Kate Bush’s 50 Greatest Songs Ranked!

From songs about being inside the womb to taking Emily Brontë to the top of the charts, MOJO’s team of experts pick Kate Bush’s greatest songs

Kate Bush

by mojo |
Updated on

With the possible exception of David Bowie, no other artist has created as singular, rich and dazzling a creative world as Kate Bush. From songs about being inside her mother’s womb, 42-minute explorations of nature to taking Emily Brontë to the top of the charts, no other oeuvre in pop music has quite so many surprises, uniquely brilliant ideas and beautiful music. In the latest issue of MOJO, we chart Kate Bush early metamorphosis, from childhood songwriting to becoming an art-pop phenomenon, producing some of the most imaginative and starling music of the era. Here, MOJO delves into her body of work to select Kate Bush’s 50 greatest songs…


The Dreaming

(from The Dreaming, 1982)

Yes, this was a single.

“Extraordinary” might turn out to be a prominent adjective over the next 18 pages, but it won’t be more aptly applied than here. The apex of the experimental, mind-voyaging approach of its parent album, The Dreaming combines didgeridoos, Aussie race politics and daringly daft theatricals in a flummoxing lead-off single (allegedly titled ‘The Abo Song’ on early promo vinyl – oops), where multi-Kates brew a bad-trip babble through which “See the light ram through the gaps in the land” ripples like a seam of gold. Its other meaning was clear: all bets are off.


Strange Phenomena

(from The Kick Inside, 1978)

Fabulously florid exploration of chance, fate and female biology.

Tinged with the scent of head-shop esoterica – a Tibetan prayer here, references to the phases of the moon there – this song about “the hand a-moulding us” is more than a cosmic curio. The charming, disarming reference to menstruation (“every girl knows about the punctual blues”) does its bit for the Sisterhood, while the Twilight Zone piano motif and luscious tidal pull of the chorus enhance the moonstruck drama. A heady celebration of everyday mysteries, tarot cards not included.


The Song Of Solomon

(from The Red Shoes, 1993)

Kate swears! In her most R&B song ever.

Marmite, this one. To some “Don’t want your bullshit/Just want your sexuality” is too much information; they prefer their Kate crouched behind prettier metaphors. To others, the startling thrill of Bush’s most direct and demanding love song brooks no contest. It’s startling, but that’s the point: Bush is shocking the guy “who walks the path of the solitary heart” out of his aloof self-importance. And if that doesn’t work, how about “I’ll come in a hurricane for you”? That got his attention.


The Empty Bullring

(Breathing B-side, 1980)

How great would Kate Bush: The Piano Bar Album have been?

The brassy, jazzy refrain – something like a tipsy Nina Simone or Randy Newman – that repeats throughout this piano-and-voice curio makes it sound like no other Kate Bush song. Hence, perhaps, its exile to B-sidedom. But it’s one of her best, certainly one of her flightiest picaresques, as Bush (comparing herself, for some reason, with Walter Scott’s “Tamlane in her Tower”) observes her matador pine for the action, the “glory and gore” that once defined him, making it sound like an everyman’s elegy for his lost purpose and powers.


Big Stripey Lie

(from The Red Shoes, 1993)

A multitude of moods and voices enchant and disturb.

That dislocated Sledgehammer beat invites you to groove, but wait, there’s also a faint narcotic string section in there, promising balmy sleep. Both suggest inherent pleasure but deep within the heart of Big Stripey Lie lurks something sinister and dislocated. Is the “big stripey lie” the snake in Eden, Shere Khan in The Jungle Book or the deceitful promises of romance (“I know I could be good for you”)? Or is the song itself the lie, a beguiling spell of seduction that should be approached with caution?


Heads We're Dancing

(from The Sensual World, 1989)

At the height of her late ’80s pomp, Bush meets the Führer.

A bombastic collision of disorientating synth figures, dramatic percussive lunges and wildly expressive fretless bass courtesy of Japan’s Mick Karn. But it’s the lyrics that stop you in your tracks: Bush unfolds the fantasy of a 1939 party, where a dance with a dashing stranger rests on the spin of a coin; the next day the breathless narrator discovers the man in black coat-tails is Adolf Hitler. As a critique of romantic let down – and pre-war appeasement – its nuanced symbolic oomph is mindblowing.


