Kay Hanley Isn’t a Faded Dress


Kathleen Marie Hanley

Kay Hanley was born in Heaven and sent down by God to share her lovely voice and talent with all the world. Or she was born in Boston, MA, on September 11, 1968. Either way, Kay Hanley is a singer/songwriter best known as the lead vocalist for ’90s alternative rock band Letters To Cleo, who scored a modern rock hit with their song “Here & Now”. Letters To Cleo disbanded in 2000, but, briefly reunited in 2008. However, on January 12, 2012, the band started trending online after Adam Scott‘s character wore a Letters To Cleo t-shirt on NBC’s sitcom Parks and Recreation; then, on April 24, 2014, the band reunited, again, for the show’s sixth season finale. They performed “Here & Now” at the Pawnee/Eagleton Unity Concert where Kay winked at superfan Ben Wyatt (Scott). Later, they joined Andy’s (Chris Pratt) band Mouse Rat on stage, and stopped by Tom’s (Aziz Ansari) restaurant. Parks and Recreation, by the way, is one of the best sitcoms on TV. Thank you, Amy Poehler. Anyway …

Letters To Cleo released 3 albums proper [Aurora Gory Alice (1993), Wholesale Meats and Fish (1995) and Go! (1997)]; and, in 1999, appeared in the teen film 10 Things I Hate About You for which they contributed, and performed, covers of Cheap Trick‘s “I Want You To Want Me” and Nick Lowe‘s “Cruel To Be Kind”. Letters To Cleo was a cool band, but, between their initial breakup in 2000 and their TV appearance in 2014, Kay Hanley wasn’t exactly hanging around like a faded dress.

Kay Hanley, post-Letters To Cleo, embarked on a successful and varied solo career. She provided the singing voice of Josie McCoy (Rachael Leigh Cook) in the movie adaptation of the 1970′s Hanna-Barbera cartoon series Josie and The Pussycats (2001), released 2 solo albums [Cherry Marmalade (2002) and Weaponize (2008)], 2 EPs with her collaborative effort Palmdale [Get Wasted! (2010) and How To Be Mean (2010)], and, appeared as a guest vocalist on many other artists’ songs (including Lisa Loeb, The Posies, Bowling For Soup, and, most recently, the NYC-based collective Gramercy Arms). She recorded a cover of Iggy Pop‘s “Lust For Life” for the soundtrack to the film Just Like Heaven (2005), and, co-wrote and provided backing vocals on the song “Hole” recorded by Fefe Dobson [from Sunday Love (2006)]. She was also the guest vocalist on the original 2002 version of Boston-based Dropkick Murphys“The Dirty Glass” [Stephanie Dougherty of Deadly Sins appears on the Blackout (2003) album version; and, Ms. Liza Graves of Civet has performed the song live with the band]. Oh, and Hanley also sang the National Anthem for the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium over 8 consecutive wins in 2010, and has been very involved with the Boston-based Hot Stove Cool Music concert and fundraiser.

Kay Hanley is also the mother of two children, with her former husband Michael Eisenstein (ex-Letters to Cleo); and, as such, has been involved with various kid-related projects. She co-wrote and sang the theme for Team Rose (“Follow Me”) in the Sonic Heroes video game (2003), sang the main theme song for Disney‘s My Friends Tigger & Pooh cartoon (2007), and, was a backup singer for Miley Cyrus on her “Best of Both Worlds Tour” (2007-08) [back when my daughter respected the former Hannah Montana star]. Currently, Hanley (with partner Michelle Lewis) composes the music for Disney’s Doc McStuffins.

