Kate Bush is a unique British musician and composer whose life and career is discussed in the Entry Kate Bush - Singer-songwriter. This Entry offers a guide to the albums Kate has released during her remarkable recording career.
The Kick Inside (1978)
Tracks: 'Moving'; 'The Saxophone Song'; 'Strange Phenomena'; 'Kite'; 'The Man With The Child In His Eyes'; 'Wuthering Heights'; 'James And The Cold Gun'; 'Feel It'; 'Oh To Be In Love'; 'L'Amour Looks Something Like You'; 'Them Heavy People'; 'Room For The Life'; 'The Kick Inside.'
The Kick Inside shows a unique talent literally finding its voice. Kate's unique delivery is exciting and evocative, as she pushes her extraordinary voice up to and occasionally beyond its limits. The lyrics map out the interests in matters exotic, erotic, spiritual and literary that would recur throughout her subsequent work, and were also occasionally daring: the album's title track deals with an incestuous brother-sister relationship. The music ranges from the sweet, delicate 'The Man With The Child In His Eyes' to the flat-out rock of 'James And The Cold Gun,' but the predominant feeling of the album is an intoxicating mixture of romanticism and strangeness.
These qualities are exemplified by the best-known song on the album: 'Wuthering Heights', the UK chart-topping single that launched Kate's career as a recording artist in early 1978. The song was, of course, inspired by Emily Brontë's classic novel about a tempestuous love affair that transcends mortality. At the time of the single's success, Kate explained: 'When I first read "Wuthering Heights" I thought the story was so strong. This young girl in an era when the female role was so inferior, and she was coming out with this passionate, heavy stuff. Great subject-matter for a song. I loved writing it. It was a real challenge to precis the whole mood of a book into such a short piece... Also, when I was a child I was always called Cathy, not Kate, and I just found myself able to relate to her as a character... There's no half measures. When I sing that song I am Cathy."
The songs for The Kick Inside had been written over a period of three years. Two of its tracks - 'The Man With The Child In His Eyes' and 'The Saxophone Song' - were recorded with David Gilmour on guitar in 1975, and formed part of the demo that won Bush her recording contract with EMI1. The remaining eleven tracks were recorded in August and September 1977 with producer Andrew Powell and a band featuring members of two other bands then signed to EMI, Pilot and Cockney Rebel2.
Though Kate herself admitted to some discomfort over her early recordings in later years, The Kick Inside established her as a highly distinctive new talent. It sold strongly in the UK, peaking at number three in the album chart.
Tracks: 'Lionheart'; 'Symphony In Blue'; 'In Search Of Peter Pan'; 'Wow'; 'Don't Push Your Foot On The Heartbrake'; 'Oh! England, My Lionheart'; 'Fullhouse'; 'In The Warm Room'; 'Kashka From Baghdad'; 'Coffee Homeground'; 'Hammer Horror'.
Kate Bush's second album was recorded in ten weeks of frantic activity in Nice, France during the late summer of 1978, and rushed out less than nine months after the release of The Kick Inside. Andrew Powell was again the producer, but this time came into some conflict with Kate, who wanted a harder sound. To some extent, she got her way, her credit as Assistant Producer reflecting the extent of her influence on the overall tone of Lionheart. In truth, though, the second Kate Bush album was broadly similar in tone to the first.
Again, there are pretty songs, including 'Oh England, My Lionheart', in which Bush succeeded in the delicate task of writing a love song to her home country without lapsing into jingoism. Again, there's one out-and-out upbeat rocker, this time 'Don't Push Your Foot On The Heartbrake'.
'Hammer Horror', the first single taken from 'Lionheart', failed to reach the UK Top 40, and the album didn't match the chart success of its predecessor. Still, the album's second single, 'Wow', returned Bush to the Top 20. Its waspish lyric suggested that its author was already acquiring a jaundiced view of showbusiness.
Never For Ever (1980)
Tracks: 'Babooshka'; 'Delius(Song Of Summer)'; 'Blow Away (For Bill)'; 'All We Ever Look For'; 'Egypt'; 'The Wedding List'; 'Violin'; 'The Infant Kiss'; 'Night Scented Stock'; 'Army Dreamers'; 'Breathing'.