Hammer Horror

(from Lionheart, 1978)

Gothic first single from her second album unleashes another Bush spectre.

Despite the title’s reference to the legendary British horror movie studio, Bush cited Universal’s 1957 film Man Of A Thousand Faces – where James Cagney played silent star Lon ‘Phantom Of The Opera’ Chaney – as inspiration. Bush took the idea of an actor playing an actor further, offering a complex narrative wherein a leading man dies and is replaced in the role by his best friend – the former returning to haunt the latter. Despite the track’s lyrical melodrama and playful musical charm, it missed the Top 40 when released as a single in October ’78.


Flower Of The Mountain

(From The Director’s Cut, 2011)

Re-Joyce! The Sensual World in full Bloom.

Refused permission by the notoriously protective estate of James Joyce to use Molly Bloom’s closing soliloquy from Ulysses, Kate Bush created her own delirious analogue to act as lyrics to The Sensual World (see 22). When Joyce’s grandson Stephen relented 22 years later, however, Bush’s original plan finally came to fruition. What might have been an idle literary conceit is elevated by the seamless synthesis of words and music, Bush’s lower, huskier voice the icing on the (seed)cake. A resounding yes.


Blow Away

(From Never For Ever, 1980)

KB fears the tug of that stupid club.

The jazz tow of the bass and crisp piano-guitar counterpoints suggest Steely Dan’s sophisto-rock. But it’s unlikely that Donald Fagen ever expressed the looming, tantalising proximity of non-being so viscerally, if he ever felt it. Where does music go when we die? wonders Bush. Is it part of our souls? With the recent loss of Tour Of Life lighting engineer Bill Duffield, these were live issues for the ever-sensitive singer, and fed this track’s haunting, dissociative feel.


Feel It

(from Kate Bush Live At Hammersmith Odeon, 1994)

Falling in lust and in public.

Only Kate Bush can do this: the nice, suburban, English girl, wafting away generations of social/cultural inhibitions – like diaphanous veils, rather than the brick walls many of us crash into as we grow up or try to. Horny sweetness, rampant joy, unbridled grace: song and performance are multifaceted oxymorons, dynamic self-contradictions, and that’s how she reaches so many of us. She asks the same questions we all ask time and again through life and, like Ulysses’ Molly Bloom, she answers: Yes. The live version from 1979’s Tour Of Life remains faithful to The Kick Inside’s simplicity – Kate at the piano, no phantasmagorical show going on around her – but it gains the different intimacy of performance in front of a couple of thousand people, the astonishing candour of sharing with so many, right there, absorbing every detail.


How To Be Invisible

(from Aerial, 2005)

Haunted-sounding electro-pop from the  first ‘side’ of her surprise comeback album.

Guitars quiver and crackle as Bush concocts a spell to make herself invisible: “Take a pinch of keyhole and fold yourself up… hem of anorak, stem of wallflower, hair of doormat…” she utters as a ghostly wind blows up around her. Whether or not the track is a veiled commentary on the rejection of pop stardom is never quite revealed but it doesn’t detract from the strange beauty of Bush’s incantation.


Lord Of The Reedy River

(B-side of Sat In Your Lap, 1981)

Bush turns to her childhood hero for her maiden cover version.

A children’s album unlike any other, Donovan’s otherworldly HMS Donovan (1971) enraptured the young Kate Bush to such a degree that some way into her recording career, she still cited it as her “all-time favourite album”. Over the haunting trill of a recorder, her empathy with the protagonist – who gives herself to the majestic swan of the song’s title under cover of night – is underscored by the decision to tackle the lyric in the first person. Donovan clearly approved. That’s him on echoing backing vocals.


Mother Stands For Comfort

(from Hounds Of Love, 1985)

HOL’s Tale Of The Unexpected.

In one of the least adorned songs on Hounds Of Love, Bush gently slips into the persona of an ice cold killer whose mother will hide his wrong-doings, no questions asked. Lyrically there are no ambiguities in the relationship – mum forgives all; the friction comes with the gently jarring music: the rocking chair rhythm and the Babooshka-breaking glass with the crepuscular voices, which mirror the madman’s internal cry of “make me do this, make me do that”.


