"gradually, the synths of Running Up That Hill fills, swells and warms. It’s this song that reminds me most of childhood, Kate’s voice is the first real voice I hear."
There's much to discover in the world of Kate Bush. The first female artist to achieve a UK number one with a self-written song (Wuthering Heights) in 1978, the singer-songwriter has rightly gathered a devoted cult following - her influence and expansive catalogue, a highly revered phenomenon.
Whilst we never need an excuse to celebrate the genius of Kate, she continues to give us more and more reason. Now a resounding figure with today's generation, following the starring role of RUTH in Stranger Things, 2023 marks the 45th anniversary of The Kick Inside and a fresh edition of her lyric book How To Be Invisible. It has never seemed a better time to dig back into her brilliance.
Here to take us through the finer details, with fan expertise and a wealth of personal stories, is Rough Trade buyer Jamie Moir, ranking the entirety of her ten brilliant studio albums. Revisit one of the greatest voices of a lifetime and see where your favourite fits in below.
"It’s 1986 on an especially wintry night, I’m 7 years old traveling on the A90 between Aberdeen and Stonehaven in the back seat of my father’s sky-blue Volvo 240 estate car. My old man is at the wheel, fumbling around the door panel pocket for a cassette, any cassette, one to help pass the time. It’s a new one, The Whole Story by Kate Bush, with a massive Virgin Megastore sticker on it. He clunks in the cassette, there’s the audible whirr of the tape mixed with the wilds of the Aberdeenshire weather battering the car… Then, so gradually, the synths of Running Up That Hill fills, swells and warms. It’s this song that reminds me most of childhood, Kate’s voice is the first real voice I hear. It’s a song that will never leave me, and always reminds me of being safe, almost womb-like inside that Volvo estate, staring out into the dark, dark night - completely unaware of where life is to take me, the ups and downs, from the fun to the scary."
10. 50 Words For Snow
2011’s 50 Words For Snow is Kate’s first all-original LP since 2005’s Aerial. Her last album to date. So, now in 2023, it’s been a 12-year wait for fans, equalling that of 1993’s The Red Shoes and Aerial. Within the grooves you’ll find Rough Trade West regular Sir Elton John cooing with Kate on the slick Snowed In At Wheeler Street, the legendary Danny Thompson plucking the bass on Misty, ex-beau Del Palmer grooving with current-beau Dan McIntosh on Wild Man and Snowflake (which also features one baby Bertie on vocals). Stephen Fry guests as Professor Yupik, hired to recite fifty words for snow on the title track (personal favourites: “spangladasha”, “creaky-creaky” and “bad for trains”).
It’s a close-knit group, with Kate at its heart, and she’s let us in to pour a stiff one and wallow by the fire. Toasty as fuck.
Key Track: Among Angels
Swinging from a 6-year gap between albums to 9 months (Lionheart follows close behind her debut). The usual record company panic of keeping a good thing going, it’s a hurried project and one which frustrated still only 19 years old Kate. Nevertheless, there is still beauty and bedazzlement within. Hammer Horror is camp and theatrical Kate, and is one of many examples of her strong love of all things celluloid. Don’t Push Your Foot On The Heartbrake gives a good account of how The KT Band may have sounded back when they were rocking the shit out of South London pubs before Kate launched her solo career. The emotional cry of Wow is about the cynical, finickity side of show business (is there any other side?!) This is Kate’s attempt to “write a Pink Floyd song - something spacey”, but it’s the Vaudeville meets Brecht Coffee Homeground, which is the true hidden gem here. Mad as a box of frogs.
Pop Fact: Lionheart remained unreleased in the USA (until 1984), after her debut bombed over there. I know. What the fuck?!
Key Track: Coffee Homeground
The first of two albums released in 2011, Director’s Cut sees Kate return to material from 1989’s The Sensual World and 1993’s The Red Shoes. And why not? She can do what she wants. Usually, when an artist puts the car in reverse, it becomes a car crash, but this is Kate. Can she actually drive a car, though? Who cares. Get in! Production around the end of the 80s and start of the 90s was generally tinny-as-fuck, as the saying goes. Brittle, cold, thin, soulless, and now very dated. It’s one of the main reasons Kate went back, to have a good rummage and correct a few wrongs. Another key reason is related to her love of books.
