Tag Archives: Juliana Hatfield

Album #116: It’s a Shame About Ray, by The Lemonheads


It’s a Shame About Ray
1992, Atlantic. Producer: The Robb Brothers.
In My Collection: CD, 1992.

IN A NUTSHELL: It’s a Shame About Ray is a Generation-X jangle-fest. Great melodies, cool lyrics, and even some lead guitar now and then. There’s much to love here, even though it clocks in at under 30 minutes. It’s certainly a showcase for Evan Dando’s easy facility with melodies and hooks. The songs are super short, but they’re so packed with hooks that if they were longer they’d verge on cloying. As a Gen-Xer myself, I’m proud to have Dando and The Lemonheads on our team!


A year ago or so, the whole “OK, Boomer,” thing went wild around the internets. Teens and young adults mocked the outdated, bigoted ideas of many from the Baby Boomer generation by dismissing them with these clever two words. It’s a modern-day “Don’t trust anyone over 30” which, deliciously, targeted the originators of that 60s slogan, and I loved it. Except when my teenaged daughter would say it to me!

“Listen!” I’d say, “I don’t mind that you’re dismissing my opinion, but DON’T CALL ME A BOOMER! I was born in ’67 – I’m a Gen-X-er! I’ve been hating Boomers since at least 1989!” (Not all Boomers! Shout-out to Sandy, one of my most steadfast and engaged readers, who even helped me with my novel! She’s a great person with a terrific husband, Joe!) Collectively, the Boomers did some good things, but mostly they selfishly ravaged the planet while Kumbaya-ing all over themselves to cover up their smug, bullshit back-patting. As a true Gen-X-er, it makes me so angry that I shake my head and say, “Whatever.”

And while I agree that they listened to the greatest band ever[ref]A note: The Beatles are NOT Boomers – they were born during WWII, and so are part of The Silent Generation. Boomers are generally said to have been born between 1946 and 1964.[/ref], the often-espoused idea that good rock and pop began and ended with the Boomers is just one more example of why I think they’re generally a bunch of whiny frauds. Every generation makes great music, and one of the touchstones for Generation X music is The Lemonheads’ 1992 release It’s a Shame About Ray.

The Lemonheads, a Boston band, are essentially Evan Dando, plus a rotating cast of supporting musicians. Dando was kind of the grunge-ish, Gen-X version of a teen idol. Instead of the pre-fab, sparkling, unthreatening, beautiful teen-agers that generations past, and future, would foist upon the world, our team said, “here’s a shaggy, creative, beautiful young man, instead. Oh, and he’s a drug addict. Whatever.” But regardless of anything else he was (watch Dando charm David Letterman and his audience in 1992 – he really seemed to have the whole package…) Evan Dando wrote excellent songs!

The first song I remember hearing from It’s a Shame About Ray was the lead track, “Rockin’ Stroll,” a song about a baby in a stroller with a video about a baby in a stroller. It’s a minute-forty-five of total kick-ass.

The tumbling guitar riff is tight, and lyrics about a baby seemed so cool in 1992! The hookiness of the song can’t be denied, and it’s a characteristic of the entire album. These songs get stuck in your head, even if they can be difficult to sing along to. For a long time I sang the next song, “Confetti,” as “Hey, kindly share a soda with a lover or a cola.” My sister pointed out that the actual words, about unrequited love, were much better than that. David Ryan’s drums in the song are great, as is Dando’s guitar solo (1:45), a rarity for early-90s rock.