Among Angels

(from 50 Words For Snow, 2011)

Who you gonna call? Kate's supernatural support service.

Concluding 50 Words…, this sparse, poignant torch song to a beleaguered loved one has nothing to do with snow but fits with the album’s atmosphere of glittering, supernatural reverie. Initially taking an unexpectedly grounded view of the problem (“Only you can do something about it”), the song soon thickens into a spiritual balm, Kate offering celestial comfort over tender broken chords: “I see angels standing around you/They shimmer like mirrors in summer/But you don’t know it”.


King Of The Mountain

(from Aerial, 2005)

Is Elvis enjoying his afterlife at an all-star ski-resort? Discuss.

The first song written (and partially recorded) for Aerial, in 1997, and the song that announced its completion eight years later, is an atmospheric meditation on the possibility that Elvis lives on in some iconic hinterland, sledging on Kane’s Rosebud. The slinky marimba groove, tough drums and skanky guitars (by Bush’s husband Dan McIntosh), provided an early clue this album would be unlike anything she’d done before, albeit reassuringly compelling and eccentric.


Deeper Understanding

(from The Sensual World, 1989)

The sci-fi tale that became reality.

Nestled beside a song about falling in love with Hitler, Bush interjected The Sensual World with a song of dystopic doom describing the internal circuitry of connection between man and computer as the real world shuts its doors. Revisiting the theme of technological obsession (Experiment IV, Cloudbusting), Bush was playing Cassandra here as The Trio Bulgarka provided the celestial robotic force. As a known studio rat herself she was also drawing from her own experience of communing with the ‘little black box’.


Under Ice

(from Hounds Of Love, 1985)

Glacial horizons reveal  horrible things in the cold.

After the cooing And Dream Of Sheep, here we lay in the treacherous isolation of slumber time. Kate is a skater chipping away at the frozen river “cutting out little lines” and discovering more than she should. As the rhythmic hacking of a zombie string quartet propels us into discovery, the demonic water chorus chants: “there’s something moving under ice” and a little voice sings-screams “it’s me”. At which point the camera snaps into focus and the full Hitchcockian nightmare is revealed: you’ve just seen yourself buried alive.


Top Of The City

(from Director’s Cut, 2011)

So good she cut it twice.

Director’s Cut was Bush’s way of atoning for the spotty Sensual World and Red Shoes albums, stripping away their dated sonics and letting the best songs breathe. Some argued that it wasn’t the good songs that needed the help. This one, however, a highlight of The Red Shoes, narrated by a woman who shares her lover with another, was noticeably improved by taking down a key, calming the vocals and losing the gated snares. “Put me up on the angel’s shoulders,” she suggests. The view is terrific.


All Of The Love

(from The Dreaming, 1982)

A suicide fantasy that sounds like it was recorded in purgatory.

The Bushian prospect of earwigging on your life from beyond the grave is something that would be explored in depth on Hounds Of Love, but three years earlier this spirit- and trapdoor-filled song flirts with the spectre of deathbed regret, mourning “all the love we should have given”. The last minute of the song, with choirboy Richard Thornton’s solo and the goodbye chorus of answerphone messages is Bush at her most devastating and cinematic, as affecting as anything created by her beloved Kubrick.


An Endless Sky Of Honey

(from Aerial, 2005)

Hello birds, hello trees, hello genius.

When veteran British songwriter Don Black met Kate Bush for the first time in 1996, he asked if she had a favourite singer. “The blackbird,” she replied. “And my second favourite is the thrush.” Birdsong was clearly an inspiration for the second half of her double masterpiece, Aerial, initially presented as a suite of distinct songs. When the album appeared on iTunes in 2010 it had become one giant 42-minute track named after its closing, euphoric instrumental passage: An Endless Sky Of Honey. And that is what we’re gazing at here. 24 hours of light, sound, love, song and landscape distilled into one heady draught. The jewel on the sundial’s gnomon is Kate herself, every aspect of her is caught during the day: lover, mother, visionary, artist, naturalist, poet. As the final instrumental section hits high noon, we’re flooded in all that refracted sunlight.