Flower Of The Mountain was initially released as the title track of The Sensual World. Kate had originally wanted to use extracts from James Joyce’s Ulysees, specifically Molly Bloom's soliloquy, but at that time the Joyce estate refused. Fast forward 22 years and Kate gets her wishes. It’s a truly blissful track. Elsewhere you’ll find an almost equally devastating run-through of This Woman’s Work. Song of Solomon with the killer line “don’t want your bullshit, just want your sexuality” and Deeper Understanding, rightfully used as the promo single for the album. This track illustrates just how timeless Kate’s work can be. Released in 1989 it deals with Kate’s sadness towards technology becoming more prevalent in substituting human interaction with other humans.
"It’s essentially Blade Runner, set to music. Now in the present day, it's become even more relevant with the explosion of social media. She’s warned us, but who’s listening?"
Key Track: Flower Of The Mountain
So the story goes... 11-year-old Kate starts writing songs on the piano. A friend of the family plays various demos to record companies when Kate reaches 13, but everyone passes. The same friend plays them to one David Gilmour, who dips into his own pocket and gets Kate in to record some proper demos whilst Pink Floyd are next door in Abbey Road working on 1975’s Wish You Were Here. Two of those demos are used on The Kick Inside. The Saxophone Song and the startling The Man With The Child In His Eyes. I’m not sure what I was doing when I was 13, but if I were asked to write a song with as much depth, vulnerability and child-like wonder I’d just look at you like a slack-jawed yokel. For the latter track is one of those you swear the artist has lived a life first, only to reflect back later with such maturity to pen, much akin to a young Bob Dylan or Brian Wilson.
From the earliest compositions to the last - Wuthering Heights is added as a last minute addition after Kate stumbles home late one night to her Brockley flat, gaining inspiration after catching the end of a BBC adaptation of the Emily Bronte novel. Contrary to popular belief Kate is not a big Bronte fan, but is fascinated by relationships, and curling up in front of the telly.
A key event then happens to Kate. EMI are adamant they launch her career by releasing the radio-rocking (and in all honesty, fairly bland) James And The Cold Gun. Kate is pushing Wuthering Heights, EMI relent and Kate’s choice reaches number one for four weeks.
"It’s the first time in chart history a female singer-songwriter tops the charts with a self-penned song."
Quite the debut and feat for a 19-year-old woman in 1978. This is a big reason one should worship her, she was there, from the off, Kate being Kate. One doubts she was ever truly questioned again.
Key Track: The Man With The Child In His Eyes
6.The Red Shoes
Another nod to her love of film, The Red Shoes is recorded during a turbulent time for Kate. The end of her relationship with Del Palmer, the death of close-friend and guitarist Alan Murphy and of her mother, Hannah, all in a relatively short period of time. It feels like an album torn between two worlds, one of grief and one of marching on with a no-time-to-dwell, British stiff-upper-lip attitude. The latter is evident in bangers such as Rubberband Girl, the Naked-era Talking Heads groove of Eat The Music and the Prince-featuring and co-penned Why Should I Love You?
These numbers are placed amongst the more reflective - most evident on Moments of Pleasure, where Kate gives ode to the aforementioned Alan Murphy, Micheal Powell (of Powell & Pressburger, who in turn gave us the film The Red Shoes), dancer Gary Hurst and Bill Duffield, who died tragically during Kate’s 1979 tour (which was up until 2014’s Before The Dawn her only ever tour). But it’s the reminiscing of her mother that packs the most punch - “And I can hear my mother saying… "Every old sock meets an old shoe"... Ain't that a great saying?... "Every old sock meets an old shoe"... Here come the hills of time”.
