Hounds of Love remains one of Kate Bush’s lasting triumphs. In a career that has seen her fall in and out of the spotlight at will, the artist can always look back on the 1985 album with a heavy dose of pride and the thanks that she never has to make it again. The singer is widely known to have said how difficult and time consuming the album was to create, often spending hours on small note changes that last seconds in the songs. But, thankfully, the album that she produced has become a timeless masterpiece.
On this album, more so than any other, we are given the full brunt of Bush’s artistic vision and it is a powerful one. Despite the record being largely seen as two separate entities split over two sides of the LP, the songs on it are remarkably steadfast alongside one another. Bush’s artistic power that permeates every song on the album, each one equally as golden, equally dripping with metaphor and mystique, and equally as jaw-droppingly good. It makes our challenge of ranking the songs on Hounds of Love one of our most difficult.
The three-year gap between albums allowed Bush to truly focus her laser-guided energy into her work. “On this album, I wanted to get away from the energy of the last one,” said Bush back in ’85. “At the time I was very unhappy, I felt that mankind was really screwing things up. Having expressed all that, I wanted this album to be different—a positive album, just as personal but more about the good things. A lot depends on how you feel at any given time—it all comes out in the music.”
The break allowed Bush’s artistic soul to move throughout the album and inhibit every note on it. The record manages to collate a myriad of themes and melodies and load them one by one into consciousness, unravelling into something that becomes entirely yours as the audience.
Despite being set out as two pieces, side one operating as Hounds of Love and side two as the conceptual piece The Ninth Wave, Bush equally develops themes of love, heartbreak, life, and death with equal measure, equal light and dark, and, most notably, equal beauty.
However, not all songs are created equally so below we’re going to put the album into order of greatness.
Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love ranked in order of greatness:
12. ‘Mother Stands for Comfort’
Speaking with Richard Skinner on Radio 1 in 1992, Bush was more than happy to admit that the song was “a bit of a strange matter,” as it reflected on the duality of a mother and son’s relationship. As she explains, “There are many different kinds of love and the track’s really talking about the love of a mother, and in this case she’s the mother of a murderer, in that she’s basically prepared to protect her son against anything. ‘Cause in a way it’s also suggesting that the son is using the mother, as much as the mother is protecting him.”
While lyrically, Bush is always a very astute writer, musically on Hounds of Love she had taken control of the mixing desk too and she is clearly in her element as she marries the cold and abrasive synth sounds with the song’s sentiment. It’s a notion that is punctuated with the flecks of motherly piano.
11. ‘Waking The Witch’
One of the most conceptual songs on the album sees Bush employ some of her close friends and family to add their own versions of waking someone up. The idea behind the track’s unique features was that “these sort of visitors come to wake them up, to bring them out of this dream so that they don’t drown,” remembered Bush in an interview back in 1992.
“My mother’s in there, my father, my brothers Paddy and John, Brian Tench—the guy that mixed the album with us—is in there, Del is in there, Robbie Coltrane does one of the voices,” she added. “It was just trying to get lots of different characters and all the ways that people wake you up, like you know, you sorta fall asleep at your desk at school and the teacher says ‘Wake up child, pay attention!.'”
For the song’s strong concept alone it deserves to remain off the bottom of the bill but the emotion these simple words can evoke is truly remarkable.
10. ‘The Big Sky’
There’s a touching innocence on ‘The Big Sky’ that is hard to ignore. A track that was comparatively difficult to put down on tape is a little lost in an otherwise powerhouse album. The song was originally written by Bush as a way to connect the audience with their childhood. Bush said it was written from the perspective of “Someone sitting looking at the sky, watching the clouds change. I used to do this a lot as a child, just watching the clouds go into different shapes. I think we forget these pleasures as adults.”
She added: “We don’t get as much time to enjoy those kinds of things, or think about them; we feel silly about what we used to do naturally.” The track does have a second meaning, however, “The song is also suggesting the coming of the next flood – how perhaps the ‘fools on the hills’ will be the wise ones.”
The song is another piece of beguiling pop that, perhaps because of its single release and the competition it faced as a result of it, just falls a little shorter than the rest.
9. ‘Hello Earth’
Is this Kate Bush’s Major Tom? A known huge fan of the Starman David Bowie, there’s an element of imitation on this song’s setting but that’s about it. While Bowie’s character was happy to float off into the unknown, Bush is intent on reflecting earth in the stars. “In some ways I thought of it as a lullaby for the Earth,” she said in 1992. “And it was the idea of turning the whole thing upside down and looking at it from completely above.”
Bush’s conception was incredible but even for a vocalist as gifted as her, the mammoth gravitas of the song meant she needed some help, “We had the whole song, it was all there, but these huge, great holes in the choruses,” she once explained. “And I knew I wanted to put something in there, and I’d had this idea to put a vocal piece in there, that was like this traditional tune I’d heard used in the film Nosferatu.” It completes the song and makes the whole thing feel ethereal and unattainable.
8. ‘Under Ice’
Another piece of the album’s second half is textured and layered with meaning. ‘Under Ice’ acts as the first moments of Bush’s character finding themselves dreaming which turns into more of a nightmare as Bush amps up the concept and takes the theatrics on to the next level.