Delius (Song Of Summer)

(from Never For Ever, 1980)

Wobbly pop grows out of love for a grouchy composer and his amanuensis.

Marvel at the breadth of Bush’s frame of reference – and her empathy – as she teleports into the decline of composer Frederick Delius, his mind scrambled by syphilis (“Delius amat,” she trills, getting busy with the schoolroom Latin. “Syphilus. Deus. Genius, ooh”), while he dictates music to secretary Eric Fenby (“In B, Fenby!”). Scrunching bells, Paddy Bush as a scarily gruff Delius, and some bees add to the distrait air. So deliciously strange you have to play it again and again just to make sure you heard it right. You did.


Leave It Open

(from The Dreaming, 1982)

The internal voices spill out on La Bushka’s ’She’s gone mad!’ album.

You’re spoilt for choice on The Dreaming for startling vocal personae. Check this particularly strange song, which closes the original side one, and summons a woozy phased lead, a cat-like answering voice, a banshee yelp and, once the drums have kicked off, spooky multitracked, reversed Kates apparently saying “leave it open, thank you”, as if the song‘s narrator is the spirit who’ll later be disturbed on side two’s equally bizarre closer, Get Out Of My House.


Lake Tahoe

(from 50 Words For Snow, 2011)

Eleven minutes of spectral legend and choral spook: spine-tingling.

Aided by the classically-trained voices of Stefan Roberts and Michael Wood, Bush returns to the supernatural preoccupations of Wuthering Heights, her voice deepened with time, in this slowly unfurling incantation. Here a Victorian female ghost surfaces from the waters of the titular lake “like a poor, porcelain doll”, before being reunited with her dog Snowflake in an apparition of her former home. Free of any electronic interference, Lake Tahoe spotlights Bush’s dizzying musicianship, while sounding like a more mature take on her first two albums.


Them Heavy People

(from The Kick Inside, 1978)

Esoteric wisdom concealed within quirky pop demands: ‘Awake!’

Having read Armenian guru George Gurdjieff – whose disciplines of work, inquiry and exercise would, apparently, enable humankind to learn life’s true purpose – she wrote this nervy but defiant account of her own efforts to access the divine within (“We humans got it all,” she affirms, heretically. “We perform the miracles”). A Number 10 hit, the song was rudely parodied on BBC comedy Not The Nine O’Clock News in 1980, as “England, My Leotard”. Kate later sang with Not… team member Rowan Atkinson on a 1986 Comic Relief special. So, no hard feelings.


Don’t Give Up

(from Peter Gabriel, So, 1986)

In which Kate tells us we’re not beaten yet, and we believe her.

Although informed by Peter Gabriel’s own crumbling marriage, Don’t Give Up appears to have originally been conceived as a dustbowl country duet with Dolly Parton. Dolly’s last-minute replacement had previously sung with Gabriel on the Kate Bush Christmas Special in 1979, reinterpreting Roy Harper’s Another Day as a modernist narrative of suburban heartbreak. That mix of romantic honesty and Ballardian unease continues here with Gabriel’s submerged synth chords and apocalyptic lyrics (scorched trees, changed identities) countered by the aching intimacy of Kate’s heartfelt choral refrains.


And Dream Of Sheep

(from Hounds Of Love, 1985)

Beatific opening strand of HOL’s  stranded-at-sea concept suite.

…Sheep is the calm before the storm. The reverb-coated voice and keyboard mirrors the big sky/deep water scenario, dotted with seagull cries, while folky bouzouki and whistle underline the Scottish provenance of the ghostly snippet of BBC shipping forecast (“Bell Rock, Tiree, Cromarty”). From hope in the opening ‘life-
jacket’ motif (“little light will guide them to me”) to dread in the closing narcotic analogy (“Like poppies heavy with seed/They take me deeper and deeper”), it’s an existential epic in just 166 seconds.


Get Out Of My House

(from The Dreaming, 1982)

’80s horror and Disney texts repurposed to ponder fame’s assault on personal privacy.