The songs on the album are short, all under 3:00, but they’re all such concentrated nuggets of pop charm that if they were any longer they’d overwhelm. The title track, with a video featuring another Gen-X heartthrob, fits a cool guitar riff, a great chord progression, and a note that sounds like it’s held for 12 bars (“Raa-aaa-aayy”) into a pleasing little gem. 100FaveAlbum member Juliana Hatfield plays bass on the album and sings backing vocals, as well. “Rudderless” has another great chord progression (two, actually), and more Hatfield backing vocals. Lyrically, it expresses experiencing life in a druggie malaise (“Hope in my past …”)

If folks were ever shocked about the fact that Dando became so hooked on drugs[ref]I saw The Lemonheads in SF in ’93, and Hole opened for them. Courtney Love and Hole were absolutely fantastic. I went in thinking she and her band were sort of phony-baloney, so I was truly blown away. However, Dando was clearly not up to performing that night. He almost fell asleep while singing. By the second half it seemed like some other drug kicked in, and the final third of their set was a blast. Roles were apparently reversed in this Variety-reviewed show.[/ref], they weren’t listening closely to his song’s lyrics.

“My Drug Buddy,” again with Hatfield, is a flat-out celebration of the camaraderie of drug use. Its organ riff is lovely, and the singalong melody is terrific. But as “The Turnpike Down” demonstrates, melody was never a problem for The Lemonheads. I don’t know what the lyrics are about, but it’s fun to sing “Butterscotch street lamps/ Mark my path!” “Bit Part” is lyrically far more direct, as the clamorous spoken-word opening makes clear. It’s a short song asking for a role in someone’s life.

It’s not just melody that makes Dando more than a pretty face. As “Alison’s Starting to Happen” demonstrates, he can also write some great lyrics.

Couplets like “I never looked at her this way before/ Now she’s all I see,” and, one of the best lines ever, “She’s the puzzle piece behind the couch/ that makes the sky complete,” are nearly XTC-level cleverness. The drums are great throughout, and I love the clanking bottles and cans in the wordless bridge. “Hannah & Gabi,” a Country tune with unspecific lyrics[ref]Malcolm Gladwell has pointed out in his podcast Revisionist History that Country & Western music is stereotypically sad because its lyrics are generally very specific, as opposed to Rock lyrics.[/ref], has a really nice acoustic guitar intro from Dando and slide guitar from Steely Dan and Doobie Bros. veteran Jeff “the Skunk” Baxter. It’s a great song that breaks up the sound.

Then it’s back to the peppy jangle with “Kitchen.”

Great bass from Hatfield, fun hand-claps, and, at 1:18, some groovy ooo-bop-bops. It’s a rom-com song, reminiscing about the meet-cute in the kitchen. “Ceiling Fan in my Spoon” is a quick, thumping rocker, and about as close to the band’s punk roots as they would get by 1992. There are once again “bop-bops” in a chorus that’s catchy as hell. (No idea what it’s about, though.)

And I guess, despite my anti-Boomerism, I have to give it to them for the musical Hair[ref]Although, once again, the writers Gerome Ragni, James Rado and Galt MacDermot, were Silent Generations members, NOT BOOMERS! Boomers just acted like they were responsible for it. Typical …[/ref], which gave us “Frank Mills,” the last song on the record. It’s a cute acoustic version. Covering childhood memories is very Gen-X. Which is probably why Dando covered “Mrs. Robinson,” even though he hates the song and Paul Simon[ref]Paul Simon – also a Silent Generation guy, not a Boomer.[/ref].

The song was recorded to celebrate the 25th anniversary of The Graduate, but wasn’t on It’s a Shame About Ray. Dando didn’t want it on the album. But, once it became a hit, the Boomers in charge of Atlantic Records tacked the song onto the end of the record anyway. The creeps. I have an early edition of the CD, WITHOUT the song, and I’m proud of that. Which is a weird thing to be proud of. But whatever.

Rockin’ Stroll
It’s a Shame About Ray
My Drug Buddy
The Turnpike Down
Bit Part
Alison’s Starting to Happen
Hannah & Gabi
Ceiling Fan in My Spoon
Frank Mills
BONUS TRACK (not on my CD):
Mrs. Robinson


19th Favorite: Hey Babe, by Juliana Hatfield


[twitter-follow username=”100favealbums” scheme=”dark”]

Hey Babe. Juliana Hatfield.
1992, Mammoth Records. Producer: Gary Smith.
Purchased, 1992.

