100 Greatest Women, #73: k.d. lang

100 Greatest Women: 10th Anniversary Edition


k.d. lang

2008 Edition: #60 (-13)

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 Ingénue, 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. n 2006, Reintarnation was released by Sire, and it serves as the best retrospective of her country work currently available.  She then released a duet with Anne Murray on the legend’s hit, “A Love Song,” which appeared on Murray’s 2007 debut album.  In 2008, lang released her first album of new material in eight years, titled Watershed.  A 2010 collection, Recollection, was followed by another studio album in 2011, Sing it Loud, which was recorded in Nashville with the Siss Boom Bang.  In 2013, lang was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.  Her most recent release, case/lang/veirs, was a collaboration with Neko Case and Laura Veirs, released in 2016.

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)
  • Ingénue (1992)
  • What a Wonderful World (with Tony Bennett) (2002)

Industry Awards

  • Brit Awards
    • International Female Solo Artist, 1995
  • Canadian Music Hall of Fame, 2013
  • Grammy Awards
    • Best Country Vocal Collaboration
      • “Crying” (with Roy Orbison), 1989
    • Best Country Vocal Performance, Female
      • Absolute Torch and Twang, 1990
    • Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female
      • “Constant Craving”, 1993
    • Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album
      • What a Wonderful World (with Tony Bennett), 2004
  • Juno Awards
    • Best Album
      • Ingénue, 1993
    • Best Producer, 1993
    • Country Female Vocalist of the Year, 1989, 1990
    • Most Promising Female Vocalist of the Year, 1985
    • Songwriter of the Year, 1993

100 Greatest Women: 10th Anniversary Edition

Next: #72. Hillary Scott

Previous: #74. Sammi Smith


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