Inspired by Ridley Scott’s Alien and King/Kubrick’s The Shining, this heteroglossic tribal chant stars ‘Kate’ as a shuttered building under assault from devilish intruders. The final shapeshifting battle (“I turn into a bird”) recalls Merlin and Arthur’s experiments in transmutation in The Sword In The Stone, while the bookend “Eeyore!” cries reference the Pleasure Island horrors in Walt Disney’s Pinocchio, as if this invasion of the self is transforming memories of childhood into a cyclical nightmare of invasion and transfiguration.



(from Aerial, 2005)

To the portmanteau of Kate esoterica, add numerology.

 The sounds of nature, the operations of household appliances: Kate Bush can make anything sound like a spell, with the aura of occult significance clinging to even the humblest elements. But the sense that she sees “beyond” is nowhere greater than in this paean to a mathematical constant; and the chords that accompany her recitation are some of her most exquisitely sequenced. Claim that one of her most sensual lyrics goes “50288419 716939937510 / 582319749 44 59230781” and the unconverted might roll their eyes, but the way she lingers on these digits – especially those swelling, repeating 6s and 8s – is transporting.


This Sensual World

(from The Sensual World, 1989)

Kate Bush is James Joyce’s Molly Bloom.

“Like trains of thought continually tumbling” is how Kate Bush described Molly Bloom’s soliloquy at the end of James Joyce’s 1922 novel, Ulysses. It isn’t hard to see why the rhapsodic conclusion of Joyce’s modernist masterpiece took root in the singer’s subconscious. With Wuthering Heights, 11 years previously, Bush had alchemised Catherine Earnshaw’s tormented pleas for Heathcliff’s forgiveness into a sexual fever dream and if anything, Molly’s speech was an even more suitable case for such a treatment. From the first “Mmh, yes” that emerges from the opening peals of wedding bells, Bush’s languorous performance astrally vaults the listener to the mother of all postcoitally sunny Sunday mornings. One ironic consequence of The Sensual World’s success was that, by the time Bush set about re-recording it for 2011’s Director’s Cut, Joyce’s estate had clearly been won over by the purity of her intentions. With permission now granted, the new version – retitled Flower Of The Mountain – duly reverted to the original words, and saw Bush confer a breathier, worldlier ambience on Bloom, as if channeling the woman enjoying the memory of first love, rather than the woman in the memory. For all of that, it’s the first version that remains the definitive one.


Pull Out The Pin

(from The Dreaming, 1982)

Kate Bush joins the Viet Kong. At The Movies

The cinematically-minded music that Kate Bush began striving to make on Never For Ever found its first full realisation as the centrepiece of The Dreaming’s wildly ambitious first side: the furiously inventive five-and-a-half minutes of Pull Out The Pin. Airlifting the listener directly into the south-east Asian jungle during The Vietnam war, the scene is set by Preston Heyman’s staccato stick-played bongo pattern, Danny Thompson’s snaking double bass and Brian Bath’s choppy guitar, shrunk to a fizzy noise emanating from a transistor radio amid the bamboo. Vocally, Pull Out The Pin is deftly complex – Bush’s electronically double-tracked delivery at first calm and composed before turning sinister, then desperate, in her repeated cry of “I love life!” By inhabiting the thoughts of this tenacious soldier, she performs an impressive act of ventriloquism. “It’s that thing of trying to imagine being there,” she said in 2005. “Being in this place that you’re singing about, trying to create what it looks like and who’s there. I think music is very visual.”



(from Never For Ever, 1980)

Nuclear apocalypse fear becomes terminal lullaby for clairvoyant unborn.

A foetus looks outwards from the womb as the nuclear bomb drops, and pleads to be allowed to live: it probably perplexed the Radio 1 playlist, but this dramatic piano and voice-led ballad – inspired by side three of The Wall – was a startling addition to the canon of songs inspired by Cold War terror. The act of breathing becomes somehow uncomfortable when listening (“chips of plutonium are shining in every lung,” she sings), but the emotional impact cannot be denied.


Hello Earth

(from Hounds Of Love, 1985)

Back to the horror genre for multilingual thrills and chills.