Kate Bush's third album showed a greater diversity and maturity than anything she'd produced before, and its quality was matched by its commercial success. Never For Ever went all the way to number one in the UK, making Kate the first British solo woman to top her homeland's album chart.
The first UK single taken from Never For Ever was surely one of the most idiosyncratic protest songs ever to grace the UK Top 20: 'Breathing', a slow, brooding number sung from the point of view of a foetus whose mother has survived a nuclear explosion. However, the biggest hit from Never For Ever was a true Bush classic: 'Babooshka', the story of a wife putting spice back into a stale marriage by writing her husband love letters under an assumed name. The combination of a madly catchy chorus and a great video made the song an international hit around Europe.
Never For Ever also featured 'Army Dreamers', another sizeable UK hit single. The song's pretty, lilting tune offsets a pointed anti-war lyric delivered by Bush in a reasonable approximation of an Irish accent - an obvious allusion to the seemingly interminable conflict in Northern Ireland.
The gentle, wistful 'Blow Away (For Bill)' is dedicated to Bill Duffield, the lighting engineer killed in an accident in 1979 whilst working on Kate's one and only tour. The lyric pictures Duffield providing celestial lighting for a concert in the afterlife featuring an eclectic line-up of deceased stars. There are references to pioneering 1950s rock-'n'-roller Buddy Holly, Who drummer Keith Moon, acclaimed folk-rock singer Sandy Denny, Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious and soul star Minnie Riperton.
The Dreaming (1982)
Tracks: 'Sat In Your Lap'; 'There Goes A Tenner'; 'Pull Out The Pin'; 'Suspended In Gaffa'; 'Leave It Open'; 'The Dreaming'; 'Night Of The Swallow'; 'All The Love'; 'Houdini'; 'Get Out Of My House'.
The Dreaming is Kate Bush's most extreme, experimental and adventurous record; which, when dealing with such an innovative artist, is saying a lot. The clamorous 'Sat In Your Lap', a galloping, percussive blast of sound featuring Kate's soprano range at its most piercing, had been released as a single in the summer of 1981, to moderate success. 'Sat In Your Lap' revealed Bush sounding tougher than ever before, but it's positively conventional compared to some of The Dreaming's other contents.
The title track, concerning Australian Aboriginal customs and history, is built largely from drums, voices, and the didgeridoo of an improbable guest star: Rolf Harris. There are also sudden sound effects that seemed to jump out of the speakers. When released as a single, it gained little airplay and fell short of the UK Top 40.
'Pull Out The Pin', again featuring some of Kate's most dramatic vocal extremes, courted controversy by taking the point of view of a Vietnamese soldier fighting Americans. 'Night Of The Swallow' introduced an Irish traditional element into Bush's music, with guest appearances from members of two leading Irish folk bands, Planxty and The Chieftains. The chilling 'Get Out Of My House' ends the album on a supernatural note, Kate taking the role of a landlady trying to evict evil spirits from her property.
There are more immediately accessible tracks on the album: the giddy waltz 'Suspended In Gaffa' provided Bush with a hit single in Europe. The catchy 'There Goes A Tenner', in which Kate took the role of a Cockney bank robber, was issued instead in the UK - but became the only Kate Bush single to miss the UK chart completely. Nevertheless, the album was critically acclaimed and a commercial success, peaking at number three in the UK. In November 1982, two months after its release in Britain, The Dreaming became the first Kate Bush album since The Kick Inside to be released in the United States3 and caused a sizeable stir, reaching the Billboard Top 200.
Hounds Of Love (1985)
Tracks: 'Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)'; 'Hounds Of Love'; 'The Big Sky'; 'Mother Stands For Comfort'; 'Cloudbusting'; 'And Dream Of Sheep'; 'Under Ice'; 'Waking The Witch'; 'Watching You Without Me'; 'Jig Of Life'; 'Hello Earth'; 'The Morning Fog'4.
The gorgeous Hounds Of Love is probably Kate Bush's most widely-loved album, and it certainly boosted her popularity enormously. It was preceded by a superb single in 'Running Up That Hill', a percussive, urgent and exhilarating song about loving someone so much, you want to take their place in times of trouble. 'Running Up That Hill' and the Hounds Of Love album provided Kate with her first big breakthrough in the United States; both were Top 40 hits in the US national charts. In Britain, Hounds Of Love became Bush's second chart-topping album. 'Running Up That Hill' was her biggest UK hit since 'Wuthering Heights', peaking at Number Three, and the album spawned three more UK Top 40 singles: 'Cloudbusting', 'Hounds Of Love' and 'The Big Sky'.
