Cover Versions: Take Your Head Off My Shoulder by Blake Babies
Juliana Hatfield is one of the most star-crossed singers of modern times. Seriously, she should’ve been the biggest star in the world, and I’m far from the only one that said that. Even in her heyday, people exalted her genius on magazine covers and critical acclaim. And then between the universe conspiring against her and her general own fragile sensibilities something would happen to just stop all of her momentum. I mean “My Sister,” “Universal Heartbeat,” “Spin the Bottle”, all stand as classics of the era. There was an awkward cuteness and plucky attitude that worked so well on record that an array of pretenders (Veruca Salt) totally xeroxed each step and attempted to make it their own to far more acclaim.
But then I discovered something…
Juliana Hatfield wrote a lot of great songs before that…on a cluster of albums that I didn’t really know about until a few years ago. I mean sure I had heard she was in some band called Blake Babies, but how was I to know they had actually been a fairly prolific recording and touring band? Well I suppose it’s my job to know these things…but part of the greatness of being really into music is discovering things you don’t know about. Even things you should…
How was I to know that with a bit of backup in the form of jagged yet poppy guitarist John Stohm and damage dealer and drummer Freda Love, that Juliana Hatfield seriously punched with the great indie rock bands of the day, and made every one count. In fact she almost sounds strong with her girlish pitchy voice that’s trying to rise up and free her soul of the entire daily shit that brings her all this emotional baggage. Of course it’s a battle she’ll lose, like anyone that lives and dies by their sensitivity, but man does it make for some great songs.
I could go on and on about how the song “Out There” is one the most fantastic hit/non-hits of the 80s.There’s no reason that song shouldn’t slot in on classic radio between “Here’s Where The Story Ends” by The Sundays and “There She Goes” by The La’s. The jangly opening chords, the produced drums that appear on like every record of the era, it all just sounds like pop greatness. And then there are those depressing harmonies that belie the cheeriness of the song itself. Only Juliana Hatfield could create an anthemic moment out of a self-exaltation like “I know it’s stupiiiiid” and make it sound like the kind of truth you’ll believe and sing, but never actually follow.
This resignation stands in total contrast with the earlier Blake Babies track “Take Your Head Off My Shoulder.” Again Juliana and co tell us just how much she both loves and is fed up with love. But, in this case the whole starts with a simple old-school 50’s rock and roll intro as opposed to the Byrds-ish chime used so effectively in “Out There.” Freda Love seems shot out of a cannon, with a quick simple rhythm that just lets Juliana go off. She just vents in these brilliant rhymes, all hyped up almost out of breath until the chorus…
That chorus, which of course is a take off of “Put Your Head On My Shoulder” by Paul Anka. (Even though when Blake Babies do it, it kind of sounds like a warped version of the Leif Garrett cover) It’s a revelation. Seriously, what is potentially less punk than Paul fucking Anka? Second it’s the kind of feminist irreverence that the impending Riot Girl movement would try to refine into rock and roll defiance, and here’s this pitchy singer from Boston being lovelorn but actually sticking up for herself. None of the new wave girls stood up for themselves, not even Aimee Mann. And all the punks and post-punks never really admitted to being in love. They might allude to it, but they always wanted to show they were as tough as the guys.
“ Take your head off my shooooulder. I’m asking you to. I’m tired of all your charm. I’m tired of waiting on you.”
But, Juliana Hatfield loves. I mean really loves. And in one of the best sub 2-minute songs ever, right there with “Three Girl Rhumba” by Wire and “Beverly Hills” by The Circle Jerks, she wants you to know just how much she loves and that because she loves, she will not be taking shit anymore. Rarely have truer words of self affirmation been spoken.