There are few words to describe the talented singer Kate Bush accurately. She is, by and large, indefinable. Not only in her non-existent touring, her worldwide cultdom or her visionary ideas for creation but, perhaps most importantly, in her songwriting. One of the most potent curators of pop in modern memory, Kate Bush is inimitable in her construction, delivery and integrity. It makes selecting her greatest songs all the more difficult.
That’s because, unlike most artists, each one of Bush’s albums, from 1977’s The Kick Inside all the way up to 2011’s 50 Words For Snow, has been entirely different from the last. Of course, there are some similarities; Bush’s unique vocal style naturally remains a constant throughout her output. But, by and large, Bush has developed a career that never uses a stabilising foot; instead, she always drives forward artistically and creatively. If, for some reason, she cannot envisage the next footprint on the ground propelling her and her art forward, then she simply doesn’t take it.
It’s without question that Bush’s career is unlike any other. But that doesn’t mean she can escape the usual trappings of pop music, such as her greatest songs being ranked for our sadistic muso pleasure. Such an occurrence has taken place here as we pick out Kate Bush’s ten greatest songs of all time.
Usually, when creating such a list, a body of work is easily distinguishable into ‘good’ or ‘bad’. That’s because most bands and artists have peaks and troughs in their career, usually starting out as vibrant and vivacious as possible before fading away and slowly dwindling into obscurity. For Kate Bush, there is no such simple pattern to follow.
Yes, she arrived being championed by Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour as the saviour of pop music. She quickly made good on the promise with the record-breaking ‘Wuthering Heights’, but her career continued to go upwards from there, rarely looking back at earth despite the odd engine splutter, perhaps providing one era-defining crescendo with Hounds of Love from 1983. But, thereafter, Bush continued to develop her sound and transform her output from album to album, culminating in 50 Words For Snow which is one of the most spiritually enriching concept albums you’ll ever come across.
All of that speaks highly of Kate Bush is one of Britain’s finest artists — certainly the most unique. Below, we’re giving you a taste of that uniqueness with our list of Kate Bush’s ten greatest songs of all time.
Kate Bush 10 best songs:
Released as part of the 1980s effort Never for Ever, the album had a lot to live up to. It was released following Bush’s iconic ‘Tour of Life’ and, following such a painstaking set of performances — one which would render her unable to perform live until 2014 — Bush was given more time to create. It produced a fantastic record, on which ‘Breathing’ shined as one of the best.
Closing the album, Bush is in full flow as she delivers a piercing piano-driven ballad. Another showing of Bush’s inimitable style, she manages to feel as old as a World War I poet and as fresh as the Fairlight she wrote it on.
It’s a beautiful piece that perfectly captures the buoyant beauty of Bush’s output.
9. ‘Hammer Horror’
Following on from her debut LP, Lionheart was always going to struggle commercially. Bush’s debut record had set a high standard, and it’s only on a few songs that Bush really leapt over the pop music bar that had been set. But, there’s no doubt that ‘Hammer Horror’ is one of them.
Using Bush’s eccentric style to make the opera of her thoughts come to light, the album does a great job of displaying the jumping-off point Bush had now secured herself. ‘Hammer Horror’ is a track completely enraptured by the dark and light of life, effortlessly creating shadow theatre across the backdrop of pure Baroque pop.
The third single released from the record, the song tends to operate in the darker reaches of Bush’s canon but should be illuminated whenever possible.
It’s well-known that Bush took a long break from being in the limelight to look after her newborn son, but it wasn’t until 2005’s Aerial that she made it all into a song. The year welcomed Bush back into the music-making fold, and it seems only fitting that the best moment of her return would come with a song about why she left in the first place.
‘Bertie’, a song written about her son, is a celebration of the love and clarity he had provided her life. It’s not necessarily the most famous song on the album, but it does the best job of expressing the emotions of Bush’s life at the time.
The track features in our list because it perfectly illustrates one poignant reminder of Bush’s talent: the singer may have returned to a new century of pop music, but she didn’t adjust her style one bit, proving she was always a timeless pop queen.
7. ‘Hounds of Love’
The title track from her iconic album Hounds of Love, the first notes of this song, set you up perfectly for what will be an incredible LP. The track arrives with a simple power that renders it one of the best pop songs ever written.
Drums thunder like they only do in Hollywood folklore, and Bush’s vocal manages to range from the utterly beautiful to the beautifully guttural in a flash bang of potent pop pomp. Bush expressed herself through her instrument, unlike any artist we had ever heard.
The first moments of that song also provide another area often left untouched by precocious musical snobs. Kate Bush was a multimedia visionary. “It’s in the trees, it’s coming!” the first words of ‘Hounds of Love’ was originally taken from the 1957 British horror film Night of the Demon. It showed that Bush, along with the fast-paced musical world of the eighties, was not only willing to change but was adamant about her evolution.
