night and she was made of awesome).

Any suggestions?

L said...

This is such a great post. Very helpful guide to her music. Thanks for putting it together.