'Cloudbusting' is a song with an interesting story behind it. The opening line - 'I still dream of Orgonon' - refers to the Orgonon estate in Maine, USA: the one-time headquarters of the highly controversial psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, who believed that all living things contained a form of energy that he called 'orgone energy'. Reich built machines called 'orgone accumulators' with which, he claimed, orgone energy could be harnessed to (among other things) make rain - hence 'cloudbusting'. Reich's work made the American authorities of the 1950s so nervous that a court injunction was obtained under which his books were withdrawn from sale and destroyed. Reich himself was jailed in 1957 for breaking a court injunction forbidding the transportation of orgone accumulators across state lines, and died in a Pennsylvania prison later the same year. Bush wrote 'Cloudbusting' after reading A Book Of Dreams, a memoir by Reich's son Peter. In the video for 'Cloudbusting', Kate plays the young Peter Reich, who is seen being shown an orgone accumulator by his father. Wilhelm Reich is portrayed by the celebrated Canadian film actor Donald Sutherland.
Hounds Of Love is a kind of semi-concept album. The seven tracks that appeared on the second side of the vinyl release - 'And Dream Of Sheep', 'Under Ice', 'Waking The Witch', 'Watching You Without Me', 'Jig Of Life', 'Hello Earth' and 'The Morning Fog' - form a song cycle, with the overall title of 'The Ninth Wave'5. In an interview at the time of the album's release, Bush explained that the song cycle was: '...About someone who comes off a ship and they've been in the water all night by themselves, and it's about that person re-evaluating their life from a point which they've never been before. It's about waking up from things and being reborn - going through something and coming out the other side very different... It ends really positively - as things always should if you have control.'
The Whole Story (1986)
Tracks: 'Wuthering Heights' (New Vocal); 'Cloudbusting'; 'The Man With The Child In His Eyes'; 'Breathing'; 'Wow'; 'Hounds Of Love'; 'Running Up That Hill'; 'Army Dreamers'; 'Sat In Your Lap'; 'Experiment IV'; 'The Dreaming'; 'Babooshka' 6.
Kate's greatest hits album, released in time for Christmas 1986, became an instant smash hit. The album topped the UK chart and remained on the chart for more than a year. The Whole Story still sells steadily, even though its title - like that of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker Trilogy - became less and less accurate in the years following its first appearance.
'Experiment IV' - a sinister tale about the military-seeking ways to use sound as a weapon - was issued as a single just before the release of The Whole Story, to moderate success. Its B-side was the only other track on The Whole Story that hadn't previously seen the light of day: the reworked version of 'Wuthering Heights' that opens the collection. Bush had grown embarrassed by what she saw as the little-girlish quality of her voice on some of her early tracks, and insisted on re-recording the vocals for 'Wuthering Heights'7. The new version certainly illustrates how much Kate's vocal technique had improved between 1977 and 1986: her voice sounds far stronger than on the original, her diction is much improved, and she provides some exhilarating soulful wailing over the closing guitar solo.
The Sensual World (1989)
Tracks: 'The Sensual World'; 'Love And Anger'; 'The Fog'; 'Reaching Out'; 'Heads We're Dancing'; 'Deeper Understanding'; 'Between A Man And A Woman'; 'Never Be Mine'; 'Rocket's Tail'; 'This Woman's Work'; 'Walk Straight Down The Middle' 8.
The Sensual World is perhaps the most intimate-sounding Kate Bush album, its romantic tone enhanced by the use of folk instrumentation to add an organic touch to a glossy production. Along with Bush's loyal supporter Dave Gilmour on guitar, the album features Davey Spillane on uilleann pipes and whistles, Donal Lunny on bouzouki and The Trio Bulgarka on backing vocals. Populist classical violinist Nigel Kennedy also appears, and there are string and orchestral arrangements from Michael Nyman and Michael Kamen.
The title track, like 'Wuthering Heights' before it, has Kate taking on the persona of a character from a famous novel: in this case, Molly Bloom from James Joyce's Ulysses. It's one of Bush's most joyously erotic songs - rarely can the word 'Yes!' have been delivered with more delight - but it was only a modest success when released as the first single from the album, peaking at number 12 in the UK chart.