Bush remembers that the song’s conception and recording was done in a day and that this is the real moment of panic on the album, “It’s very lonely, it’s terribly lonely, they’re all alone on like this frozen lake. And at the end of it, it’s the idea of seeing themselves under the ice in the river, so I mean we’re talking real nightmare stuff here. And at this point, when they say, you know, ‘my god, it’s me,’ you know, ‘it’s me under the ice. Ahhhh.'”
7. ‘Watching You Without Me’
As the story continues and Bush’s character continues to be mentally tortured she offers them, and the audience, a reprieve on ‘Watching You Without Me’ which acts as a sort of out of body experience for the album. Musically it masterfully matches that tone as “suddenly, they’re kind of at home, in spirit, seeing their loved one sitting there waiting for them to come home,” explains Bush. “And, you know, watching the clock, and obviously very worried about where they are, maybe making phone calls and things. But there’s no way that you can actually communicate because they can’t see you.”
It may be a song of unusual conception but as a piece of art it works perfectly within the album expertly telling the story with little lyrical instruction. It’s another moment on which Bush is exorcising her demons, “these are all like my own personal worst nightmares, I guess, put into song.”
6. ‘The Morning Fog’
One of the more upbeat numbers from the album is imbued with a lavender hue that feels intrinsically linked to the artist. The album’s closer for any record needs to be worth its weight and on ‘The Morning Fog’, Bush does a cracking job of leaving a lasting impression of the album’s tone.
The song closes out The Ninth Wave and is the reawakening or rebirth (depending on your viewpoint) of our character, as Bush notes, “that’s really meant to be the rescue of the whole situation, where now suddenly out of all this darkness and weight comes light.”
She continues: “You know, the weightiness is gone and here’s the morning, and it’s meant to feel very positive and bright and uplifting from the rest of dense, darkness of the previous track. And although it doesn’t say so, in my mind this was the song where they were rescued, where they get pulled out of the water.”
5. ‘Jig of Life’
Bush turns to traditional European music for ‘Jig of Life’ and it’s very easy to tell that it was written in Ireland, bringing a powerful sense of urgency to the track. The song is all about the future, self teaching us all a few lessons both figuratively and, in the story of The Ninth Wave, quite literally: “It’s their future self saying, ‘look, don’t give up, you’ve got to stay alive, ’cause if you don’t stay alive, that means I don’t.’ You know, ‘and I’m alive, I’ve had kids [laughs]. I’ve been through years and years of life, so you have to survive, you mustn’t give up.'”
There’s something completely captivating by the use of traditional sound in this song and it elevates the track way up the list because of it. Perhaps we’re just squares but give us a good vocal, a bouncing rhythm and a good jig and we’re always happy.
4. ‘And Dream of Sheep’
There are few artists with a vocal style like Kate Bush and she does a great job of showing it off on ‘And Dream of Sheep.’ The first song of The Ninth Wave and side two of the album offers Bush the chance to create the sonic landscape for her story to unfold. “[The Ninth Wave] is about someone who is in the water alone for the night. ‘And Dream Of Sheep’ is about them fighting sleep. They’re very tired and they’ve been in the water waiting,” explains Bush. “They know that if they go to sleep in the water they could turn over and drown, so they’re trying to keep awake; but they can’t help it, they eventually fall asleep.”
It is with this song that Bush sets the tone for the majority of the album. While the first half of Hounds of Love is packed full of pop hits, the rest of the album works as an example of BUsh’s immaculate ear and vision. On ‘And Dream of Sleep’, she sets the tone for her legendary status.
3. ‘Hounds of Love’
Released as a single in 1985, ‘Hounds of Love’, the titular track from her simply perfect album, has gone on to typify an artist who lived on the very cutting edge. Kate Bush has always been one of Britain’s favourite artists and it was on songs like this and the earlier iteration ‘Wuthering Heights’, where Bush effortlessly blended pop prowess with literary nouse, that she became a hero.
The title track of this album 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 anyone else. With it, she is able to explore the song’s complex themes, Bush explains the song is “really about someone who is afraid of being caught by the hounds that are chasing him. I wonder if everyone is perhaps ruled by fear, and afraid of getting into relationships on some level or another. They can involve pain, confusion and responsibilities, and I think a lot of people are particularly scared of responsibility.”
The first moments of that song also provide proof that 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.
‘Cloudbusting’ is a song with a devoted fanbase of its own. So beloved, to make this track number two on our list means we’re running the risk of enraging its fans…but here we are. 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.
Based on a book called A Book of Dreams Bush remembers of the song’s conception, “The book is full of imagery of an innocent child and yet it’s being written by a sad adult, which gives it a strange kind of personal intimacy and magic that is quite extraordinary,” she said, adding: “The song is really about how much that father meant to the son and how much he misses him now he’s gone.” It’s a testament to Bush’s writing that she is able to turn a subject matter like this into a chart hit.
1. ‘Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)’
Of course, it would be remiss of us not to acknowledge the powerful song ‘Running Up That Hill’ as the finest song on an impeccable album. The track was the opening song on the album and the lead single too 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.”