IN A NUTSHELL: Hey Babe, by Juliana Hatfield, is a straightforward 90s guitar-pop gem. Hatfield writes infectious melodies and the band behind her makes them sound alive and urgent. Her voice can strain at times, but it always suits the song, so I don’t mind. The lyrics are sharp, and offer a new perspective on relationships and culture. Get out your cardigan sweater and retro-Bobby Brady shirt, and re-live the early 90s with Juliana!

NOTE: The setup – below the line ↓ – might be the best part … Or skip right to the album discussion.
As I begin to discuss album number 19 in my list of 100 favorite albums, and considering the pace with which I am completing each post, I’ve realized I should be at Number 1 sometime around 2022. Since this process is dragging out so long, I thought it might be a good time to review the process and discuss how I got here.

It has also dawned on me that as we reach the Top Twenty, there could be some rather upset readers who begin to notice that A) their favorite record won’t be on my list; and B) their second-favorite record is ranked far lower than some lousy record by some dumb artist they never even heard of. This could cause the feeling among readers that “I just wasted 15 years reading this blog to find out this dude has shitty taste in music!!” (I will refund all the fees I’ve collected from any reader who makes this claim.)

Sometimes I reach an album and even I think to myself: “Really?? This record is this good???” But invariably, after I begin listening again, I realize: “Yes! This album IS THIS GOOD!!” Only once have I had a moment of doubt.

So once again, let’s review the process:

1) I listened to all* my CDs. This probably sounds more impressive than it really is. I know folks who have thousands, even tens-of-thousands, of all types of records. I only own a few hundred. I listened to them mainly in the car as I commuted to work. I only listened to CDs, so albums I have as computer files, or old cassettes, aren’t part of the pool. Sadly, I haven’t owned a turntable in a long time, in particular I don’t have one in my car, so all my vinyl records are ineligible, too.

* – I decided that Compilation Albums and Beatles Albums were ineligible. Compilation albums because these typically cherry-pick an artist’s best songs, which would be unfair; Beatles Albums because it’s me cherry-picking the 10 Best Albums in history ever, and so wouldn’t be fair.

2) I took notes and rated the albums 1 to 5 stars. This rating was based on my feelings after listening to the album. It wasn’t based on a considered, in-depth, song-by-song critique that analysed both the artist’s place in history and the importance of the release in the ever-expanding network of contemporary artistic expression; nor was it based on a fixed list of characteristics that excellent records must possess. It was simply based on how much I felt the old “I-fucking-love-this-record!!!” feeling while I listened.

3) I sorted by number of stars. Five stars on top, one-to-less-than-one-stars on the bottom. This provided what one would think was an objective-as-possible list of records ranked by “I-fucking-love-this-record!!!“-ness. However …

4) I accounted for my own self-knowledge. You see, the point of this endeavor was NOT to have an objective list of “best” albums, but to have a subjective list of “favorite” albums. So I had to balance out the “I-fucking-love-this-record!!!“-ness with some “I-have-a-soft-spot-for-this-record”-ness and some “Yeah-it’s-great-but-it-doesn’t-really-speak-to-me”-ness. This meant that some truly amazing records that I’d rarely listened to, like Sticky Fingers, ranked lower than some, well, less-excellent records to which I had strong historical attachments. Like Yes’s 90125.

This is because I wanted to write about why I love the records I love. I couldn’t say much about Sticky Fingers beyond, “Wow, I should’ve listened to this record more often!” But I could discuss 90125 for hours. (Sadly). (There was one record, though, that I hadn’t listened to much that catapulted into the Top 20 because of just how amazing it is, and that record is XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX, by XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX[ref]This information has been retracted at the insistence of my 100 Fave Albums Overlords.[/ref].)

5) The list was set and could not change. This post explains why.