It isn't the only song on the album with a highly imaginative lyric. 'Heads We Dance', set in 1939, tells the story of a woman who goes for an evening out and dances with a charming man - only to see a newspaper later and realise that her dancing partner had been Adolf Hitler. 'Deeper Understanding' is a song that some h2g2 Researchers may understand only too well: it's about becoming obsessed with a computer to the exclusion of all else.
The second British single from the album was 'This Woman's Work' - a powerful, sensitive song written from the point of view of a man watching his partner struggling to give birth to a baby. Originally written for the film She's Having A Baby, it wasn't a big hit single, but remains a strong favourite with Bush's fanbase.
The same could be said about The Sensual World as a whole. The album wasn't Bush's biggest commercial success, being hampered by a lack of smash-hit singles9 and surprisingly limited promotional activity at the time of its release: but The Sensual World's reputation has grown over the years since its release.
The Red Shoes (1993)
Tracks: 'Rubberband Girl'; 'And So Is Love'; 'Eat The Music'; 'Moments Of Pleasure'; 'Song Of Solomon'; 'Lily'; 'Red Shoes'; 'Top Of The City'; 'Constellation Of The Heart'; 'Big Stripey Lie'; 'Why Should I Love You'; 'You're The One.'
A somewhat controversial work among Bush fans, The Red Shoes is probably her most conventional-sounding album, and certainly her most star-studded in terms of famous guests: Eric Clapton, Prince, Jeff Beck and Procol Harum's Gary Brooker all appear, as do old friends Nigel Kennedy and The Trio Bulgarka. The most improbable guest is the British comedian Lenny Henry, who provides backing vocals on 'Why Should I Love You' - the track that also features vocal and multi-instrumental contributions from Prince. The catchy 'Rubberband Girl' was released as the first UK single from The Red Shoes, reaching number 12. Three subsequent UK singles - 'Moments Of Pleasure', 'The Red Shoes' and 'And So Is Love' - all peaked in the bottom ten of the Top 30.
Despite its accessible melodies and glossy production, there is a dark undercurrent running through The Red Shoes. The record is dedicated to the memory of Kate's mother Hannah Bush, who died in 1992, and 'Moments Of Pleasure' mentions several of Kate's deceased friends and relatives. The lyrics are often more direct than those on Bush's earlier albums. 'And So Is Love' is a stark lament for lost innocence: 'We used to say/"Ah Hell, we're young"/But now we see that life is sad/And so is love'.
The Red Shoes was Kate's final album before she embarked on a long silence, and it's tempting to examine it for clues as to what prompted her subsequent disappearance from view. The song 'The Red Shoes' is based on the macabre Hans Christian Andersen fable about a little girl who finds some magic shoes that give her the power to dance brilliantly - but then finds that the shoes won't stop dancing, and she can't take them off. Had Kate come to feel that way about her pop career? The shockingly blunt sentiments of 'Song Of Solomon' sound suspiciously like the kind of demands that had been made of Bush throughout her career: 'Don't want your bulls**t, yeah/Just want your sexuality/Don't want excuses, yeah/Write me your poetry in motion'. Perhaps 'Eat The Music' is the clearest complaint of all: 'Split me open/With devotion/You put your hands in/And rip my heart out/At the music'.
Whatever, The Red Shoes sold more than respectably, reaching number two in the UK and also entering the Billboard Top 30 in the United States. The demand for more Kate Bush music was certainly there: but it would be a long time before that demand was met.
Tracks on Disc One, A Sea Of Honey: 'King Of The Mountain'; 'Pi'; 'Bertie'; 'Mrs. Bartolozzi'; 'How To Be Invisible'; 'Joanni'; 'A Coral Room'. Tracks on Disc Two, A Sky Of Honey: 'Prelude'; 'Prologue'; 'An Architect's Dream'; 'The Painter's Link'; 'Sunset'; 'Aerial Tal'; 'Somewhere In Between'; 'Nocturn'; 'Aerial'.
Following the release of The Red Shoes, year after year passed with no new music from Kate Bush. Occasionally, rumours that Kate was recording again would filter out, but her fans' hopes were dashed again and again. More than a decade went by with no firm news. Kate's epic silence even inspired a novel, John Mendelssohn's Waiting For Kate Bush, about the inhabitants of a boarding house in which a group of obsessive Kate fans whiled away the time while awaiting their heroine's return to public view.
