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Best k.d. lang songs: 10 Playful And Proud Queer Anthems

Best k.d. lang songs: 10 Playful And Proud Queer Anthems

Breaking conventions and challenging stereotypes, the best k.d. lang songs are seminal explorations of identification and desire.


One of the most electrifying images of the 90s was the 1993 Vanity Fair cover of k.d. lang, sitting in a barber’s chair, being lathered up for a shave by supermodel Cindy Crawford. Queer, playful, proud, multi-layered: the best k.d. lang songs are as incredible as that photograph. “Androgyny is making your sexuality available to everyone,” lang said in the accompanying Vanity Fair interview, “using the power of both male and female.”

In 1993, lang was already nearly ten years in to a career that had travelled from country music mainstream pop success. “Elvis is alive,” Madonna once said of lang, “and she’s beautiful!” Just like Presley, k.d. lang knows the power of roughing up country music, of winning hearts with her pure tenderness, and of seductive suggestiveness that makes pulses flutter.

Doing all that and more, here are the best k.d. lang songs.

Listen to the best of k.d. lang here, and check out the best k.d. lang songs, below.

10: Summerfling (from ‘Invincible Summer’, 2000)

Verdant and optimistic, Summerfling is a song of healing and rebirth. It’s warm in every sense of the word. It’s also from lang’s poppiest album, Invincible Summer, a journey she had previously resisted taking. “I just got to this point where I went, You know what? I love pop music,” lang said in 2000. “Who are you kidding? You know you like it as a listener, so why can’t you do it as a singer? And then I just fell in love with people again. I fell in love with life and I accepted the fact that I liked pop music.”

Melancholy rather than bliss is lang’s usual métier, so hearing her contentment on Summerfling is a rare treat among the best k.d. lang songs. “Happiness is a tough thing to contain in a piece of art,” she has said. “There’s much more fodder for art in the dark side, I think, just because happiness is a tough thing to make new. Happiness has gotten a really bad reputation and I think it’s overlooked as corny or shallow or trite, but I don’t know why it’s gotten such a bad rap. I think it’s just as legitimate if it has integrity.”

9: Theme From The Valley Of The Dolls (from ‘Drag’, 1997)

Drag, lang’s 1997 album of cover versions, contains many incredible reinterpretations – but this take on Dionne Warwick’s original is truly glorious. The 1967 film Valley Of The Dolls, about three women struggling in showbusiness and developing addictions to “dolls” (barbiturates), fits into Drag’s wider themes of addiction and habit, particularly via cigarettes, all delivered with torch-song smokiness.

“I obviously knew that it was a controversial subject,” lang said in 1997, of Drag. However, she denied that the album was a “pro-smoking” record, and stated that she took great pains to make sure smoking was represented as a neutral, rather than positive, activity. “To me it’s more of a documentary on what’s happening in the history of cigarettes,” she said, “and how they’ve been in art, and life, as a symbol.”

8: Pay Dirt (with The Reclines) (from ‘Angel With A Lariat’, 1987)

Called a “Canadian cowpunk” by Rolling Stone magazine in 1985, k.d. lang ensured her early country period was as far from the glossy establishment sound as possible – and that was just the way she liked it. “If I abided by their rules, they’re sure I could sell a lot of records,” lang said in 1989. “They’d like to see me co-write with a Nashville songwriter, and have a contemporary Nashville producer produce me in Nashville. They’re very incestuous.”

Instead, as on Pay Dirt, lang finds her own way. It’s near-anarchic in its sound and contemptuous in its lyrics, almost cosplaying country music, yet without any ironic distance in lang’s performance at all. One of the best k.d. lang songs of the era, Pay Dirt, alongside other tracks on the Angel With A Lariat album, found an audience beyond country fans. It was lang’s first crossover success, being picked up by college radio, and was the first of her releases on a major record label.

7: Honey And Smoke (with Neko Case and Laura Veirs) (from ‘case/lang/veirs’, 2016)

When k.d. lang moved to Portland, Oregon, she met songwriters Neko Case and Laura Veirs. Soon after, lang emailed them both, saying that she thought the three of them should make a record together. They replied almost instantly, saying yes, and thus began one of the most intriguing collaborations of lang’s career. lang’s original idea – for a punky, punchy girl group – gave way to a subtle, dusky, deep collaboration between three diverse voices.

“It was an amazing experience, and I felt a full spectrum of emotion,” lang said in 2018. “It was extremely difficult and extremely rewarding, and it rejuvenated my love for music and my appreciation for the process of making art. To watch two other great artists go through their process in close proximity was very enlightening for me. For me, it released some of the built-up anxiety about the process… I love those girls, I think they’re extremely talented. Who knows what the future brings?”

6: Miss Chatelaine (from ‘Ingénue’, 1992)

“I’m really intrigued by European music in general,” lang said about the French mood of Miss Chatelaine. “Certainly on this record, I’m really focused on those influences. I’m in love with accordion, and I love very much my accordion player.”

A song that won lang her seventh Grammy award, Miss Chatelaine refers to the Canadian magazine Chatelaine – which had crowned k.d. lang its Woman Of The Year in 1988. lang also famously performed the song on The Arsenio Hall Show, wearing high hair, a ballgown and strong make-up. Amid appreciation from host and audience, lang stressed that the new image was ephemeral: “Don’t get hooked, folks,” she pointedly warned the audience.

