Six definitive songs: The ultimate beginner’s guide to Kate Bush
“Writing, film, sculpture, music: it’s all make-believe, really.”—Kate Bush
Kate Bush is undoubtedly one of the most influential artists that the British Isles have ever produced, one capable of taking the art of songwriting to her own creative world and producing generational hits.
Rubbing shoulders with some of the greats like David Bowie, The Beatles and more, Kate remains a jewel in the musical crown—these are the six songs which define her career.
Now before you sharpen your pitchforks and begin amassing a mob of fellow angry readers, this list isn’t necessarily “the best” Kate Bush songs but the songs which have added extra definition to her career. With an artist like Kate Bush that is very hard to whittle down.
Kate Bush one famously stated: I don’t aim for perfection. But I do want to try and come up with something interesting”—a challenge she wholeheartedly accomplished.
Find below the outstanding list and get to understand the music of Kate Bush in more detail.
Kate Bush’s six definitive songs:
‘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 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 the marvellous talent Bush was 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.”
‘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 folklore and Bush’s vocal manages to range from the utterly beautiful to the beautifully guttural. 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 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 of her evolution.
The track, undoubtedly inspired by the novel written by Emily Bronte of the same name, 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 Kate 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 both written and performed by herself. A landmark moment in a glittering career.
Another track from Kate’s seminal album Hounds of Love the track is a bounding and beautiful affair. It’s a shining example of Bush’s ability to transform herself into the figurative mind of her protagonist.
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.
‘This Woman’s Work’
The song was originally written for 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.
Written for the movie, 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’ plays 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 on 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.
‘Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)’
The track was the lead single of one of Bush’s most incredible works, Hounds of Love remains a pop masterpiece and ‘Running Up That Hill (Deal With God)’ is a lead single worthy of such an album. Only released ahead of ‘Cloudbusting’ through Kate’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.”
There you have it, our list of the six career-defining songs of the illustrious, incredible and impressive Kate Bush – a true artist if ever we saw one.
Without this song, many of us born after Bush’s heyday would never have been aware of her incredible talent both as a singer and as a performer.
The wild video provided the MTV generation with a source of unstoppable glee as Bush takes on the world with the intensity and grandeur we now know as her intrinsic personality.
‘Don’t Give Up’ (with Peter Gabriel)
This is Kate Bush at her best and it’s only not made the list because it’s a duet with her long-time friend Pete Gabriel but we thought it needed an honourable mention as it’s Bush’s manipulation of light and dark at its finest.
Written for Gabriel’s 1986 album So, the song deals with a relationship moving in two different ways. Gabriel’s verses are downbeat, downtrodden and desperate as he portrays an unemployed man at the end of his tether.
While Bush provides a genuinely hopeful and caring chorus of light to Gabriel’s dark—it’s stunning.