Then, in December 2004, a Christmas message from Kate to the members of her official fan club made headline news in the mainstream UK press. In the message, the much-missed singer firmly pledged that her new album would appear in the following year. After such a long wait, many were sceptical; but the promise was fulfilled when Aerial was released in November 2005.
The single released to accompany the album returned Kate to the higher reaches of the UK chart, but also hinted at one reason for Kate's lengthy absence from the music industry. The brooding, reggae-influenced 'King Of The Mountain' features a lyric addressed to Elvis Presley and reflecting on the personal cost of fame. Kate paid tribute to another deceased musical hero, Marvin Gaye, by including her cover version of his hit song 'Sexual Healing' as a bonus track on the single. The packaging of 'King Of The Mountain' featured an illustration drawn by Kate's young son Bertie, born in 1998.
The musicians who participated on Aerial include ex-Japan bassist Mick Karn, Procol Harum singer/keyboard player Gary Brooker, ex-10cc singer Lol Creme, drummer Stuart Elliott, jazz percussionist Peter Erskine, accordion player Chris Hall and classical musicians Emma Murphy and Susanna Pell, respectively renowned as players of the recorder and the viol. There's also a spoken-word contribution from Kate's old friend Rolf Harris. Two tracks on the album feature string arrangements by Michael Kamen, performed by the London Metropolitan Orchestra and recorded under Kamen's direction at Abbey Road in October 2003. Sadly, Kamen - who also worked with Bush on The Red Shoes, The Sensual World and Hounds Of Love - died of a heart attack a few weeks after completing his contributions to the album.
Having waited ages for a new Kate Bush album, her fans now found that two came at once. Aerial is a two-CD set, with each disc given its own title: A Sea Of Honey and A Sky Of Honey, images that are illustrated by the honey-coloured landscape on the album's cover. Aerial follows the pattern of Hounds Of Love in that its first half consists of individual songs while its second half contains a suite of thematically linked tracks, but this time the two halves are on separate discs.
There are occasional stylistic surprises, such as Kate singing along with some birdsong on 'Aerial Tal' or impersonating Elvis's vocal delivery on 'King Of The Mountain'; but Aerial is very recognisably a Kate Bush record, reprising many of the musical devices of her earlier albums. There are sparse voice-and-piano pieces like 'Mrs. Bartolozzi' and 'The Coral Room', and far more elaborate arrangements on other tracks like the lavishly orchestrated 'Prologue' or the upbeat, guitar-driven 'How To Be Invisible'.
Some lyrical themes recur in different songs on A Sea Of Honey. Bush's family life provides the inspiration for two sharply contrasting pieces: 'Bertie', a joyous expression of Kate's love for her son, and 'A Coral Room', a sombre, beautiful song dealing with the death of her mother. Other songs deal, in different ways, with the subject of obsession. 'Pi' concerns a mathematician obsessed with pi, the number equal to the circumference of a circle divided by its diameter, and Kate illustrates the obsession by singing said number to a large number of decimal places. 'How To Be Invisible' has been interpreted by some listeners as Kate gently mocking her own more obsessive fans, and the 'spell' contained in its chorus certainly reveals her often overlooked sense of humour: 'Eye of Braille/Hem of anorak/Stem of wallflower/Hair of doormat'. 'Joanni' is a tribute to a heroine from history, Joan of Arc. 'Mrs. Bartolozzi' is an enigmatic tale of doing the washing, wading in the sea and - according to some interpretations - murder.
The songs on A Sky Of Honey are thematically linked. Its songs take the listener on a journey through a day from dawn to night and finally back to the start of a new day, with thoughts on nature and creativity thrown in along with birdsong and Rolf Harris's guest appearance.
The critical reaction to the exceptionally long-awaited album was broadly positive, and Kate's fans too generally warmly welcomed Aerial. Some felt that she had lost some of her earlier passion, but the majority enjoyed the mellow, mature and still sometimes startling music featured on Aerial. In interviews at the time of its release, Kate expressed relief and excitement at having her new record out at long last, and confessed that she had worried that people might have forgotten about her. The popularity of Aerial showed any such fears to have been groundless.