5: I Dream Of Spring (from ‘Watershed’, 2008)

In the 21st century, lang’s release schedule slowed right down, and her recording of cover versions increased. She initially felt that her experience of writer’s block was due, at least in part, to the trauma of 9/11 and the difficulty she found in writing “frivolous” songs in the face of enormous tragedy. Latterly, and more positively, she has also attributed feeling blocked to her conversion to Buddhism, which, she said, “kind of changes your perspective. You do a lot of reconstructing of your ideals, and it’s an exhausting, consuming process. So for that period I found it a lot easier to do interpretive records.”

I Dream Of Spring is one of the best k.d. lang songs of her post-conversion years, a perfect mélange of her ever-widening stylistic vision. “It really feels like the way I hear music, this mash-up of genres, and I think it reflects all the styles that have preceded this in my catalogue,” she said of the song’s parent album, Watershed. “I didn’t feel the need to be genre-specific because this experience felt so wide open.”

4: Sexuality (from ‘All You Can Eat’, 1993)

A teasing, seductive song; lang seeking to tempt a previously straight (or perhaps closeted) woman over to her. lang was sure of her own sexuality from a young age, as she recalled in 1993. “When I was five, I remember playing Batman and Robin. There was one point in the play where we were going home to our spouses. I was playing with two little boys, and they said they were going home to their wives. I said I was going home to my wife, too. They said, ‘You can’t have a wife!’ I said, ‘Yes, I can.’ I remember that really clearly.”

It was always going to be tough for lang to follow the enormous critical and commercial success of the album Ingénue, and All You Can Eat doesn’t try to replicate its sound. It leans more into soul music and soul-baring, something lang knew was a challenge to her earlier country audiences. “To me, All You Can Eat is actually a better record [than Ingénue],” lang said at the time. “It’s a better, more accessible pop record. [But] it’s like people have to live with my music when it changes, before they can embrace it.”

3: Big Boned Gal (with The Reclines) (from ‘Absolute Torch And Twang’, 1989)

From the final Reclines album, Big Boned Gal is one of the most joyful listens among the best k.d. lang songs: a paean to a woman who’s proud to make noise and to take up space, who draws admiring glances from everyone and absolutely tears it up on the dancefloor.

The Big Boned Gal of the song comes from Alberta – just like lang herself. Raised in the Canadian West, lang spent much of her childhood in the rural Consort, where the nearest cities were over 200 miles away and the tiny town had 714 people, “one TV channel, one radio station, no movie theatres, one bar, one drugstore, no police – and no swimming pool”, as lang recalled in 1993. “There’s been some turbulence between my roots and me, but what I loved about it I still love about it.”

2: Lock, Stock And Teardrops (from ‘Shadowland’, 1988)

In her early career, lang claimed to be the reincarnation of Patsy Cline. Her band, The Reclines, was even named in Cline’s honour. Given her status as a country-music establishment outsider, it’s tempting to understand this as a purposefully provocative statement. But the beauty of tracks such as Lock, Stock And Teardrops proves the serious intent behind lang’s Cline worship.

The song, along with the rest of the Shadowland album, was produced by Owen Bradley. Bradley was a key figure in the development of the Nashville sound in the 50s and 60s, and produced Patsy Cline herself (including her big hits Crazy and Walkin’ After Midnight). Of lang, Bradley said, around Shadowland’s release, “she has a tremendous amount of energy and control, and she’s right on in pitch. She has good taste in what she does, and she can sing any kind of a song she wants to sing. And she’s young – she’s got a lot of years to go.”

1: Constant Craving (from ‘Ingénue’, 1992)

“It’s an acquiescence,” k.d. lang said, in 2017, about the meaning of her biggest hit. “It’s a summation of human desire. It’s like yes, OK, we all are heartbroken. We’re all nervous. We’re all vulnerable. We’re all hopeful, but at the end of the day, constant craving has always been.”

Initially inspired by Joni Mitchell’s song Black Crow (on the Hejira album), lang said to her then songwriting partner, Ben Mink, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could do a song with similar, flowing open chords?” The music for Constant Craving came quickly but the lyrics took months. Recording it was even more torturous; lang was, she later recalled, “singing off key and didn’t know why, a shocking thing for a singer to experience. Then it turned out a dental problem was affecting my hearing. I had root canal surgery and was cured. If you’re a terrible singer, get a root canal!”

lang had conflicted feelings about Constant Craving from the start. She stated, at the time, that she felt the song was too poppy for Ingénue; in later years she has reflected that she knew how good and accessible it was, that it could possibly be a big hit, and feared that her life would change as a result. The track that tops our list of the best k.d. lang songs coincided with lang coming out as gay to The Advocate magazine and the appearance of the iconic Vanity Fair cover, cementing its seminal place as one of the best LGBTQ+ pride songs of all time.

Constant Craving is a fully formed queer anthem and a universal love song; it is adored, to distraction, by fans of all sexualities and genders. lang, too, has latterly acknowledged how important the song is to her. As she said in 2017, “The song is part of who I am.”

Find out where k.d. lang ranks among the most pioneering LGBTQ+ musicians of all time.

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