Kay Hanley is an American alternative pop/rock solo artist, from Boston (Dorchester), MA, who is best known as the lead singer of the ’90s alternative rock band Letters To Cleo. Kay’s post-Cleo work has been successful and extremely varied including, in addition to her solo projects, the main theme song for Disney‘s My Friends Tigger & Pooh cartoon and others, the theme for Team Rose in the Sonic Heroes video game, and a tour of duty (2007-08) as a backup singer for Miley Cyrus on her “Best of Both Worlds Tour.” That last one, I’m sure, is because Kay’s daughter, Zoe, was the age of Hannah Montana‘s fan base at the time.
Kathleen Marie Hanley was born on September 11, 1968. She is 44 years old, but looks like she’s 34, and, dresses like she’s 24 (and, pulls it off!). In that picture above, she’s dressed like a big girl, but it’s my favorite picture of her. It was used on the cover of her debut solo CD. Kay fronted Letters To Cleo from 1990 until they disbanded in 2000, then for a brief reunion tour in 2008. The band’s best known song was “Here & Now” from their full-length debut Aurora Gory Alice (1993). Anyway, here’s an overview of Kay Hanley’s best solo moments, working backwards …
Kay’s latest project, Palmdale, is a collaboration with musician Kevin Dotson, who records under the name of Linus of Hollywood. Now, I own LOH‘s 1999 debut CD, Your Favorite Record, but it wasn’t my favorite record that year. The music is good and all, but Dotson’s voice, not so much. However, he is a talented songwriter, and the pairing of Dotson’s catchy songs with Hanley’s awesome pipes is a match made in power pop/rock Heaven! Palmdale has released 2 EP’s to date, Get Wasted! and How To Be Mean, both in 2010, and both are near perfect pop/rock! Listen once, and you will like Palmdale, but listen again, and you will love them! “Back when I was young / Full of piss and bubblegum,” Kay sings in the single “Here Comes The Summer,” and, I love that line! But, clever lyrics saturate these songs. In “How To Be Mean,” Kay sings, “No use fighting a war that you’ll never win … / Spit back venom disguised as saccharine …” And, I love how she laughs, briefly, in that same song, shortly after the bridge. In “West Coast Serenade,” arguably, their best track, I love how her dreams, in which she’s floating from place to place, are filled with morbid imagery: “And to pools in California / Filling up with dead skateboarders.” The last minute and 5 seconds of that song will have you tapping your foot or humming along, especially when the music stops, leaving only hand claps, Kay’s layered vocals, and Kay and Kevin’s Beach Boy-esque “oooohs.” Here’s hoping that Kay and Kevin make more beautiful music together!
Watch the videos for “Here Comes The Summer” and “Happiness Has a Half-Life” here:
Kay’s most recent solo disc, Weaponize, her second, was released in 2008, but, her solo debut, after the break-up of Letters To Cleo, Cherry Marmalade, was released in 2002. Cherry Marmalade is an impressive debut, filled with an eclectic mix of genres. My favorite track is the Americana ballad “Faded Dress.” She sings, sadly: “If you want to hurt me, it’s an unqualified success / And, I don’t want to hang around like a faded dress.” But, when she adds, “On the way out,” with those harmony vocals, it’s like angels singing, you know, if angels rocked. Elsewhere, “Fall,” “This Dreadful Life,” “Satellite,” “Made in the Shade” and “Mean Streak” are all good tracks. Weaponize is equally impressive, but, less eclectic. My favorite track is the acerbic rocker “Video,” in which Kay buys her favorite artist’s new CD only to find that it sucks, but … “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.” Dope? Do kids still use that? Well, at least, Kay doesn’t look her age! Elsewhere, “Take It Like a Man,” “It Hurts,” “Nicky Passes Marble Arch” and “I Guess I Get It” are all good tracks, too.
In 2001, Kay provided the singing voice of Josie McCoy (Rachael Leigh Cook) in the movie adaptation of the 1970’s Hanna-Barbera cartoon series Josie & The Pussycats. The movie sucked (despite the fact that Rosario Dawson was one of the Pussycats!), but, the music rocked! 11 tracks of insanely, addictive punk/pop were recorded for the fictional band with a little help from fellow pop/rockers like Bif Naked, Adam Schlesinger (of Fountains of Wayne), Dave Gibbs and Steve Hurley (of Gigolo Aunts), Matthew Sweet (one of my favorite artists of all time!), 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). “I’m a punk rock prom queen,” Kay declares, in the opening track “3 Small Words,” and, that’s an apt assertion for her, even though she’s singing as Josie! But, my favorite tracks are the punky title theme, and “Shapeshifter” (written by Kay and her husband, former Letters To Cleo bandmate Michael Eisenstein). I love the way she sings her dis to a Hollywood douche bag, in that song’s chorus: “If you think that’s cool, whatever, dude!” Those 11 songs make an awesome CD, and, not even in a guilty pleasure kind of way. The CD is just really good female-fronted punk/pop. And, if you don’t think it’s cool, well, whatever, dude!
In 1999, Kay, with Letters To Cleo, recorded songs for and appeared in the teen comedy 10 Things I Hate About You, starring the late Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. LTC is Bianca‘s favorite band in the movie. They appear, first, in the club scene, singing “Come On,” an original song, then, at the prom, singing Nick Lowe‘s “Cruel To be Kind,” and, finally, on the rooftop, over the end credits, singing Cheap Trick‘s “I Want You To Want Me.” The covers are two of the best covers ever recorded, as good or, arguably, better than the originals. I love them both. But, I also prefer Kay’s solo version of “Cruel To Be Kind” on a live CD recorded at The Paradise in Boston, MA. But, enough about Letters To Cleo, for now.
Kay Hanley (solo) Discography
2002.08.13 – Cherry Marmalade (Zoe) [Album]
2003.06.09 – Instant Live: The Paradise – Boston, MA 5/30/03 (Live) [Album]
2004.09.28 – The Babydoll EP (Dot Rat) [EP]
2004.09.28 – Instant Live: The Paradise – Boston, MA 8/26/04 (Live) [Album]
2008.06.06 – Weaponize (s/r) [Album]
Josie and the Pussycats Discography
2001.03.27 – Josie and the Pussycats (Music From the Motion Picture) [Album]