1. k.d. lang, “Sing it Loud” (2011)
k.d. lang is simply one of the best singers currently breathing. An intrepid boundary-crosser and rule breaker, lang has struggled with record labels from the jump. Her brilliant early work, generally labelled as “Alt-Country” at the time, was not embraced by the rigid Country music establishment. Though she had a significant moment of radio success and cultural presence with Ingenue in 1993, it didn’t last long. Then it was back to fringes, recording when she wanted and what she wanted.
“Sing it Loud” is a truly first-rate adult pop record that few outside her core fan base heard. This is a shame because both the song and the album are delightful—as ingratiating a slice of sensual music as has been created this decade. The song was written by album co-producer and co-writer Joe Pipasia. It is languid and moody; it takes its time; it is sublime.
lang has always been an iconoclast and may have, perhaps, made peace with the mainstream’s cold shoulder, but as a lover of great pop songs and real singing, I don’t mind telling you that I have done no such thing. The failure of “Sing it Loud” to connect with radio at any format reflects the overall sorry state of popular music. k.d. lang is not auto-tuned; she is real; she is exquisitely gifted; and when she sings—be it loud or soft—hers is a voice that must be heard.
2. Robin Thicke, “Brand New Jones” (2003)
“Brand New Jones” was the second unsuccessful single released from Thicke’s debut album (the first was a clever reworking of Walter Murphy’s “A Fifth of Beethoven”). For my money, “Brand New Jones,” a joyful piece of soulful pop craftsmanship, is far more compelling than many of Thicke’s subsequent hits. The album, A Beautiful World, only sold 63,000 units, but in a bit of old-fashioned artist development acumen, the label stuck with Thicke and was duly rewarded for their stewardship.
“Brand New Jones” remains a go-to song whenever I am driving or looking to feel uplifted; I’ll take it over “Blurred Lines” and its blurry provenance any day of the week.
3. Christine Russell, “Life Isn’t Fair” (demo) (1995)
When I first met Christine Russell in the mid-1990s, she was a singer/songwriter fronting a band. This demo was first played for me by my friend Steve Greenberg. I was drawn to its cinematic sweep and powerful message. It’s another one of the demos I’ve hung onto all these years.
If memory serves, Steve actually cut it with Daphne Rubin-Vega (from Broadway’s Rent), but it wasn’t released (or if it was released, it wasn’t a single). I don’t think Daphne really had the right voice for the song. I’ve remained friendly with Christine through the years and watched with admiration as she transitioned to a very successful career as a music publisher through her Evolution Music Partners company, (she looked after the late Gerry Goffin, among many others). A while back I asked her to send me the original demo I fell in love with and it was like reconnecting with an old friend.
Thank you Christine for the gift of this song. It may not have become the hit that it should have been, but it is part of the soundtrack of my life. Your own lyric is as good an explanation for what did not happen: life isn’t fair, but I am only so glad to still be out there pitching it for you.