I listen to my Kay Hanley playlist quite often. In fact, I listened to Hanley‘s best, at work, all last week. I begin my perfect playlist in 2010, with Palmdale, and, work backwards. However, as much as I like Letters To Cleo, I love Hanley‘s post-Cleo solo work a whole lot better, so I end my playlist in 1999, with LTC‘s songs from 10 Things I Hate About YouLTC‘s songs, in the film, are amazing, as is the film itself. So, here now is my perfect Kay Hanley playlist, 1999-2010 …

PART 1: Palmdale (2010)

Palmdale is Kay Hanley‘s brilliant collaboration with Hollywood, CA, musician Kevin Dotson (originally from Omaha, NE) who records as Linus of Hollywood. Dotson‘s catchy hooks and witty lyrics with Hanley‘s wonderful vocals are a match made in power pop Heaven! So, the first 5 tracks on my playlist are my favorites from Palmdale‘s 2 EP’s, Get Wasted! (2010.1) and How To Be Mean (2010.2) …

1. “Here Comes The Summer” (2010.1). This bouncy, energetic track is about boredom! “Here comes the summer / And it’s gonna be a long one,” Kay sings, but, she’s not excited it. My favorite lyrical witticism: “Back when I was young / Full of piss and bubblegum.” Watch the awesome video here …

Kay looks amazing, right? It’s pretty cool how she can wear those outfits and not look like a 40-something woman in a teenager’s clothes! But, she looks great in big girl dresses, too [see the photo at the top of this post]!

2. “How To Be Mean” (2010.2). This caustic barb dropped in the battlefield of love delivers my second favorite lyrical witticism: “No use fighting a war that you’ll never win / Off and runnin’ / Spit back venom disguised as saccharin / Keep it comin’.” And, I love Kay‘s smug chuckle over the super cool riff in the bridge!

3. “West Coast Serenade” (2010.1). This ode to the call of the California sound floats pleasantly on for three minutes driven by a lovely melody and lyrics filled with dream imagery. Very nice, but, at 3:11, the song picks up the tempo a bit, adding layers of Kay‘s vocals, then, at 3:58, the music drops out leaving only those layered vocals, handclaps, and Dotson‘s ooh’s and aah’s like post-grunge pop a capella for eight bars! Absolutely brilliant!

4. “Happiness Has a Half-Life” (2010.1). This track, like most of Palmdale‘s songs, hides melancholic lyrics under brighter pop melodies, but, only a little less upbeat. “Happiness has a half-life / Watch it go / Flyin’ me into midnight / Dark and alone,” Kay sings, sadly.

5. “Pick Your Poison” (2010.1). This track is about embracing just one vice: “Seemed like a good idea at the time / Not too sure what you had in mind / One more step and it’s a landslide / Gotta pick your poison.”

“Can’t Wait To See You” and “Pick Up the Phone” (both from How To Be Mean) get honorable mentions.

PART 2: Kay Hanley solo (2002-2008)

The next 12 tracks are my favorites from Kay Hanley‘s 2 solo albums. Cherry Marmalade (2002) was an impressive debut with an eclectic mix of influences that were still firmly rooted in LTC‘s catchy alternative rock. However, truth be told, her debut was a slow burn for me, but, eventually, it left its mark. Weaponize (2008) is equally impressive though just a little less eclectic. So …

6. “Faded Dress” (2002). This rootsy Americana-esque ballad is my favorite Kay Hanley solo track. “If you want to hurt me, it’s an unqualified success / And I don’t want to hang around like a faded dress,” she sings, crestfallen and forsaken; but, when she adds, “On the way out,” with those harmony vocals, my heart aches with her.

7. “This Dreadful Life” (2002). Slow, soulful verses give way to Kay‘s most infectious hook in which she embraces her maturity: “So gimme gimme gimme everything this dreadful life has got to adore / They said I had enough but now I think I really need some more / Because I like the sound of my feet hitting the ground.”

8. “Video” (2008). In this acerbic T. Rex-esque rocker, Kay buys her favorite artist’s new CD only to find that it sucks, but, she says: “I like your video, your video / I’ll admit that your music’s shit / I like your video, cuz in your video / You look dope with the volume low.” She adds, later: “It’s tough to hate when you look so great.”