On paper, The Ninth Wave’s penultimate gambit is 5th Form boilerplate: Kate’s in space, contemplating our planet’s insignificance. But the glorious switchback of perspectives – in a car, on the swell, from the stars – spins the head, and the elemental Richard Hickox Singers recreate the rumbling Georgian chant Bush heard in Werner Herzog’s 1979 film update of Nosferatu, bathing the whole thing in deep, thrilling unease. It’s a murder mystery, but who’s the “murderer”? Pet theory: it’s our baleful moon (“I was there at the birth”), wreaking tidal mayhem on its planetary twin.



(from Never For Ever, 1980)

Russian folk traditionalism inspires modern studio mastery.

Inseparable from the promo of double bass-love and warrior-princess-shape-throwing, Babooshka is a tale of paranoid relationship collapse wrapped in a buoyant pop waltz replete with glass-breaking sound effects. Compared to the rest of the often bleak and meditative Never For Ever, Babooshka’s minor-chord intrigue offers three-and-a-half minutes of relatively light relief. Not that it was an easy song to record – even Del Palmer’s bass was deemed an incorrect fit for what would become one of Bush’s biggest singles.


Under The Ivy

(B-side of Running Up That Hill, 1985)

A tantalising invite to a secret place.

Bafflingly given away as the flipside of the first single from Hounds Of Love, Under The Ivy is literally a hidden pleasure. The lyric of this alluring piano ballad finds the childhood-pining narrator sneaking away from a party, beckoning a partner into the foliage. Bush has dismissed the notion that the song is a metaphor for suicide. Instead, there is a clear sense of adults sloping off for furtive fumblings that might have begun, as Bush revealed, “when they were innocent and when they were children”.


Waking The Witch

(from Hounds Of Love, 1985)

The third track of Hounds Of Love’s Ninth Wave suite throws the listener into a discombobulation chop-up of voices (Bush’s brothers, her father and actor Robbie Coltrane) in a startling dramatisation of a witch trial. “I think it's very interesting the whole concept of witch-hunting and the fear of women's power,” said Bush of the track. ”In a way it's very sexist behavior, and I feel that female intuition and instincts are very strong, and are still put down, really. And in this song, this women is being persecuted by the witch-hunter and the whole jury, although she's committed no crime, and they're trying to push her under the water to see if she'll sink or float.”


Night Of The Swallow

(from The Dreaming, 1982)

Fairlight meets bouzoukis on electro-folk Ireland-only single.

Bush’s raw, pained vocal at the outset of this tale of a pilot resisting his wife’s attempts to stop him trafficking human cargo captures the female narrator’s fear and frustration, suggesting that the whole story is also a metaphor for the emotional push-and-pull of human relationships. One of the first songs recorded for The Dreaming, Bush enlisted members of Irish folk veterans The Chieftains and Planxty to add uilleann pipes and penny whistles.


The Big Sky

(from Hounds Of Love, 1985)

Ecstatic, free-spirited anthem acts as precursor to rave.

The final single from Hounds Of Love is a pristine, pastoral rock transmission from the doe-eyed innocence of childhood. Bush’s chuckled delivery of “That cloud, that cloud/It looks like Ireland!” is a moment of pure joy infused with the melancholic knowledge that these flashes can’t last. Here, her epic Edenic visions and wide-eyed sense of wonder collide and ignite a wash of synths, before ending with a gospel-esque refrain that ranks among her most carefree arrangements.


A Coral Room

(from Aerial, 2005)

Into the depths: Bush casts her net through memory and time.

Like the little brown jug that Bush remembers her late mother holding in her hands, A Coral Room is simple yet beautiful, a perfect match of form and function. Starting with mythical descriptions of a lost Atlantis-style city and planes crashing into the sea, when Bush dips her hands into this murky water, she pulls out the small but sacred image of her mother. A profoundly moving encapsulation of the workings of human memory, its complexity distilled into piano and voice.


Suspended In Gaffa

(from The Dreaming, 1982)

Heavenly visions and electrician’s tape conjoin in a song about yearning.

