A Personal History of Music, Day 14: “Extraordinary Thing,” by k.d. lang

John Scalzi

I believe I was slightly behind the rest of my generational cohort in coming to k.d. lang. Most of the people who I know admire her work came on board with it in the Ingenue days, with “Constant Craving” being the Canadian singer’s biggest pop hit, now and then. I thought the song was perfectly fine, but it didn’t move me to think of her work as just another perfectly fine song on the radio.

What actually got me to k.d. lang was a follow-up album, Drag, an album of songs from other writers, where the (rather) loose theme was of cigarette smoking. I bought it because I had heard her cover of Steve Miller’s “The Joker,” which was terrific, slow and sultry and showcasing lang’s genius at musical interpretation and phrasing. The song was the album’s calling card but not its standout track; that would be Roy Orbinson’s “Til the Heart Caves In,” in which lang Orbisons her heart out. In truth the whole album was smartly done, and now lang had my attention.

It was Invincible Summer that brought it all home for me. Unlike Drag, lang wrote or co-wrote all the songs on Summer. Unsurprisingly, the album has the consistent feel of summer (it’s right there in title) — but for me, not just of summer, but late summer, where things are still hot but where the frenzy and crush of the crowd is over. It’s the summer afterglow, and there’s no rush, but there’s still possibility. It’s not the summer of teenagers and amusement parks and ice cream; it’s the one you get after that, when you’re grown up just a little more and can take a moment to appreciate the sunset over the ocean, possibly over a drink, with that person you’ve become increasingly intrigued with. As the kids say, it’s a whole vibe.

A number of tracks from the album capture that vibe, but none more perfectly than “Extraordinary Thing,” in which lang, posing as a rather ordinary person, celebrates the extraordinary person who has been put in her path, and is just… kind of overwhelmed? But tastefully! And in song! And with k.d. lang’s ability as a singer, which is, in a word, extraordinary.

And, well, look. Anyone who has ever looked at their partner and thought, Jesus, how did I ever manage to convince that person to be with me? knows exactly what lang is singing about here. I certainly did. I get this song every time I look at Krissy. I live it every day. My heart overfills with it. I’d sing it if I could. Fortunately, lang’s got that covered for me.

— JS

13 Comments on “A Personal History of Music, Day 14: “Extraordinary Thing,” by k.d. lang”

  1. It seems like a disproportionate of the artists who affected you were female, though I’m not sure what, if anything, that might mean.

  2. Loving this series of revelations and how mixed it is. As for KDL I still think “Wash me Clean” from the Ingenue album is the sexiest song ever written whatever your leanings. Seeing her perform this live was a seminal moment

  3. Still loving these, not familiar with the song.

    Typo in first line of third paragraph, land/lang I think?

  4. My favorite k. d. lang song will always be “Tomorrow Never Dies (Surrender)”. Written as the opening credits song for the Bond movie “Tomorrow Never Dies” lang really belts it out in a Shirley Bassey style. Unfortunately, some studio suit though lang wasn’t a big enough name to open a Bond movie with, and moved the song to the end credits.
    They replaced it with the forgettable Sheryl Crowe song, but pieces of “Surrender” can be heard throughout the soundtrack, reminding you that it is the real theme song.

  5. Reminds me of “Something About You” by Lucius, a song that reminds me of my (pointless) crush. Another song about loving someone who seems extraordinary to you.

  6. Another great K D Lang album is her duet album with Tony Bennett, himself a great crooner, who took up doing duets with a whole new generation of young singers at the end of his great career. I got my dad this album, he loved big band jazz, and he told me he doubted he would care for it. Wrong! A favorite of his as he approached 80…

    Her voice and talent is to die for…! Eventually you’re bound to feature someone I don’t love like this, but so far we are brothers in song !!!

  7. She does have one of the most wonderful voices in music. Her rendition of Hallelujah is beautiful, but not as beautiful as her cover of Neil Young’s Helpless.

  8. Thanks for the heads-up! I like new music to which I do my PT. It helps me do more. I found that out in the nursing home.

    The way you look at Krissy is how I look at my hubby. We’re married for over 20 years now and more in love than ever. I scared him when I was in the ICU in critical condition last month. (If I had all my thrusters firing mentally, I’d have been scared also.)

  9. I think I fell for her when I saw her on Peewee’s Playhouse, in this fabulous ironic cowgirl outfit. That led me to buy Absolute Torch and Twang and listen to it about a thousand times. I thought the follow up album, and Constant Craving, was less interesting. I really love that cowgirl sound. In my next life I hope to sing a tenth as well as she does.

  10. I got to see Lang in concert a few years back along with Neko Case and Laura Veirs, and they did a cover of “Helpless” by Neil Young, led by Lang, which was utterly sublime.

  11. Loving all these musical interludes… A few years younger than you but each post still sends me off on a magical mystery tour of old memories and previously forgotten moments…. and sometimes hours of autoplay on youtube…..