Kate Bush: the art pop Goddess of the 1980’s. This would be one of many axioms to describe this talented woman. Of course, one could also call her a mad genius of the pop world, in general. And one could also write her off as a mellifluous angel of the 20th century musical heavens who single-handedly influenced every subsequent female of the pop/rock world who soon followed. Every modern pop entity who borders on brash, daring, and experimental musicality has this woman to thank; the Madonna’s, Bjork’s, Tori Amos’s, Lorde’s, St. Vincent’s, Florence Welch’s, PJ Harvey’s, and Lady Gaga’s of the world are forever in Kate Bush’s debt. She’s the female equivalent of a David Bowie or Peter Gabriel: A chameleon who constantly evolved her sound and challenged the status quo of mainstream music by going outside of her comfort zone and producing the kind of music SHE wanted. It was cutting edge. It was beautiful. It was completely bizarre. It was completely bold. It was not the kind of music that Mtv and radio stations were used to churning out.
But I guess we can all thank David Gilmour of Pink Floyd for introducing the world to Kate Bush; he did, after all, discover her when she was just sixteen years old! From her debut LP, all the way to her 2011 release 50 Words for Snow, Kate has demonstrated time and time again that she is a true force to be reckoned with in the cosmos of modern music. Her influence on not only pop, but rock music as well, is undeniable; just ask Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd who has named her off as one of his favorite artists. Hell, she’s even Big Boi’s (from Hip Hop group Outkast) all time favorite artist and biggest musical influence. This woman can simply do no wrong; she’s even one of MY biggest influences as well…not that that matters or anything.
So here’s an essential ranking of all of her albums from good to best, since you can’t really say she put out a bad one.
10.) Director’s Cut:
This really doesn’t count as an actual studio album, but a mere collection of songs from her two albums, “The Sensual World” and “The Red Shoes,” remixed and remastered. They’re a nice collection of updated recordings, with a raw and less polished feel than the studio counterparts. The one significant difference, however, is the song “Flower of the Mountain,” which is a reworking of the title track on “The Sensual World;” the original lyrics inspired by the “Ulysses” character Molly Bloom’s final soliloquy in the book are in tact here as well. Director’s Cut is a pretty good listen if you’re looking to get into Kate’s more accessible work right off the bat.
Coming off of the heels of her newfound success, Kate released this record the same year as her debut The Kick Inside. It’s usually brushed aside as her most unimaginative and least ambitious record, but that was to be expected. It’s still a good album that everybody should check out; especially the singles “Symphony in Blue” and “Wow.”
8.) The Red Shoes
The Red Shoes is Kate’s most commercial record; that still doesn’t mean that it isn’t good. It’s a concept album inspired by the 1948 film of the same name, which was also inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale of the same name.
It’s definitely her most star-studded album, with artists like Prince (“Why Should I Love You?”), Eric Clapton (“And So Is Love”), Gary Brooker of Procol Harum (also, “And So Is Love.”), and Jeff Beck (“You’re The One”).
Songs to definitely check out here besides those are “Rubberband Girl,” “The Song of Solomon,” “Lily,” and “Top of the City.”
7.) Never for Ever
This was the album where she final started to find her style. Released in 1980, Never for Ever found Kate Bush dabbling with digital synthesizers and drum machines, as well as honing in on the baroque pop sensibilities she had flirted with on her first two records; this is also the album that houses two of her big hits: the infectious “Babooshka” and the anti-war song “Army Dreamers.”
Aside from those, other great tracks on this album to listen to are “Blow Away,” “Egypt,” Violin (her most hard rocking tune to date.),” “The Infant Kiss (inspired by the 1961 ghost film The Innocents.),” and “Breathing (one of her best and most soul-crushing songs that tells the story of a fetus inside of it’s mother who’s well aware that there’s a nuclear fallout going on outside.).”
6.) The Kick Inside
This is the album that started it all. It was released in 1978 when she was just nineteen years old, but most of the songs were written when she was thirteen years old. This is one of the best debuts by an artist, and for Kate, it was but an espy of what her signature sound would soon become.
Here, she approaches each of her songs with a progressive pop approach, along with several literary influences in her lyrical content; the most abundant one being the very single that skyrocketed her into the pantheon of great singer/songwriters: “Wuthering Heights.” This is the pinnacle of her creative talent; a wildly idiosyncratic and experimental pop song completely ahead of its time, but a song that’s so well-respected and influential.
Other great cuts from The Kick Inside include “Moving,” “The Saxophone Song,” “The Man With the Child in His Eyes,” “Them Heavy People,” and “Room for the Life.”
This was Kate’s ninth studio album after a twelve year hiatus where she went back to her home country and raised her son during that period of time. With Aerial, she never loses her luster, even after being out of the music industry for as long as she was. She produced a lush record with modern touches of classical, folk, jazz, and soul accentuated within her lengthy, prog rock exercises that still sounds fresh today; albeit, a more easy listening version of Kate Bush in stark contrast to her more hard edged sound prior to this. Side one of the album, titled “A Sea of Honey,” is exactly as the name suggests; it’s swirling melodies and dreamy pop creations are something to marvel, given some of the random subject matter in some of its tracks (I mean, she literally sings the numbers in the pi formula in the song “”π”, and also “Mrs. Bartolozzi,” where she turns the mundane act of washing clothes into something quite erotic.) But it’s side two, titled “A Sky of Honey,” that’s truly wonderful. It’s a forty-two minute suite of atmospheric melancholy and aural intimacy that sets a mood for the listener; a mood akin to a sunset copulating with a quiet ocean breeze.