9. “Satellite” (2002). This breezy track is about letting go, bittersweetly: “Satellite, I want you to be happy / And I only want you to be happy / And I know that I could make you happy / If you never left.”

10. “Fall” (2002). This track, like “Satellite”, is a hit that missed. The album’s title is taken from its lyrics – Kay‘s “red, fuzzy sweater” makes her “feel so safe and warm / Like cherry marnalade.”

11. “Made In The Shade” (2002). This moody mid-tempo rocker gets better with every spin. I love the grungy guitar solo, and I love this line: “But first do your worst / I got my best happy ending face on.”

12. “Nicky Passes Marble Arch” (2008). This upbeat pop/rocker with ringing guitars is about an unseemly international hook-up. “I’m across the world / You’re a good boy but I might be a bad girl,” Kay tells Nickey who’s “only 23.”

13. “It Hurts” (2008). A Cars-like synth underlays this track’s verses, while power pop chords drive the chorus. “It hurts and I can’t win / You could wreck me without trying / You think you got problems?” Kay moans.

14. “The Wrong Year” (2008). This track’s opening acoustic chords remind me of Carly Simon‘s “Anticipation.” The similarity ends there, since this song sounds more like The Replacements‘ softer side.

15. “Mean Streak” (2002). This upbeat rocker with a killer chorus is one of Kay‘s most LTC-esque solo tracks.

16. “Sheltering Sky” (2002). This pop/rocker is yet another hit that missed. Cool, twangy guitar solo.

17. “Galapagos” (2002). This beautiful ballad is one of Kay‘s best vocal performances. I love the pedal steel, too.

Kay Hanley, solo artist, also released The Babydoll EP (2004), and two live albums, Instant Live: The Paradise – Boston, MA 5/30/03 (2003) and Instant Live: The Paradise – Boston, MA 8/26/04 (2004). Sadly, no official videos, so watch this video for for the punky song “Work Is For Suckers” (2010) that Kay donated to The Right Track: Tunes to TargetCancer

“Take It Like a Man”, “I Guess I Get It” and “Think Bad Thoughts” (all from Weaponize) get honorable mentions.

PART 3: Josie and the Pussycats (2001)

Josie and The Pussycats (2001), the movie adaptation, sucked [despite the fact that Rosario Dawson was one of the Pussycats!]. However, Josie and the Pussycats, the fictional band, rocked! 11 tracks of insanely, addictive pop/punk were recorded with Kay Hanley on vocals and contributions from pop/rockers Bif Naked, Adam Schlesinger (of Fountains of Wayne), Dave Gibbs and Steve Hurley (of Gigolo Aunts), Jason Falkner (of Jellyfish), Matthew Sweet, Jane Wiedlin (of The Go-Go’s), Adam Duritz (of Counting Crows), and, indie punker Anna Waronker [whose song “I Wish You Well” was covered]. The next 5 are my favorites …

18. “3 Small Words” (2001). This track is pop/punk perfection! “I’m a punk rock prom queen,” Kay declares, in the song’s first line, and it’s such a fitting description of her even though she’s not singing as herself! Watch Rachael Leigh Cook as Josie McCoy on guitar and vocals (courtesy of Kay Hanley), Rosario Dawson as Valerie Brown on bass, and Tara Reid as Melody Valentine on drums, in the video for “3 Small Words” here …

OK, truth be told, the movie doesn’t totally suck. I just might re-watch it after this post.

19. “Josie and the Pussycats” (2001). This is the best version of a Saturday morning cartoon theme song ever! Other good covers include “The Tra La La Song (One Banana, Two Banana)” performed by Liz Phair with Material Issue and “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?” performed by Matthew Sweet.

20. “Pretend To Be Nice” (2001). This addictive track was written Adam Schlesinger, whose band Fountains of Wayne scored a hit with “Stacey’s Mom” in 2003. Schlesinger was also nominated for an Academy Award for the title track to the Tom Hanks-directed film That Thing You Do! (1996).