6. ‘The Man With The Child in His Eyes’
Remarkably, Kate Bush wrote this song when she was just 13 years old and recorded it only a few years later at the age of 16. Pink Floyd’s very own David Gilmour, who had helped discover the bright young talent, footed the bill for a gigantic backing band which Bush would later admit frightened her.
The track is written about the relationship between a young girl and an older man and shows off Bush’s marvellous talent at such a young age. It’s a song filled with artistic promise.
Bush’s then-boyfriend Steve Blacknell soon realised the song was about him and said after hearing the track, “I realised there and then that I was in love with a genius.” Hard to argue.
Concept albums are always tricky. Either people get it, or they don’t; there isn’t much of a middle ground. Luckily for Bush, she had the extra help of already being wholly unexpected when she released 50 Words for Snow in 2011.
The concept album provided a crystalline image of Bush’s creativity. There’s also a couple of guest spots too as Stephen Fry makes an appearance adding his dulcet voice to the words, and Elton John too, who pops up on ‘Snowed In At Wheeler Street’. But the real beauty is the 14 minutes of twisting and turning that takes place on ‘Misty’.
Most artists wouldn’t write such a long song about the building and mounting of a snowman, but then Kate Bush isn’t most artists. She proves it with her most eccentric take on the record, providing us with every notion we needed that Kate Bush is one of the most unique artists to have ever graced the earth.
Another track from Kate Bush’s seminal album Hounds of Love, the track is a bounding and beautiful affair that rarely provides room for breath. It’s a shining example of Bush’s ability to transform herself into the figurative mind of her protagonist and bring us as an audience along for the ride.
Written about the famed psychologist and philosopher Wilhelm Reich and the tumultuous relationship he shared with his son, Peter. The song is written from Peter’s point of view and focuses on the games he and his father shared during his upbringing on the family farm.
It’s a testament to Bush’s writing that she is able to turn a subject matter like this into a chart hit and have the song remain a bonafide classic.
3. ‘Wuthering Heights’
Inspired largely by the BBC adaptation of Wuthering Heights instead of the Emily Bronte novel, the track that launched Kate Bush was written in the leafy South London suburb in the summer of ’77. As London was swollen with the vicious angst of punk, Kate Bush was creating a masterful pop record: “There was a full moon, the curtains were open, and it came quite easily,” Bush told her fan club in 1979.
Bush’s iconography only grew from this moment. Her employment of dance, mime, theatricality began to herald in a new era for pop music. Still, nobody could have predicted, least of all the teenage Bush herself, how successful ‘Wuthering Heights’ would become. That people like you and I would be still so enchanted by its whimsical nature, high octave notes and the sheer fantasy it inspires.
It even landed Bush with the wonderful accolade of being the first woman to top the UK charts with a song written and performed by herself. A landmark moment in a glittering career that has always shined.
2. ‘This Woman’s Work’
The song was originally written for the American film, She’s Having a Baby in 1988 and was later released on Bush’s 1989 album The Sensual World. Astonishingly, the track only peaked at number 25 in the UK singles chart, despite being one of Bush’s most intense and ethereal compositions. Director John Hughes expertly used the song during the film’s dramatic climax, when Jake (Kevin Bacon) learns that the lives of his wife, Kristy (Elizabeth McGovern), and their unborn child are in danger. It’s the same sentiment that Bush adopts for the lyrics.
‘This Woman’s Work’ played to a seizing montage of happier times, flashbacks and dramatic moments and was written by Bush specifically for the scene from Jake’s viewpoint, even matching the words to the visuals which had already been filmed by the time Bush composed it. It’s a mark of commendation to her impeccable songwriting skills, able to find empathy in almost every situation.
It’s a symphony of powerful emotions and intense notions, all punctuated by Bush’s impeccable vocals. Her first notes, in particular, are arresting in their beauty and completely beguile every listener we’ve ever witnessed. Few songs showcase a singer’s talent as potently as ‘This Woman’s Work’.
1. ‘Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)’
The track, ‘Running Up That Hill’ was the lead single of one of Bush’s most incredible works, Hounds of Love, which remains a pop masterpiece, and the song is a lead single worthy of such an album. Only released ahead of ‘Cloudbusting’ through Bush’s insistence, the track has become one of her most iconic to date.
Bush told BBC about the song, “I was trying to say that, really, a man and a woman can’t understand each other because we are a man and a woman. And if we could actually swap each other’s roles, if we could actually be in each other’s place for a while, I think we’d both be very surprised! [Laughs] And I think it would lead to a greater understanding.”
She continues to add layer upon layer to the lyrics as she explores heavenly sources of inspiration, “Really the only way I could think it could be done was either… you know, I thought a deal with the devil, you know. And I thought, ‘well, no, why not a deal with God!’ You know, because in a way, it’s so much more powerful the whole idea of asking God to make a deal with you.”
Charged with emotion and passion that few artists can even muster, let alone put down on tape, ‘Running Up That Hill’ will continue to be regarded as one of the greatest pop songs of all time. It feels bristling with modernism nearly 40 years after its release.
How many other artists could have released this song and made it a success? None.