The soft-voiced Australian icon Olivia Newton-John meets waifish indie rocker Juliana Hatfield on Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John, Hatfield’s 15th solo album.
Unlike in romantic comedies, they do not “meet cute.” Hatfield, as is her wont (both as a solo artist and when she fronted the much-missed alt-combo Blake Babies), pays homage while she roughs up Newton-John’s easy-going early work (“I Honestly Love You”) and does a rocking number on the kitsch classic “Physical.” If Newton-John’s original was tricked out in bespangled spandex, Hatfield’s remake is a ripped-up LBD with stilettos.
“On this new record,” Hatfield has said, “I felt the need to rough up Olivia’s songs, to muss up their hair, to add a little grime. Because that’s who I am; I’m not as pristine or as strong a singer as her. So I had to play to my own strengths — to my scrappiness.”
And so Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John goes through the latter’s versions of “Xanadu” and “A Little More Love,” parlaying the sharp pop hooks of the originals into iterations that are fetching with some wear-and-tear on them.
In honor of both the artists and Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John, below is our Top 10 list split down the middle: the five best Hatfield/Blake Babies tracks and the five best ON-J cuts.
The 5 Best Tracks From Juliana Hatfield/Blake Babies:
1. “I’m Not Your Mother” (1990)
Alt-rock nirvana — released prior to the commercial juggernaut of the actual Nirvana — wherein Hatfield bitch-slaps a useless baby-man who has worked her last nerve. “I ain’t no goddamn foster home,” she spits out at her soon-to-be-ex before finishing him off with, “you’re a weakling, you’re a suckling lamb.”
2. “Everybody Loves Me But You” (1992)
Just to balance out the invective of “I’m Not Your Mother,” Hatfield turns the tables on the opening track of her first solo release, Hey Babe. Unrequited love — from either side — is a bitch.
3. “Choose Drugs” (2000)
Her fourth release, Beautiful Creatures, found Hatfield is a relatively mellow mood, as on this mid-tempo stunner that could be about anybody, though we’ve always secretly believed it was about her friend and frequent collaborator Evan Dando of The Lemonheads.
4. “Short-Fingered Man” (2017)
Last year’s Pussycat was a carnal cornucopia of middle-aged fuck songs. And though this short and rocky number is a scathing put-down of the title character who can’t get his lover to orgasm, I get a kick imaging it’s also about our current baby-handed president.
5. “Physical” (2018)
ON-J’s original is a disco wet dream and stone-cold classic, but this remake is dirtier. When Hatfield finally gets around to getting “animal” you can imagine her on all fours. I mean, ON-J got sweaty, but she was still always a lady.
The 5 Best Tracks From Olivia Newton-John
1. “You’re the One That I Want” (with John Travolta) (1978)
I will admit it, I’ve never been a fan of this clunky movie musical. In fact, I hate it. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love the soundtrack, nowhere more than on this duet with the still-thin, nascent star John Travolta. Come on, it’s catchy AF and neither star ever looked better.
2. “Xanadu” (1980)
Movie magic did not strike twice — this was a bomb of epic proportions that now has a rabid cult following of bad film aficionados — yet this title track was utopian, not to mention influential for generations of indie electro kids ever since.
3. “I Honestly Love You” (1974)
The critic in me balks at the treacle embedded in the gooey heart of this Peter Allen ballad, but the budding sensitive gay boy in me has always adored this track. And that’s the neatest trick a pop song can do — quell your objections while swelling your eyes up with tears.
4. “A Little More Love” (1978)
Not content to be the milquetoast songbird who ruled Adult Contemporary charts, ON-J rehabilitated her image to include some edgier rock tropes (the good-girl-goes-bad of Grease; the chunky lite-metal guitar riffs here). The results were mixed, as no matter how much leather or eyeliner she sported, her basic decency could not be erased. And when given the right material — as on this fine track from 1978’s Totally Hot — she made it work.
5. “Physical” (1981)
There were more adventurous dance cuts in the burgeoning electronic music of the early ’80s, for certain, but this blockbuster single never failed to start a party, be it in sweaty gyms full of workout fiends, at weddings or in discos that catered to all kinds of sexual appetites. It’s as cheesy today as it was upon release, and also just as liberating.