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Music

The mesmerising song Kate Bush recorded in one take

@TylerGolsen

Kate Bush was well beyond her years when it came to performing. Signed to EMI at 16 and already recording her debut LP, The Kick Inside, by her 19th birthday, it seemed as though Bush was destined for greatness from the very beginning. But what the public didn’t see were the three years in between her signing and her first album, a time when Bush toiled away studying dance and attempting to graduate from school rather than writing songs.

This aptitude lent Bush a certain academic mind, and as she once again turned to writing music, artistic themes began to dominate her work. ‘Moving’ was a tribute to her dance teacher Lindsay Kemp, while ‘Them Heavy People’ contained references to Russian philosopher George Gurdjieff. But if one song made the most direct connection to literature and expression, it was ‘Wuthering Heights’.

Based on Emile Brontë’s classic novel of the same name, Bush hadn’t actually read the book before writing the song. Instead, she took her notes from a 1967 BBC adaptation starring Ian McShane as Heathcliff. It was only after she had finished the song’s lyrics that she decided to go back to the original text, just to make sure that everything fell into place.

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In the song, Bush casts herself in the role of Catherine Earnshaw, pleading to be let into Heathcliff’s window. In order to properly embody the somewhat naive and impassioned young woman, Bush affects a shrill vocal at the top of her register. It immediately pops out of the speaker, and even though Bush was only a teenager, she somehow sounded both much younger and much wiser than her years would indicate.

It really is a remarkable performance, and not just because of the palpable emotion that Bush is able to imbue into the song. It’s also because Bush was able to channel those emotions in just a single go: Bush did one take of the song and that was it. The recording for the song was mostly done in a single night, including taping the guitar solo and mixing the final track. It’s a remarkable feat of efficiency, even 35 years later.

Bush was enthused with the result and wanted ‘Wuthering Heights’ to be her debut single. EMI was hesitant, insisting that ‘James and the Warm Gun’ should be released as her first song. Bush objected, and EMI opted to go with Bush’s wishes. Even still, it was never easy: Bush was unhappy with the cover of the single, and EMI delayed the release to redesign it with a different shot from the same shoot that produced the cover for The Kick Inside.

All of the trials were worth it when ‘Wuthering Heights’ rose all the way to number one on the UK singles chart. It would be Bush’s first, and last, number one hit in her home country. Despite being her highest selling single internationally, ‘Wuthering Heights’ failed to crack the charts in America, and it wasn’t until 1985 that Bush would land her only top 40 hit in the US with ‘Running Up That Hill’ peaking at number 30.

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