Have there been any singers to have captured same level of mystique as Kate Bush? Since making her debut in 1978 with Wuthering Heights, Bush has been an intriguing figure for the British press to follow, eventually culminating in her reputation as a recluse in the long wait between albums The Red Shoes and Aerial. Her discography spans decades, dives into more than a few different genres, and certainly has its ups and downs – Hounds of Love is widely regarded as one of the best albums ever, and has clearly influenced generations of quirky female singer-songwriters with its combination of synths, stories and sheer ambition. Bush’s discography, long as it is, might then be somewhat imposing for anyone deciding where to dive in. In attempt to pick up some of the best Bush songs, I sat down with my dad, a long time Bush fan, to discuss which songs we felt were most worth sharing.
So, first things first, Dad, what is your history with Kate Bush?
I think I first saw her back on Top of the Pops, dancing to Wuthering Heights. That was my first glimpse of her, and it was such a weird song and video. The theme itself was weird. I remember thinking that her voice was so out there, so unusual, yet she was still so young. She really grabbed the attention of everyone at the time, even those who didn’t follow popular music so much. To be able to write a song like that, and in fact the whole album The Kick Inside at the age of 18 was amazing. I really feel like there wasn’t anything else like it at the time, and there really hasn’t been since.
I remember I used to listen to albums with my friend when we were growing up – he was more into heavy metal really, but he had Bush’s album. This communal listening experience continued at uni, with a friend who had managed to get hold of what I have to imagine were some of her bootlegs.
Personally, I remember buying The Kick Inside and Lionheart, but lost interest a little bit during Never For Ever and The Dreaming before getting back into her through Hounds of Love. Since then I’ve dipped in and out of her discography – I’ve pretty much completely skipped over The Red Shoes, Director’s Cut and 50 Words For Snow.
Great, thanks for sharing. So, let’s get to the music. What is the first song you’ve chosen to share?
That would be In The Warm Room, from Lionheart.
It’s definitely a very languid track, and those vocals are very typical early Bush. Why did you choose this as one of your songs?
I chose this one because, as you said, I feel like it really sums up early Kate Bush. It’s beautiful musically, both her vocals and the piano. The arrangement particularly so. I think this song really manages to capture why she was so interesting – she seemed so alien and exotic in British society at the time. For someone growing up in the midlands, it suggested that there was this fascinating bohemian world out there, possibly in London. I remember she was going to perform this song on the BBC but they said she wasn’t allowed to.
For me, Lionheart kind of feels like The Kick Inside part two. How do you think this album stands up against Bush’s debut?
I think it’s difficult isn’t it. The first album was such a surprise for everyone that the second one was always going to struggle to have the same kind of impact, but I do feel it develops on her previous work. Her Englishness really stands out here and maybe that’s what makes her distinct from someone who is more heavily immersed in American culture. At this time, a lot of popular music was heavily Americanised.
Hounds of Love
One of my personal picks for anyone diving into Bush’s work would be the title track from her phenomenal 1985 album. It’s a song about being afraid of love, a really rather sad topic that contrasts with the bombastic production. That production is in fact my reason for choosing this song – in it, you can clearly hear the inspiration for the melodrama of Florence + the Machine and other alternative acts from the 2010s. It’s a song that still sounds as fresh and modern today as it did all those years ago.
Moving on from Lionheart then, what was your second choice?
This time, I went with Cloudbusting from Hounds of Love.
You’ve been a massive fan of this song for about as long as I can remember – you always used to make me listen to it through the Virgin Media music video library on our TV. What about it captures you so much?
Initially it was the music video that grabbed me. It’s one of those situations were you listened to the song and it was really catchy, but then you watch the video and you realise you had no idea what was really going on in the lyrics. I didn’t really pay much attention to the content at first, I just liked the sound and the production. Then I heard her talk about Organon and I had no idea what that was so I had to look it up. I listened to this song again and again, and I never got tired of it. It still sounds fresh, and, like with Wuthering Heights, it has such an unusual inspiration. It feels very uniquely Bush – it’s difficult to imagine any other British songwriters coming out with this song at that time. I also think the length kind of the song works because it has such drive to it rhythmically. And, even if you don’t know the subtext, it still has that emotionality to it that keeps you listening.
Why do you think Hounds of Love managed to recapture public attention?
I think the couple of albums after her first two maybe felt like they pushed a bit too far, whereas Hounds was much more mainstream. I think this was also her first time getting on mainstream American media. It’s definitely amore accessible album.
The Song of Solomon
For me, The Song of Solomon is one of Bush’s best songs. It stands out as a very sensual, sexual song released by a woman at a time when most songs of that type were very much male. There’s a different perspective here, an energy that feels distinctly feminine and raw. Definitely a stand out in Bush’s catalogue.
So, what’s the last song that you chose to share?
My last one had to be This Woman’s Work, from The Sensual World.
It’s a brilliant song, and I can definitely understand why you chose it, but I’d like to hear your reasons.
This song really reminds me of my mum. I don’t really remember it that well from the time it came out – I think I bought the album quite a while after it was released, maybe because I saw it reduced. I played it when I got home and felt that The Sensual World as an album has a very strong sound and vibe, which can, if you want to be critical, sound a little like background music. Some songs however, as with This Woman’s Work really stand out. It was originally written for a movie, which you don’t really associate with Bush. The phrasing is really interesting – as I’ve said before, she is distinctly British. I read before in an interview that she said she liked singers who sounded English and didn’t pretend to be American.
This is lyrically a very plain speaking song for Bush. Do you think this plays a part in its emotional impact?
Yeah, I think it did. She said she wrote it while watching a clip of a lady having a baby in the movie. The emotions are more direct, and it feels more like she’s talking directly to you than it perhaps does in some of her other songs.
A Coral Room
Bush’s first album after a twelve year break, Aerial has a variety of interesting themes and sounds, but none quite compare to the sheer beauty of A Coral Room. Written after the loss of Bush’s mother, A Coral Room sees the singer coming to terms with her grief and her memories. It’s an enchanting, visual song, one that demands to be heard.
Hopefully our discussion managed to shed some light on some of the best Bush songs to check out – she’s a massively varied artist, dipping into a variety of genres, and these are just the tip of the iceberg. Thank you for joining us today as we explored some of her works, and definitely take the time to dive in for yourself.