Key Track: Moments of Pleasure
Kate’s third album, and the first where she edges closer to producing her own work - coupled with the first appearance of the Fairlight CMI digital sampler, which would loom large over upcoming works. Babooshka kicks off the album, a tale of a woman riddled with paranoia of her husband’s loyalty, so pens letters to him under the guise of Babooshka. The husband is attracted to the character who reminds him of his wife in earlier, more lust-filled times. The track ends with the sound of a smashed glass, sampled via the Fairlight, before segueing into the woozy Delius (Song of Summer). All We Ever Look For is no doubt a big influence on Björk, The Wedding List is a more refined, yet equally camp, Hammer Horror and The Infant Kiss (based largely on the superb and creepy 1961 film The Innocents, starring Deborah Kerr) shows Kate delving deeper into the psychology of relationships, no matter how unconventional.
It’s the last two tracks of the album which deserve the most praise however.
Army Dreamers is pop-perfection, a top-drawer McCartney-esque melody, with ingenious sampling of guns being cocked to offer a rhythmic bed (this is 1980 people!) for Kate to reflect angelic-like over a life cut too short by the absurdity of war. Breathing ends the album, an epic tale from the viewpoint of a foetus torn between leaving a nicotine-stained womb(!) and entering a post-apocalyptic world. It’s as ambitious as it is grandiose - but Kate is growing, and fast.
Key Track: Army Dreamers
Arriving 12 years after The Red Shoes, and Kate’s first as a mother, Aerial seemingly dropped out of the (honey) sky. King Of The Mountain is the lead (and only) single from the album, written some 10 years prior to any other tracks within. It deals with the pressures and expectations of fame, something Kate always loves to shirk. And rightfully so. We don’t own her, nor should we expect. Though when she does deliver, it’s time to get excited.
Akin to splitting Hounds Of Love into 'two sides', the album’s first half, A Sea Of Honey, features seven, unrelated tracks, whilst the flip - A Sky Of Honey - is a continuous suite based on a single summer’s day. You’ll find Kate singing with birds on Aerial Tal, pondering aloud during that very point day is fast becoming night on Somewhere In Between, bathing with a lover under the diamond sky on the beautifully blissed-out Balearic beat of Nocturn before joyously proclaiming on the final track “I feel I need to be up on the roof, up, up high on the roof, high, high on the roof.. in the sun” - as she welcomes in the start of a new day.
It’s the warmth, celebration and glow response to the Hounds Of Love’s cold, scary and icy second side, The Ninth Wave. A life-affirming experience, written and performed by a very proud mum.
Key Track: Aerial
On Kate’s sixth album, you’ll discover old friend David Gilmour shredding on the underrated Love And Anger, Michael Nyman arranging the (fantastic) Balanescu Quartet on Reaching Out, whilst the Bulgarian vocal ensemble, Trio Bulgarka, lend backing vocals to several tracks. The Fog features fiddler-for-hire Nigel Kennedy and Kate’s father’s dulcet tones, whilst her brother, Paddy, plays swishing fishing rod(!) on the title track. Heads We’re Dancing has Japan’s Mick Karn doing what he does best with a fretless bass, whilst Kate reflects on the fate of being asked to dance by Hitler, completely unaware of just how big a shit he is.
This Woman’s Work brings the album to a close, a song which contains an introduction so exquisitely heartfelt it could indeed produce blood from a stone. Written from a male point-of-view and specifically for the scene in John Hughes’ 1988 film, She’s Having A Baby, where Kevin Bacon’s character learns that the lives of his wife and their unborn child are in danger. The song still resonates with a timeless air and has been used countless times on other films, TV shows and adverts - a weapon to cut through any static, to simply deliver the cry of a woman, hurting. The hidden gem within is Never Be Mine a song besotted by the fine line of fate and inner turmoil to let go of it. “I want you as the dream, not the reality”, Kate reflects, knowing that fantasy will always arouse more than the truth, but never the twain shall meet. Much akin to a 13 year old penning The Man With The Child In His Eyes, it’s an astonishingly mature work for a 30 year old, produced sumptuously.
"The Sensual World is the answer to the question of how Kate would top her magnum opus, Hounds of Love, it may well forever live in its shadow, but more fool you if you decide to lurk there - for there is a ton of beauty within."
