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Constant Craving: How k.d lang Created Perfect Hymn To Desire
UPI / Alamy Stock Photo
In Depth

Constant Craving: How k.d lang Created Perfect Hymn To Desire

A song that k.d. lang was ‘reluctant to sing’, Constant Craving is beloved by fans drawn to its mix of vulnerability and pleasure. Here’s why…

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Constant Craving, the first bona-fide hit by k.d. lang, was a revolution. This authentic maverick had taken the lessons of a years-long apprenticeship in country music, particularly her deep appreciation for the work of Patsy Cline, and created, in Constant Craving, a song every bit as intense as Cline songs such as Crazy or I Fall To Pieces.

The lead single of lang’s 1992 album, Ingénue, Constant Craving mixed vulnerability and pleasure. The tenderness of its sentiment was heightened by lang’s then recent coming out as a lesbian, and all the different layers of perspective that offered to the song; singers openly embracing a queer identity in their music was still rare in mainstream music at this point. Yet, as successful and widely loved as Constant Craving was, lang did not always have an easy relationship with it. She has said that she was “reluctant to sing or record” the song. She knew, even before it was released, that Constant Craving would change her life.

Listen to the best of k.d. lang here.

Who sang Constant Craving first?

k.d. lang was the first person to sing Constant Craving, the song she wrote with Ben Mink. “For me it’s like a spiritual, like We Shall Overcome: an inspirational song about getting through the shitty parts,” Mink said in 2017.

Mink has also revealed that, when he and lang started working on the song, it was in a slower tempo. This earlier version was audibly influenced by klezmer music, which originated in Eastern Europe among Ashkenazi Jews and developed a big-band quality when it arrived in the US. Reflecting its tempo, lang procrastinated over the actual recording of Constant Craving, too: she has admitted to having “dragged my heels” during the process.

The original version was in too low a key for lang’s vocals, and even when this was changed, she still had significant vocal issues when recording the song. “Recording it was tortuous,” she admitted in 2017. “I was 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!”

What year did Constant Craving come out?

First released as part of Ingénue, on 17 March 1992, Constant Craving was given a UK single release on 27 April and, as Mink remembered, “nothing really happened”. It reached No.52 on the singles chart and airplay was limited. However, a re-release, on 15 February 1993, was far more successful, getting to No.15 and resulting in a storm of publicity for lang.

“I guess part of me knew that it was going to be a big thing,” lang has said. She has also admitted that her awareness of the commercial potential of the song was a factor in her conflicted feelings when writing and recording Constant Craving.

What album was Constant Craving on?

Constant Craving featured on Ingénue, the second solo k.d. lang album, released in 1992. Initially, lang found Constant Craving an aberration on the album. “I was pissed off that we had this song,” she said. “It was poppy, celebratory, upbeat and didn’t fit with the mood of the Ingénue album.”

Ingénue was gentler and required more listener patience than much pop – and even country – music of the time. “I thought that I would just get killed for being so slow,” lang has said of the album. “And I did. There was a lot of criticism on the record when it first came out. [But] I purposely wanted to sing unornamented because ornamentation was really starting to take off in pop music. I feel like truth is centred… it’s still and it’s very plain. So I really consciously went against the grain with this record.”

Ingénue was an enormous worldwide success, going platinum in the US, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and lang’s native Canada. It was also nominated for the Album Of The Year Grammy in 1993. That same year, lang won Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for Constant Craving.

What is the meaning of the song Constant Craving?

“It’s an acquiescence,” lang has said of the meaning behind Constant Craving’s lyrics. “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.”

lang has claimed she was influenced by Joni Mitchell, particularly the flowing, open chords of Black Crow, from 1976’s Hejira. “The music came quickly,” lang said, “but I struggled to write lyrics for months.” Eventually, after finding the song’s title, the words started to click.

“Constant Craving relates to saṃsāra, the Buddhist cycle of birth and death,” she said, “but I wasn’t a practising Buddhist then so I honestly don’t know what the impetus for the song was. I just wrote it from the perspective of desire and longing.”

Who else sang Constant Craving?

k.d. lang’s voice is so singular that it’s hard to imagine anyone else singing Constant Craving. However, there have been three notable – and very, very different – cover versions of the song. The first came just one year after Constant Craving’s original release, in 1993, and was a reworking by dance-pop singer Abigail (who took a similar frothing of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit into the charts).

Canadian electroclash group Lesbians On Ecstasy tackled the track next. Renaming it Kündstant Krøving, the band turned the song into a riot of keyboards, stretched-out vocals and 70s gay disco, rendering it almost unrecognisable. “It just seems like a fun thing to explore what lesbian dance music would sound like,” said bandmember Bernie Bankrupt, “and since it was obviously gonna take a bunch of lesbians to try it, we knew we were the girls for the job!”

Next, Constant Craving was sung in 2011 by the Glee cast, in the episode titled I Kissed A Girl (about a major character coming out as lesbian). But this wasn’t lang’s first connection with Glee – she had previously provided vocals for its 2010 Christmas special, singing You’re A Mean One, Sue The Grinch about the show’s antihero, cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester.

In a final, strange coda, Constant Craving inspired The Rolling Stones’ 1997 track Anybody Seen My Baby. The similarities appear to have been unintentional, but when Keith Richards’ daughter pointed out the likeness, the Stones shared songwriting credits with lang and Mink. This, in particular, tickled Ben Mink: “When I was a kid in garage bands playing Stones songs, we used to joke: ‘One day the Stones will cover one of ours.’ So to have a credit reading Jagger/Richards/Lang/Mink is a childhood dream that I still can’t believe actually happened.”

Find out where Contant Craving ranks among the best k.d. lang songs

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