I don’t look at the list, except during a very specific time period: after I publish a post. When Number 20 went up a while back[ref]I’m sorry it can take so long between posts! I have a life, which interferes with this list, which is why I’ll be doing it until 2025, goddamn it.[/ref], I pulled out my list, crossed Ghost in the Machine off, and looked to see what was Number 19: Hey Babe, by Juliana Hatfield.

I can’t say I was shocked, as I’ve raved about this record ever since it came out, and I knew it was on my list. But when I considered some of the hugely popular records, important artists and highly critically-praised albums that I’ve already had on my list, I wasn’t sure this little indie release by this rather-unknown, never-hugely-popular singer/songwriter would really hold up as a Top Twenty Pick. But the thing is: I love all the records on this list so much that at any given moment in time, the 98th record might be number 4 and the 20th record might be too low to make the list. In my mind, there isn’t really a whole lot to separate any of the records on my list. Instead of calling them numbers 100 to 1, I should really count them down as numbers 1.099 to number 1. That would be a more accurate appraisal of my relative consideration for all these records. So if you’re truly aghast that, say, Axis: Bold as Love and OK Computer are ranked so much lower than Hey, Babe, think of them as record numbers 1.049, 1.057 and 1.018, respectively, instead of 50, 58 and 19[ref]I know, I know, statistically-speaking there is essentially no difference between the value sets {50, 58, 19} and {1.049, 1.057, 1.018}. But this isn’t a Mathematics Blog.[/ref].

But numbers-schmumbers … I am NOT aghast by the state of my list! Hey, Babe is an excellent record! I first heard about Juliana Hatfield when her band The Blake Babies had a song or two playing on the old MTV show 120 Minutes. I thought they were ‘eh.’ I was living alone in a little cabin in the woods when 120 Minutes played the first single from Hey Babe, and I was hooked immediately. Kurt Loder did a little MTV News segment on her, and I went out and got the record. I’ve loved it ever since. It was never a huge hit, but it’s gotten some critical love upon its recent re-release.

The single that got me hooked is the first song on the album, “Everybody Loves Me But You.”

I have a history of liking acts with unusual vocalists. The Hold Steady, Sleater-Kinney, Rush … all these bands have somewhat divisive singers. Juliana Hatfield has a girlish, soft voice that strains to hit some notes, but I appreciate the punk spirit of singing the songs regardless. Her voice doesn’t at all hinder the terrific melodies she writes. This song starts with a cool guitar riff, and a descending bass line at about 5 seconds, then the main riff starts. She spits out the lyrics quickly. I’ve heard people criticize her lyrics as having too much “poor-little-girl-won’t-a-boy-save-me” emphasis. But I think this criticism unfair (and perhaps a bit sexist) – I’m a man, and I very-much relate to the first-person narrator that tells most of her stories. For me, most of the lyrics aren’t gendered. Anyone who’s ever felt the heartache of knowing one’s targeted “right person” never feels the same way for you can understand “Everybody Loves Me But You.” And her voice does some really cool things, like at 1:48 when she puts a flourish on the word “tired.” It’s a cool, catchy pop song with a cowbell breakdown at 2:30.

The album has a definite 90s, alternative sound, with distortion and furious strumming carrying the bulk of the guitar sounds. There is very little “soloing.” And the Pixies-ish loud-quiet-loud sound pervades. It’s all put to good use on “No Outlet.”

I like the guitar doodles behind the soft part, around 0:30, and how the song deftly transitions between loud and quiet. Around 1:40 there is a solo of sorts, just some long, held notes, until the song drags to a near stop at 2:40, then moves to a really nice bridge. It’s a really cool song with different parts and lyrics describing (I think) the frustration and regret (which men feel too) of physical connections made without the emotions that make them worthwhile. The riff heavy “Quit” is another dip into 90s motifs, including suicidal lyrics, that doesn’t work as well for me.

The acoustic song “Ugly” was ahead of its time, an introspective, woman-centered song a few years before Lilith Fair. It got a lot of publicity back in the day for its direct approach to the topic of women’s self-image. Then it got a little backlash for being too meek. To me, its just an expression by an artist of one thing she’s felt. And these expressions of self are part of what I love about the record.