4.) 50 Words for Snow
This is Kate Bush’s current album, released in 2011. It’s quite an underrated album, mainly because it’s her most minimalist. It’s winter concept, layered with gorgeous strings and jazz-inflected delicacies on top of her woeful, and at times, heartbreaking, piano pieces, demonstrates Kate’s inimitable penchant for making the most temporal topics seem so intriguing; something you truly invest your time in. Take the song “Wild Man” for example. She deconstructs the mythology of the yeti, and turns it into something quite tragic; she humanizes this beast and creates a cinematic landscape, much like the rest of the album.
The true standout songs here are definitely the Elton John duet “Snowed in at Wheeler Street,” the aforementioned “Wild Man,” the Stephen Fry collaboration on the title track, the shimmering “Misty,” and “Snowflake (with her son playing the role as the titular character.).
3.) The Dreaming
Released in 1982, this was the album Kate referred to as her “I’ve gone mad” album, and it really shows in it’s brutally atypical arrangements and boisterous vocal performances; one would equate this album to a severe case of psychosis, paranoia, as well as a deafening mental breakdown. But if this isn’t one of the greatest albums the 1980’s, and a benchmark of sonic experimentation for its time.
It’s quirky, sometimes off-putting sound, especially in tracks like “There Goes a Tenner”, “Leave It Open (this one is absolute bonkers, and is probably the heaviest sounding song on the album, with a line at the end that basically sums up everything about Kate Bush and this record: “let the weirdness in.”)” and “The Dreaming (a song about the destruction of Aboriginal homelands at the hands of white Australians, which makes great use of a didgeridoo, by the way.) will turn most listeners off upon first listen, but after a few more times, you’ll come to appreciate it’s authenticity, originality, and emotionally-affecting grandiose; just listen to “Suspended in Gaffa,” “Night of the Swallow”, and “Houdini” for further proof.
The final track, “Get Out of My House,” a post-punk freak-out, with lyrics inspired by Stephen King’s The Shining, is one of the creepiest, yet maniacally satisfying album closer’s you’ll ever hear. This is a true avant-pop masterpiece and every art rock enthusiast’s wet dream.
2.) The Sensual World
After the critical and commercial success of her 1985 opus Hounds of Love, how could Kate Bush top herself on this next record? Well, that’s the thing: she didn’t need to best herself with this third consecutive masterpiece. All she had to do was further her string arrangements, lyrical content, and propensity for unconventional rock textures, by creating an explosive, sexual, blissful, prescient, and quite touching record.
Everything from the James Joyce-inspired title track, “The Fog,” “Heads We’re Dancing,” the depressing and futuristic “Deeper Understanding (a song that pretty much predicted our obsession and over-dependency with modern technology and social media.),”Between a Man and a Woman,” the volcanic “Rocket’s Tail (with David Gilmour’s guitar work making a cameo appearance.),” and perhaps one of the biggest songs of her career, “This Woman’s Work.” “This Woman’s Work,” written specifically for the 1989 film She’s Having a Baby, is her crowning achievement as an artist; a tearjerker of a song that’s so powerful and universally adored, and a song that speaks to every mother and father on some intrinsic level.
1.) Hounds of Love
Here it is; her magnum opus. One of the greatest albums of all time: 1985’s Hounds of Love. What more can be said that hasn’t already been eloquently said by various other music publications? This was the record where Kate Bush decided to go off on her own and produce her own music. So she retreated to her family home, built her own studio in her barn, and utilized the most up-to-date technology to birth one of the most melodic yet alien albums of the 1980’s; an album that could be released today and still sound organic as it did 30 years ago.
This is an art rock/pop tour de force. It’s an album where every song is a classic through and through. Side one, titled “Hounds of Love,” is full of her very best works. You’ve got the magnificent opening track “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God), which challenges both genders to swap each other’s places just for a day to understand each other better. Then you’ve got hits like the title track, and the resplendent “Cloudbusting;” the latter being one of the most beautifully arranged of her entire catalog.
But it’s side two of the album, titled “The Ninth Wave,” that’s a true work of art. It’s a concept piece comprised of seven songs that tell the harrowing story about a person lost at sea who tries to keep themselves from drowning by recounting their past, present, and future, so they can stay awake until morning. Some of the highlights of The Ninth Wave are “And Dream of Sheep,” “Watching You Without Me,” “Jig of Life,” and “Hello Earth.”
If you haven’t listened to this album, you need to stop what you’re doing and go do so; it’s truly a life-changing experience. Not many albums like this come along very often; an album that taps into the human condition, but still manages to confound with it’s complexities and musical aesthetics. Hounds of Love is nothing short of perfection.
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