There are a few artists in the music industry that are so singular in their sound and vision that it’s absolutely incomprehensible to think of anyone else singing their songs. Kate Bush is, without a doubt, one of those artists.
Having said that, it doesn’t mean that people haven’t tried over the years. Everyone from Alicia Keys and John Legend to Danish metal symphony Within Temptation, have all had a go at covering one of Kate Bush’s songs and, usually, they fall rather short of the original. Below, we’ve picked out eight of our favourites who at least come close to the original, however tough that may be.
Kate Bush’s journey to stardom began at a very young age. Discovered by Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour when she was only 16-years-old. Gilmour was working on Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here when he was given a demo tape consisting of 50 songs of a young Kate Bush’s own composition and her career just went from strength to strength from there.
Kate Bush’s uniqueness is what made her a star in the first place. When she burst on to the scene in the late seventies with her stunning literary hit ‘Wuthering Heights’ there was truly nobody like her around. Ever since she has sporadically dropped albums that are both experimental and comforting, naturally gifted in the art of songwriting, her gift is in her individualism.
It means that some of her songs, even the songs that have sewn themselves into the fabric of British culture, are largely inimitable. One thing Bush did put in all her songs, however, is a thread of humanity. It’s what connects us to the songs in the first place and the line the artists below have pulled on to create their own versions of the work.
The best Kate Bush covers of all time:
8. ‘Running Up That Hill’ – Chromatics
If you were expecting a song from Chromatics to be anything but a synth-driven pop masterclass then you’ll be sadly disappointed by their cover of ‘Running Up That Hill’. Taken from the band’s 2007 album Night Drive, there’s something dystopian yet beautiful about their rendition of the song.
Though lacking the softness of Bush’s original, what the band lose in curves they make up for in glitchy edge. The kind of song you’d expect to be soundtracking a Bladerunner remake, this cover is what taking on a classic should be about—reimagining, not regurgitating.
7. ‘And Dream Of Sheep’ – Tori Amos
Tori Amos was likened to Kate Bush when she burst onto the scene in 1979, viewed as some kind of heir to the English singer-songwriter’s throne despite only being five years younger. In recent years she has covered Bush’s classic ‘Running Up That Hill’ on her 2011 world tour which is beautiful but, on her 2014 tour, she opted for a version of ‘And Dream Of Sheep’, which is simply sublime.
“I’ll never forget the first time I heard about Kate,” Amos once recalled to Q Magazine. “I was playing in a club, I was 18 or 19 and somebody came up to me, pointed their finger and said, Kate Bush. I went, Who’s that? I wasn’t really familiar because Kate didn’t really happen in the States until Hounds Of Love. I was shocked because the last thing you want to hear is that you sound like someone else.”
“Then people kept mentioning her name when they heard me sing, to the point where I finally went and got her records. When I first heard her, I went, Wow, she does things that I’ve never heard anybody do,” she added.
6. ‘Cloudbusting’ – Solange
Solange’s 2014 set at Coachella was emphatic and not only was she joined by her sister Beyonce for the iconic performance but she also debuted a cover of Kate Bush’s ‘Cloudbusting’. The track then ended up becoming a regular in her set and after hearing its magnificence it’s little wonder why.
“When I look back at images, films, or music, or anything, all of my heroes are classics but they’re not classics maybe in the traditional sense,” Solange said admiringly to ELLE. “They’re Björk, Kate Bush, Erykah Badu. You can look at images or hear any part of their work now from 20 years ago and it’s classic because it’s authentically who they are, what they were, and what they were embodying,”
5. ‘This Woman’s Work’ – Maxwell
Anybody who can reach the high notes of ‘This Woman’s Work’ deserves a medal. The fact that Maxwell can do it and still imbue the song with all the dramatic poignancy it was written with means he deserves a spot on this list. Arguably one of the most gorgeous falsettos in modern times, Maxwell perhaps peaks on this sumptuous cover.
Written form the perspective of a partner whose wife is having a traumatic birth the song was a delicate topic for any singer to approach. Given how delicately and tenderly Maxwell takes on the song, it’s clear that he wasn’t looking to just vocally impress on this cover. It strikes as hard as it always has, no matter who sings it. It just so happens that hardly anyone other than Kate Bush has ever attempted it.
4. ‘Don’t Give Up’ – Sinead O’Connor and Willie Nelson
Quite possibly one of the most arresting songs of Bush’s catalogue and certainly one of the finest duets Britain has ever produced, the track has been given the all-star treatment once or twice in its past. But for us, there’s no better combination than Willie Nelson and Sinead O’Connor.
Next to Nelson’s gruff and whisky-soaked prattling through the verses, O’Connor angelic vocal acts as the perfect cut-through. There’s a narrative quality that Nelson adds during this recording that O’Connor matches with intrinsic vulnerability. Aside from Bush and Peter Gabriel’s bewilderingly brilliant version of the song, there’s no better than this country-tinged joy.
3. ‘Hounds of Love’ – The Futureheads
The Futureheads had just begun to crack their way into the lucrative indie market of the ’00s when they decided to have a pop at one of pop’s greatest, yet most ludicrous, songs. On paper, this rowdy rendition of the song shouldn’t work but in practice, it had the ability to turn an entire festival into a choir.
If you caught Futureheads live during this time then chances are you were part of an audience which was split in two and chorally pitted against one another. And, if you did attend such a gig, you can attest to how bloody fun it was. That’s the name of the game on this track—fun. They punkify the song and turn it into a jump-around joy, though we’re not sure many Kate Bush purists would agree.
2. ‘The Man With A Child in his Eyes’ – Dusty Springfield
The fifth track from Kate Bush’s debut album The Kick Inside, ‘The Man With A Child in his Eyes’ was written by Bush when she was just 13-years-old and speaks highly of her innate talent for songwriting. Just a year after releasing the song as part of her LP, the legendary Dusty Springfield put her own spin on the track.
For a still-teenage Kate Bush, it must’ve been some honour to have the great British legend—a sixties icon—take on her song. Springfield naturally gives the track a golden hue while still employing the urgency and poignancy of the song’s subject. It’s a masterful cover.
1. ‘Running Up That Hill’ – Placebo
A lot of these lists will be topped by a surprise inclusion but to ignore Placebo’s cover of ‘Running Up That Hill’ as the definitive Kate Bush cover would be a travesty. The cover is the definition of what a great cover needs to be. It tips its hat to the original in sentiment and sound but otherwise takes the song, and us as the audience, on a brand new adventure.
Brian Molko’s vocal performance is jagged and razor-tipped while the sonics that backs him are equally dark and menacing. It adds a gothic tone to the song’s content that makes the track feel more akin to dealing with the Devil than making a deal with God.
In Bush’s own words, “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. And I think it would lead to a greater understanding.” It is this notion that Molko is so easily able to transmit with authenticity and aplomb. It is perhaps the only cover here that comes close to rivalling Bush’s.