100 Greatest Women, #60: k.d. lang

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May 6, 2008

100 Greatest Women

#60

k.d. lang

One of the most unconventional female country stars in history, right down to the all-lowercase name.

lang was drawn to country music during college, primarily due to her infatuation with the work of Patsy Cline. She discovered Cline when she had to perform in a stage musical based on the legend’s life, and it led her to a professional music career. She put together a backing band called the Reclines in 1983, and started to play country bars across her native Canada. Two independent albums followed, and she garnered enough exposure to win the Juno award for Most Promising Female Vocalist, the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy. During her acceptance speech, she made a long list of promises for the future, so she could truly call herself the “most promising.”

Soon the American labels came calling, and she signed with Sire Records, home of Madonna, in 1986. Her first album with the label, Angel with a Lariat, won astonishing critical acclaim upon its release in 1987. When she teamed up with Roy Orbison to revive his standard “Crying,” she won her first Grammy award for Best Country Vocal Collaboration.

In 1988, she teamed up with Owen Bradley for Shadowland, a Nashville Sound masterpiece that was the artistic peak of her country career. One of the set’s highlights was performed on the 1988 CMA awards, where k.d. performed with Loretta Lynn, Brenda Lee and Kitty Wells. That set also included “I’m Down to My Last Cigarette,” a top ten hit in Canada and her biggest radio hit stateside.

That song’s peak position? #21. lang never made a strong impact on country radio, but became highly popular through other media forms. When Shadowland became a gold album without radio help, it began a trend that continues today with other country acts off the beaten path. She kept the momentum going with Absolute Torch and Twang, her country swan song that won her a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance, Female.

The lead single from that set, “Full Moon Full of Love,” was a decent-sized hit, but lang got more press for her vegetarianism and lesbianism in the early nineties. When she resurfaced in 1992, it was with a pop-flavored album called Ingenue, which featured her biggest hit to date, “Constant Craving.” Her performance of the song on the Grammys earned her a standing ovation, and she collected the Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female Grammy.

lang has been primarily a traditional pop artist since then, winning a Grammy with Tony Bennett in 2001 and covering Canadian songwriters on her Hymns of the 49th Parallel. Her time in country music hasn’t been forgotten, however, as CMT ranked her #26 on their list of 40 Greatest Women in 2002. in 2006, Reintarnation was released by Sire, and it serves as the best retrospective of her country work currently available.

k.d. lang

Essential Singles

  • “Crying” (with Roy Orbison), 1987
  • “I’m Down to My Last Cigarette”, 1988
  • “Full Moon Full of Love”, 1989
  • “Three Days”, 1989
  • “Constant Craving”, 1992

Essential Albums

  • Angel with a Lariat (1987)
  • Shadowland (1988)
  • Absolute Torch and Twang (1989)
  • Ingenue (1992)

Industry Awards

  • Grammy: Best Country Vocal Collaboration – “Crying” (with Roy Orbison), 1989
  • Grammy: Best Country Vocal Performance, Female – Absolute Torch and Twang, 1990
  • Grammy: Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female – “Consant Craving”, 1993
  • Grammy: Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album – What a Wonderful World (with Tony Bennett), 2004

==> #59. Carrie Underwood

<== #61. Carlene Carter

100 Greatest Women: The Complete List

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  1. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar says:

    I have several of kd lang’s albums which I have enjoyed ; however, she is better at pop than she is at country music. She’d be on my list of top 100 women but not nearly this high since she spent very little time in the genre, too little time to be considered very important to the genre.

  2. LeeannNo Gravatar says:

    I’m sure there will be argument regarding lang’s placement on this list, but I, for one, am extremely excited to see her here. I love the Roy Orbison duet and Shadowland album. She’s got powerhouse vocals, which is undeniably evident. I also thoroughly relish her version of “Hallelujah.”

  3. KevinNo Gravatar says:

    Leeann,

    The arguments about placing are just going to increase as the list further proceeds. While some may say she’s too high, she’s a full 34 spots lower on my list than she was on CMT’s, so I’m sure some will feel she’s too low. All I can do is let the list speak for itself. and not get too involved in the back and forth, though I think my personal tastes shine through in the writing rather than the ranking.

  4. I think she’s almost perfectly placed. Any higher and I would have been a little ticked off. Anywhere lower would have been fine as well. In my opinion she was well placed.

  5. LanibugNo Gravatar says:

    One of my favorite tribute albums is “Remembering Patsy Cline” and I was not much of a kd lang fan until I heard her sing Leavin’ on Your Mind on that album and then I started listening to her. She has an amazing voice, and it is well suited to both country and other genres.

  6. Leeann's Husband says:

    Even though it is a cover album Hymns of the 49th Parallel I think could be considered essential (despite being somewhat against the conventional rules) k.d. lang. It is also a good introduction with familiar songs. Hallelujah, on that album, for me leaves all other versions in the dust.

  7. CFNo Gravatar says:

    Ah, I love k.d. lang. I’m glad you included her. She has an incredible voice. I checked out her recent album that came out this year, and it sounds ok, but there’s one song on there that caught my attention: “I Dream of Spring”. That song is a mixture of all her styles all over the years, even country (there’s a nice, surprising, traditional country-sounding steel guitar in the chorus!).

  8. Anonymous says:

    Is k.d lang female?

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