Kate Bush is an artist I’ve always thought was really talented and important, but never got around to listening to anything beyond a select few popular songs. So this week’s Music Discoveries addresses that.
I first heard of Kate Bush 30 years ago through her duet with Peter Gabriel on “Don’t Give Up,” a song that always makes me feel very depressed (despite the fact that Bush’s lyrics are very uplifting, you just can’t fight those minor chords).
Watching this video now, I’m really impressed by the vocal performance by both Bush and Gabriel. I’m also wondering how many takes it took to make this video, because they’re embracing for six minutes uninterrupted here but could’ve spent the better part of the day hugging.
Kate Bush’s recording career begins in 1978 when at the age of 19 she released her first album of songs composed during her teenage years. Having a big hit album in the UK, Europe, and Australia at a young age is impressive enough, but she also insisted on a high level of artistic control, showing an amazing level of confidence.
Album: The Kick Inside
Release Date: 17 February 1978
Favorite Tracks: “The Saxophone Song” “Oh To Be In Love” “Them Heavy People”
Thoughts: Listening to this album I can can hear how Bush influenced a couple of generations of artists including in Tori Amos, Bjork, Joanna Newsom, and Grimes. Lush and lyrical with enough dissonance to keep one on their toes. Finishes on an unresolved note
This is probably sacrilege because it’s her most famous song, but I’m not all too fond of “Wuthering Heights.” That being said, I love the choreography in this video, and the bold audacity of it all. It’s clear that Bush came on the scene at the right time to be a pioneer in the artistry of music videos.
“Them Heavy People” is a mix of spiritual yearning with several heapings of humor. And there’s entertaining choreography in the music video.
Release Date: 10 November 1978
Favorite Tracks: “Wow” “Full House” “Coffee Homeground”
Thoughts: The record company rushed out a second Kate Bush album in 1978 to capitalize on the success of her debut. Most of the songs were those Bush had written before recording The Kick Inside, so the album does have the feeling of being outtakes hurriedly put together, but nonetheless manages to still be pretty good. Bush would go on to produce every album she made herself following this one, as well as taking all the time she needs between releases.
Bush gets a lot of mileage out of one little word in the chorus of “Wow,” her musical take down of show business. Her dance skills are on display again in the video.
Album: Never for Ever
Release Date: 7 September 1980
Favorite Tracks: “Breathing” and “Army Dreamers.”
Thoughts: I’m a fan of 1980s music, but when I say that this album sounds very 80s, it is not a compliment. Bush adds a synthesizer & drum machine to her repertoire and the album has a very artificial feel as a result. Mind you, mechanical-sounding music can be awesome, but for Kate Bush who exudes humanity in her lyrics and voice, it doesn’t work
Songs about nuclear annihilation were common in the early 80s. “Breathing” tells the story from the point of view of a fetus. Bush sings from a cellophane womb in the video.
“Army Dreamers” is similar to Elvis Costello’s “Oliver’s Army,” questioning the inordinate loss of the poor to the military and the family left behind. The video grimly depicts the folly of war.
Album: The Dreaming
Release Date: 13 September 1982
Favorite Tracks: “There Goes a Tenner,” and “Suspended in Gaffa.”
Thoughts: This album introduces a new style for Bush, her voice sounds lower, her singing style changed. The music is even more experimental with clever dubs and effects. The change is from 70s prog rock to 80s alternative music (for lack of better terms) and sets the template for her next three albums.
“There Goes a Tenner” tells a comic story of a bank robbery gone wrong, musically mixing a music hall sound with New Wave.
Another song about spiritual yearning and loss with gaffer’s tape as an interesting metaphor. The video features another interpretive dance and … OMG look at that 80’s hairdo!
Album: Hounds of Love
Release Date: 16 September 1985
Favorite Tracks: “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)”, “The Big Sky,” “Cloudbusting,” and “Jig of Life”
Thoughts: I kind of feel like that guy at a concert who cheers when the song he’s familiar with is introduced. Suddenly I’m listening to the Kate Bush songs I actually know and love. And hey, two thematic suites. Is Janelle Monáe a fan? The dramatic effects on “Waking the Witch” remind me of what Tears for Fears & Erasure were doing at that time. The Celtic fiddles on “Jig of Life” also seemed to presage the Celtic music trend of the following decade.