Bush once suggested Suspended In Gaffa was a hangover from her Roman Catholic upbringing. The wonky time signature, oom-pah-pah piano intro and breathlessly delivered lyrics (“Can I have it all?”) complement the idea that it’s about briefly glimpsing the divine. Yet it also evokes that dreamlike state where you can only move in infuriating slow motion and everything is tantalisingly out of reach.


Army Dreamers

(from Never For Ever, 1980)

The third and final single to be lifted from Never For Ever delivered a sucker-punch in a gossamer glove. A haunting waltz, built around double bass, gentle stabs of cello, sampled pistol-cocks and a spectral mandolin figure, its message was an unsettling mix of the motherly and political: that working-class boy soldiers join up, and die, because other more glamorous occupations aren’t open to them. Delivered in Bush’s best wide-eyed whisper, it matches Elvis Costello’s Shipbuilding for its profoundly humanist reading of the everyman’s tug of war and pride.



(from Hounds Of Love, 1985)

Hypnagogic childhood of Wilhelm Reich’s son as sumptuous Purcellian lament.

A literal retelling of Peter Reich’s A Book Of Dreams (purchased by Kate in Watkins’ Esoteric Bookstore in 1976, before her Lindsay Kemp dance class), Cloudbusting exists in the liminal interspace between sleep and wakefulness, Reich Jr’s troubled sleep-memories of his Austrian psychoanalyst father represented as Edenic phantasy. Conceived as a short film, Cloudbusting is arguably the only Bush composition enhanced by its video, with Donald Sutherland as Wilhelm and Kate as Peter adding further meshing layers of Oedipal interpretation to the song’s melancholy Restoration march.



(from Lionheart, 1978)

TOTP dimmed the lights when she sang “Vaseline” and patted her bum.

 Whether or not the period’s pisstaking about her hippy-throwback exclamations of “Wow!” and “Amazing!” provoked the song, she made the most of it with a grotesque Guignol demolition of showbiz bullshit flattery and backstabbing (“We’d give you a part, my love/But…”). The staying power comes from the emotional distance between those squealing to grande-dame-contralto chorus “Wows” and the melancholy strings when she hesitantly begins and then fades to vanishing at the end with the fear-ridden, “We’re all alone on the stage tonight”.


Moments Of Pleasure

(from The Red Shoes, 1993)

Heart-shredding elegy to the fallen.

The cast of recently departed spans the known (Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Bush’s mother), the Googleable (Teddy is Abbey Road engineer John Barrett) and the unknown (Bubba, George The Wipe). Musically and thematically, Moments… echoes life-and-death opus This Woman’s Work, down to the line “give these moments back”, but adds deluxe orchestral icing that Bush replaced on the Director’s Cut take with a hushed choir: a longer (by one minute), more solemn and shivery pleasure.


Mrs Bartolozzi

(from Aerial, 2005)

Washing machine! Washing machine!

A poignant piano ballad-cum-remarkable portrait song, its subject lost in the moving meditation of her family’s clothes going “round and round… slooshy sloshy…” in the Hotpoint. Long, contemplative pauses suggest either profound loneliness or perhaps a more sinister backstory (what has happened to this absent family?). Or is Mrs B Kate herself, reporting from 12 years spent at home before Aerial? Or perhaps she’s all our mothers and grandmothers, a female domestic perspective so rare in art. Either way, bring a hanky.


Sat In Your Lap

(single, 1981)

Out-there outrider for The Dreaming.

Organised chaos: the African drum-charging thunder, the rigid piano lurch, the synthesized trumpet section’s blare – and then Bush sings some kind of six-characters-on-the-run-from-their-author wildness and overrides all that big pushy noise. Breathy Bush and squawky Bush alternate before transubstantiating into the dominatrix dictator – Thatcher pastiche? – declaiming “just when I think I’m king…” Meanwhile, her subject is knowledge, work, idleness, frustration, “’tis I that moan and groaneth”. You’re gobsmacked, but you’ve gotta laugh too.


The Man With The Child In His Eyes

(from The Kick Inside, 1978)

JM Barrie, Jung and Freud subdued in non-corporeal love song.