21. “Spin Around” (2001). This energetic track was written by Adam Duritz and Dave Gibbs. If you’ve never listened to Gibbs‘ awesome band Gigolo Aunts – do so. They will be your next favorite band.

22. “Shapeshifter” (2001). This track was written by Kay Hanley and her former husband and former Letters To Cleo bandmate Michael Eisenstein. I love the way she brushes off a Hollywood douche bag in the song’s chorus: “If you think that’s cool – whatever, dude!”

Josie and the Pussycats, the fictional Kay Hanley-fronted band, was awesome, and, not even in a guilty pleasure kind of way. So, if you don’t think that’s cool, well – whatever, dude! Yeah, I stole that last line from my post on my other blog. Sue me.

PART 4: Letter To Cleo (1999)

10 Things I Hate About You (1999), a modern adaptation of Shakespeare‘s The Taming of the Shrew, does not suck at all. In fact, it’s one of my favorite teen comedies ever; and, the short-lived (2009-10) ABC Family series (with Lindsey Shaw and Meaghan Jette Martin) based on the film was very good, too. The awesome film starred the late Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Larisa Oleynik, and Larry Miller (who was the only actor to reprise his role on the TV series). LTC‘s music was just an added bonus …

23. “Come On” (1999). LTC is Kat’s (Stiles) favorite band. She has tickets to see them play at Club Skunk. Patrick (Ledger) visits the club to find Kat while LTC performs this song. It’s not on the soundtrack, but, it later appeared on the B-side collection When Did We Do That? (2008). “Come On” is my favorite original LTC song.

24. “Cruel To Be Kind” (1999). This is a cover of the 1979 Nick Lowe classic. Patrick arranges for LTC to play at their prom for Kat, and they perform this song. Kay even struts across the dance floor to sing a verse to Kat. This cover, like the next one, is, at the very least, as good as the original. Hanley does an excellent live version, too, on Instant Live: The Paradise – Boston, MA 8/26/04.

25. “I Want You To Want Me” (1999). This is a cover of the (live) 1979 Cheap Trick classic. Kay Hanley is a big fan of Cheap Trick [remember the shirt in the Palmdale video?], and LTC even toured with them. LTC performs this song on the roof of the school at the end of the movie, as the final credits roll.

Letters To Cleo also wrote and performed the music, including the theme song, for all 13 episodes of The WB’s animated kids show Generation O! (2000-01) about an 8-year-old rock star. LTC disbanded after playing their last show on May 4, 2000.

PART 5: Letter To Cleo (1993-1998) … maybe later!

OK, so I didn’t really embrace Letters To Cleo in their heyday. I liked “Here & Now”, but, that was it. I started to embrace LTC a little more after watching 10 Things I Hate About You. LTC‘s versions of “I Want You To Want Me” and “Cruel To Be Kind” made a countless number of mix discs for years after that. Josie and the Pussycats with Kay Hanley on vocals was immediately appealing to me, unlike the movie, and, the soundtrack allowed me to appreciate Hanley a lot more. However, I was disappointed in her solo debut Cherry Marmalade because I was hoping for more Josie-inspired pop/punk. I listened once, then, filed it away. Then, in 2011, I stumbled on Palmdale and fell in love with their infectious power pop. So, I decided, after 9 years, to give Cherry Marmalade another shot. I listened, and, suddenly, everything changed. I don’t know what I missed the first time, but, I had instantly become Kay Hanley‘s biggest fan, and, I’ve been listening to her music, regularly, ever since. But, I still haven’t truly embraced pre-1999 Letters To Cleo. It’s funny how my obsessions work sometimes.


2 thoughts on “Kay Hanley Isn’t a Faded Dress

  1. Pingback: Fefe Dobson: “A little sugar, a little rage” | My Heart Explodes

  2. Pingback: “The Gravity Gun” and Lilan Bowden « My Heart Explodes

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