“Running Up That Hill” is not only the best Kate Bush song, in my opinion, but also one of the great songs of the 1980s. The video features her most impressive dance performance yet, but the cowards at MTV were too chicken to show it because she wasn’t lipsynching.
“Cloudbusting” is another song I’ve loved for quite some time – partially due to the sample of the chorus in “Something Good” by Utah Saints. Despite the optimism of those lyrics this is a sad song based on the true story of Austrian-American psychologist William Reich and his son Peter who attempted to use a device to seed clouds to make rain. Donald Sutherland plays Reich in the video, while Bush uses her acting skill to bring out the childlike facial reactions of Peter.
Like “Cloudbusting”, “The Big Sky” captures memory and emotion of being a child in a beautiful way.
Album: The Sensual World
Release Date: 16 October 1989
Favorite Tracks: “The Sensual World,” “Love and Anger,” “Deeper Understanding” “Rocket’s Tail,” and “This Woman’s Work”
Thoughts: Molly Bloom and computer sex. Bush is on to something.
“The Sensual World” is Bush’s interpretation of Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in Ulysses. She recorded it as “The Flower of the Mountain” using the actual text from Joyce’s opus.
“Love and Anger” is probably my second favorite Bush song. It says so much about relationships. The video features another great dance performance.
“This Woman’s Work” is a touching ballad about a woman struggling through a difficult and her husband’s anxiety. Like many of Bush’s videos, the story is depicted in a literal fashion.
Album: The Red Shoes
Release Date: 2 November 1993
Favorite Tracks: “Rubberband Girl,” ‘The Red Shoes,” and “Why Should I Love You?”
Thoughts: In 1993 when alternative music had hit the mainstream, this 70s/80s innovator shows that she’s still relevant, although it’s not her strongest effort. The sound is more stripped down. There’s a lot of collaboration with other artists including Prince, Eric Clapton, Gary Booker, and Jeff Beck.
“Rubberband Girl” is a catchy tune about the desire for resilience.
Bush’s musical career is intertwined with dance so it’s not so surprising that she adapts the fairy tale of “The Red Shoes” to song, telling the story of a woman who dons magical shoes that make her dance nonstop.
Release Date: 7 November 2005
Thoughts: Bush returns after a 12-year absence with a double album. The first disc is standard album while the second one is a thematic suite. Lots of whimsy – reciting pi to music, an ode to a washing machine, and bird song. It’s more art, but not enough music. It was nice to hear one time but it’s not something I want to revisit.
The number pi set to music, but only part of it.
Album: Director’s Cut
Release Date: 16 May 2011
Favorite Tracks: “Flower of the Mountain,” “Deeper Understanding,” and “Rubberband Girl”
Thoughts: Remixed and rerecorded versions of songs from The Sensual World and The Red Shoes, which is probably unnecessary except for Kate Bush completionists. A bluesy, Rolling Stones-style remake of “Rubberband Girl” is the standout. It also includes “Flower of the Mountain” a versions of “The Sensual World” with the original Joycean lyrics.
Before Spike Jonze’s Her, there was Kate Bush’s “Deeper Understanding,” a song about a lonely man and his relationship with a computer. The 2011 version of this song features a video starring Robbie Coltrane.
Album: 50 Words for Snow
Release Date: 21 November 2011
Favorite Tracks: “Snowflake,” “Misty”, and “Wild Man”
Thoughts: Bush once again puts together a thematic album, doing what George Winston’s already done for winter, only with lyrics. It’s avant guarde/ art music with spare arrangements. Guest appearances include Elton John, an odd choice since I think of Bush & John being at opposite extremes of UK popular music in the 70s & 80s, and this song doesn’t play to his strengths. Stephen Fry also appears in a humorous number where he literally recites 50 different words for snow.
“Wild Man” is a sympathetic song about the yeti of the Himalayas. I like the vocal harmonies on the chorus.
That’s all for Kate Bush for now, although I’m sure she has more to offer in the future. I’m kind of disappointed with myself because I thought I’d like Kate Bush more. Her 80s albums The Dreaming, Hounds of Love, and The Sensual World are all spectacular, but I’m kind of “eh!” on everything before and after that.
What do you think? Are you a Kate Bush fan or is this all new to you?
Music Discoveries will return on June 1st when I will tell you what I learned listening to every album by Stereolab.