 The contemplative but still visionary preamble to Wuthering Heights, which it preceded on The Kick Inside. The soundtrack is assured orchestral pop – imagine an autumnal daytime analogue to Scott Walker’s Sleepwalkers Woman – and within she cross-fades the archetypes bewilderingly. Simultaneously a daughter/mother/lover, her reverie concerns an understanding father figure who’s also a child – and who, it appears, exists only in her imagination. Still wholly bewitching, though, and incredibly she wrote it when she was just 13.

4. This Woman’s Work

(from The Sensual World, 1989)

Her greatest ballad, written to order for John Hughes’ film She’s Having A Baby.

The emotions seeping from this ‘childbirth crisis’ are almost unbearable as Bush abandons symbolism for a direct hit of primal fear. Her own pregnancy was nine years away but given her mother Hannah’s fresh cancer diagnosis, the words double as a child’s own desperate lament, and her vocal is suitably anguished and ecstatic. The Synclavier parts – excised from the Director’s Cut revision to leave just voice/piano – are hardly obtrusive, leaving acres of space for this most tender, yet brutal, of Bush ballads.


Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)

(from Hounds Of Love, 1985)

Mood-pop gender-swapping and a contract with the Godhead.

Running Up That Hill’s appearance in Stranger Things’s series finale beamed Bush into the consciousness of thousands of minds previously unaware of her singular genius. And what an introduction. Returning to the question of genuine understanding between the sexes, here she imagines the Almighty enabling a woman and a man to actually become each other. This could have been risible – think the various ‘body swap’ storylines in film and books – but here, with its pummelling rhythms, animalistic Fairlight sample and a stark vocal that heads dauntlessly into her lower register, the impression is one of significance and limits crossed. Its parenthetical subtitle was not to be found on the 45 version – reportedly to spare religious ire.


Wuthering Heights

(from The Kick Inside, 1978)

Taking Brontë onto TOTPs and launching an oeuvre.

A hit song that bypassed the prevailing genre staples – disco, MOR, punk/new wave, pap pop – for the singular realm of peculiarity and particularity.  Yet Wuthering Heights was not just peculiar but freakish: untamed, daring, a hallucination verging on hysteria and yet perfectly controlled. Bush was 18 when she caught the end of a BBC adaption of Wuthering Heights. Only then did she read Emily Brontë’s 1847 novel to ensure she didn’t misquote Cathy Earnshaw’s utterances, unreservedly embracing the story’s brutal vicissitudes to scale the charts. Bush used the song’s unique energy to fire her self-belief, to trust to her muse. And she never betrayed it, not even once.


Hounds Of Love

(from Hounds Of Love, 1985)

Kate runs headlong from love and right into its clutches.

No matter how refined the circumstances of its creation – built at leisure in Bush’s new 48-track studio – or how newfangled its production – still tangible in the hi-tech stabs and pads of Fairlight, and the crispness of Jonathan Williams’ cello – Hounds Of Love is red in tooth and claw, its breathless, atavistic fear of capture mixed with almost supernatural rapture. Love is thundering through the psychosexual woods, hunting down somebody terrified of what it means to surrender to another person. The song opens with a quote from British horror film Night Of The Demon but that’s the only moment it feels like theatre. From then on, Hounds Of Love maintains a dizzying emotional velocity, the relentless double drumming of Charlie Morgan and Stuart Elliott stamping down on the accelerator. Bush’s voice might dip and soften, but those drums are merciless, while the strident backing vocals, like a hunting horn call, goad her on if introspection threatens to slow her down. It never lets up, every line heightening the pitch, closing the distance between song and listener. It ends with a suddenness that makes it seem like she’s hit the ground and you’ve hit it with her, breathlessly waiting for an answer to the question: “Do you know what I really need?” The uncertainty, however, is not reflected in the confidence – the perfect, dazzling completeness – of the song’s execution. On Hounds Of Love, Kate Bush is going at full pelt, chasing the horizon, running her vision to ground. Not really the hunted, but the hunter all along.

Get the latest issue of MOJO for a deep dive into Kate Bush's early creative evolution. The demos, the pub gigs, the life-changing hit, the fight for creative control, on-stage and in the camera's eye. More information and to order a copy HERE!

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