Key Track: Never Be Mine
2. The Dreaming
Sat In Your Lap is a thunderous tribal new-wave stomper, released over a year prior to what would become The Dreaming, this is Kate’s biggest leap to date. The lead song and album are entirely produced by Kate.
"Just a reminder, people, this is 1982. A woman calling all the shots to this extent in a predominantly male industry is as rare as hen’s dentists."
Couple this with Kate self-proclaiming this to be her “she’s gone mad” album and you’re in for a real treat. Fueled by late night Chinese takeaways, Kate and company hunker down to deliver an album showcasing an embarrassment of rich creativity - pushing, it seems, everything to the limit. For The Dreaming is perhaps her most misunderstood album, with no real overriding theme within, but it is the sheer (forgive me) balls of the album that endures, there is a lot going on. It’s a classic album you need to spend genuine time with, layer by layer each listen reveals more and more. It still sounds remarkably fresh in today’s sample-glitched pop climate.
She’s a Cockney on the pop-on-the-wonk There Goes A Tenner. She’s Houdini’s glamorous assistant on Houdini, chirping the line “with a kiss, I'd pass the key” (note key in Kate’s mouth on the front cover with Houdini played by then beau Del Palmer). She’s nailing the camp-Kate with the pure lushness of “Suspended In Gaffa”. She’s expressing both her maternal Irish roots and putting all other vocalists firmly in their place with the rousing, call-to-arms of Night Of The Swallow. She’s turned into a donkey(!) on Get Out Of My House - quite the way to bring the album to a close. The Dreaming is where Kate went there, only to come back, grab some much-needed fresh air and adopt a more work-from-home lifestyle. Strap yourself in, we’re about to go supersonic.
Key Track: Get Out Of My House
After the mixed response (and somewhat claustrophobic assault) of The Dreaming, Kate escapes London and heads for the hills. Setting up home near Sevenoaks, Kent, and employing her father to oversee a barn conversion into a 48-track studio on the family home at Wickham Farm in nearby Welling - this is Kate working-from-home, mid-80s style. Demos are cut in the barn using her beloved LinnDrum drum machine and Fairlight CMI, though instead of rerecording versions from scratch when the time comes to record in a professional capacity - Kate elects to record over the original demos - track by track - to help retain that woozy, warm sway that comes with those initial sparks of genius - the happy accidents, the magic.
The album is split into two distinct sides. The first, Hounds of Love, contains five separate tracks, four of which are the singles - and rank amongst the greatest in pop history. All have nature at its core, the great outdoors, Kate getting back to feeling the earth beneath her feet and asking questions to the big sky above. Running Up That Hill is the first composed for the album, written in a single evening at her home with the main riff played from sampling a cello on the Fairlight - the lyrics address the inability of men and women to fully "understand each other so why not “make a deal with god” and “swap our places”? Hounds of Love is about the fear of falling in love, being chased by a pack of hounds through the wilds of the open countryside and befriending a fox along the way, whilst Cloudbusting is about the close relationship between a son and his father (Wilhelm Reich) who invents a machine that can produce rain clouds. So far, so Kate.
The second side, The Ninth Wave, is a seven-track-segued concept based on the plight of a woman, adrift and alone in the sea at night - it was always envisaged by Kate to be a film. And Dream Of Sheep is the woman hopeful, though doubtful of rescue, as she drifts further and further into unconsciousness. Under Ice is where we find the woman skating on a frozen river, only to discover herself beneath the ice. A dream within a dream. On the following Waking The Witch various voices from her past try to rouse her (“look who’s her to see you”) before the music gives way to an Aphex Twin-esque onslaught of audio (with headphones on late at night, you will shit yourself). Pink Floyd’s helicopter, deployed on The Wall, is then hired to winch the woman to safety before drifting into yet another dream on Watching Me Without Me. Kate’s father delivers a monologue on the Irish-fuelled Jig Of Life, whilst the weary-eyed Hello Earth feels like a reboot from a near-death experience before The Morning Fog brings everything to a close with the celebratory lines “I'm falling and I'd love to hold you now, I'll kiss the ground, I'll tell my mother, I'll tell my father, I'll tell my loved one, I'll tell my brothers… how much I love them”.