For example, “Lost and Saved,” one of my favorite tracks for its music and for its lyrics that capture the craziness of falling for someone you shouldn’t.

It’s got cool dueling rhythm guitar coming from each speaker, and the drums, by Todd Phillips, really move the song ahead. Hatfield’s thin voice strains, but fits perfectly. What’s best about the song, though, is the chorus that swoops in (1:19), features great “ooo’s” and then falls into a creative guitar solo at 1:38 from guitarist Mike Leahy. It’s a catchy, 90s guitar pop song that I sing along with every time. In my mind the song is always paired with its follow-up on the record, “I See You.” It’s a song about obsession, and – like “Lost and Saved” – also features 90s folk-rocker John Wesley Harding on backing vocals.

It has another catchy melody that I find myself singing throughout the day when I hear it. I like the lyrics of this song: “I’m not a loser, I’m just lonely” is a phrase that many people knocked around by their heart’s status can relate to. Most of the songs on the record discuss non-existent, or really bad, relationships. The song “Forever Baby” tells the story of a woman who has settled for a way-less-than-ideal man. The lyrics are Elvis Costello-esque, with lines like “I hold him like a loaded gun/I know he might go off with anyone,” and “I see a long lost home in his eyes/He sees a nice hotel in mine.”

The relationship songs are good, but my favorites on the album are less direct, or, in the case of “Nirvana,” directly about a different kind of relationship.

It’s about Hatfield’s love of the band Nirvana, and it brilliantly expresses the effect that music can have on a listener. The song begins, appropriately enough, with feedback, and continues with crunchy chords from guitarist Clay Tarver. It’s an aggressive song that has a sweetly melodic chorus (1:13) much in the vein of many Nirvana songs. The harmonies are terrific, and I’ve always loved the lyrics “Here comes the song I love so much/makes me wanna go fuck shit up.” It’s the feeling I had when I heard Nirvana. And the bridge lyrics (2:20), about the effect of music, are also just right: “When the sound goes around/and goes in your ear/You can do anything/you have no fear!” It’s a favorite song of mine, and apparently Kurt Cobain liked it, too.

It’s a 90s album full of 90s sounds, 90s themes and 90s guest artists. Head Lemonhead, and fellow New Englander, Evan Dando appears on many songs, including The Lights, a slow meditation on lost love. But the best guest appearance is by Minutemen bassist, fIREHOSE leader, and all around terrific guy, Mike Watt on the song “Get Off Your Knees.”

Hatfield plays bass on all the songs except this one, which she turned over to Watt. And the bass really makes the song. It’s another of my favorites on the record, almost entirely because of the bass. It’s a fine, quick song, about something, obviously, but it’s all about the bass. Plus it serves as a nice introduction to the closing song on the album, the ambitious “No Answer.”

It starts off a bit searching, and unsure, but by 0:45 the sweet guitar by Mike Leahy brings it all back to a nice “doo-doo-doo” chorus. There’s a lingering guitar interlude which is allowed to build slowly to the second verse. At 2:25 Hatfield again salutes the effect a good song can have, singing “I jump in the car/turn the music on/I’m gonna be gone/Don’t know how long.” It’s another lost-love song, that after another sweet chorus breaks into an extended outro that cries out for a long car ride. It’s a terrific album closer.

Hey Babe is a totally early-90s record. In the early 90s I was unsure, changing … a young adult figuring things out and never thinking I’d one day be consumed with counting down favorite records and sharing my connections to them. I didn’t know what I was doing back then, and I don’t really know much more nowadays. I do know I have a list of records I’m counting down, and this one’s on the list. And now that I’m done writing about it I wonder: Shouldn’t it really have been higher on my list??

Track Listing:
“Everybody Loves Me But You”
“Lost and Saved”
“I See You”
“The Lights”
“Forever Baby”
“No Outlet”
“Get Off Your Knees”
“No Answer”