Once we reach adulthood, it's easy to dismiss childhood musical obsessions as frivolous rather than formative. That enthusiasm can be seen as embarrassing, or some form of misguided, or infantile, admiration. It's far more challenging to take the uncynical view and honor the passion behind the musical fixations of our youth.
For Juliana Hatfield, one of those enduring artists is Olivia Newton-John, the musician and actress whose supple, golden voice made her a country and pop megastar. The Boston-based musician's forthcoming album, Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John, is a heartfelt tribute, with an emphasis on Newton-John's '70s and '80s high points.
"I have never not loved Olivia Newton-John," Hatfield says in a press release announcing the album. "Her music has brought me so much pure joy throughout my life."
Accordingly, her take on "A Little More Love" — a song that originally appeared on Newton-John's Totally Hot, a 1978 LP released several months after Grease became a blockbuster — exudes reverence. The lush song retains foundational elements of the source material; a funky, echoing guitar riff punctuates the verses, while soapy keyboards froth underneath imploring choruses. Hatfield is also faithful to the song's undulating vocal melody, adopting a lean, even-keeled delivery on the verses, floating up in register to a breathy lilt.
The slight turbulence makes sense, as "A Little More Love" details the experience of being romantically entangled with someone who's both irresistible and duplicitous. The song's protagonist wonders if there's a way to curb the deceit — "Would a little more love make you start depending? / Would a little more love bring a happy ending?" — before hitting on what seems like a simple solution: "Would a little more love make it right?"
In the original, Newton-John sounds as if she's asking these tough questions to the rascal's face — a direct challenge to the person to get their act together. Hatfield, too, doesn't take the deception lightly. Tough electric guitar chords, which resemble the sound of someone strutting over crunching gravel, unfurl behind her, as she asks: "Where, where did my innocence go? / How, how was a young girl to know?"
Yet Hatfield's take is also more introspective, and has flickers of self-doubt. "A Little More Love" seems like her inner monologue, as she tries to parse whether this relationship is worth saving and, if so, whether love is the answer. As the song reaches its denouement, flourishes point to yes: Swells of Mellotron strings from a keyboard chime in, hinting that a weight has been lifted off her shoulders.
In the video for "A Little More Love," Hatfield goes about her day in solitude: playing handball by herself, visiting an uncrowded coffee shop, biking down empty streets with no particular destination in mind. The clip is an homage to idle childhood summer days spent lost in daydreams. It's not a stretch to imagine Hatfield might have done very similar activities when she was a kid — perhaps while listening to Newton-John, or imagining that, one day, she might have a glamorous career, just like her idol.
Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John comes out April 13 via American Laundromat Records. One dollar from the sale of every album will be donated to the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre (ONJ Centre).