We're halfway through 2022 and English 80s singer Kate Bush is having a resurgence in popularity. It's all thanks to the Netflix horror show Stranger Things and its use of Bush's 1985 song "Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)" throughout the fourth season. We knew Kate Bush was a legend before Stranger Things thrust her into the spotlight, but it's awesome to see she's gaining a whole new level of appreciation due to the young fans now exploring her work.
Because of her newfound popularity, the typically quiet Bush has been making some rare public appearances lately. Most recently, she appeared on BBC Radio 4 to talk about "Running Up That Hill" and its origins. The song has been making big waves this year: from hitting #1 on iTunes to ranking first in Spotify's Viral 50 chart and trending all over TikTok...
...But is "Running Up That Hill" really Kate Bush's best work? And what other songs of hers deserve attention just as much as her Stranger Things hit?
That's what we'll be figuring out today. In this Top 10 list, we'll be taking a look at tracks from Bush's ten studio albums and ranking them based on their commercial and critical success, as well as their technical merit, storytelling skills, and legacy they've left on the music world and pop culture. And yes, we'll be including "Running Up That Hill" somewhere in this ranking.
Without further ado, let's get runnin' up this list!
10. "Moments of Pleasure"
"Moments of Pleasure" is the fourth track and second single from Kate Bush’s The Red Shoes, released in 1993. It's considered one of her most iconic piano ballads, and with the added strings that pump up the drama factor, it's certainly one of her prettiest pieces.
"Moments of Pleasure" is a melancholy track that sees Bush remembering important people in her life that have passed on. It's especially poignant considering Bush's own mother was sick at the time of her recording the song. The song also appears in the 1993 film The Line, The Cross and the Curve, which depicts Bush’s character falling to the ground through snow. That section of the film serves as the song's official music video. Speaking of snow, Bush has remarked that while writing the track, it started to snow outside while she was remembering Michael Powell in New York.
On the song, Bush remarked in a letter, "It was written in the 'old way' where I wrote it on the piano at home and kept it in my head rather than writing it onto tape. It was an attempt for me to get back to my 'roots' where I had to see if I could still just sit with myself at the piano and write a song without having the outside influence of 'technology'. It was interesting for me."
Bush completed "Breathing" when she was just 21 years old. Given the song's deep lyrical content, you can see just how precocious Bush was even during her early music career.
"Breathing" served as the lead single for Bush's third album Never for Ever. The song is sung from the perspective of a fetus that's aware of what is going on outside the womb and frightened by the nuclear fallout that's taking place. The lyrics also refer to the fetus absorbing nicotine from its mother’s smoking. So all in all, this track is about the struggles – and beauty – of breathing out and in.
Bush has described the song as her “little symphony,” and believes it to be her best work to date. Bush has also stated the information within the song mostly came from a documentary she had seen about the effects of nuclear war, and the tone of the song was inspired by Pink Floyd’s The Wall.
8. "Waking the Witch"
"Waking the Witch" takes a lot of risks...maybe more risks than the average listener may be comfortable with. But that's precisely why we love it! Listening to "Waking the Witch" is like entering a sonic nightmare. But not a cheap nightmare – a fascinating one with sounds that appear from all over the place. Personally, we think this song is way more fit for Stranger Things than "Running Up That Hill" is. Especially since it features a demon voice that sounds a lot like Vecna!
Appearing on her hit 1985 album Hounds of Love, “Waking the Witch” is the first in a series of three songs about the hallucinations experienced by a woman who is slowly freezing and running out of oxygen following a shipwreck. The three songs seem to follow a past, present, future pattern, with “Waking the Witch” representing the past.
The experimental track is based partially on a book titled The Witch of Blackbird Pond, where the main character is a witness to a Salem-like witch trial and burning. The speaker in "Waking the Witch" appears to be experiencing the trial as the defendant, and the prosecutor attempts to force a confession out of her. As the jury delivers their verdict, she maintains her innocence, and the song ends with reality breaking through her delusion as we hear the words “Get out of the waves, get out of the water.”
Aah, a Kate Bush song that feels like something out of a cabaret. "Babooshka" is a cute tune that appears on her 1980 album Never For Ever. It was released as a single in the same year, and peaked at #5 on the UK chart.
The song tells the story of a woman who, under a pen name, tests her husband’s loyalty by posing as a young admirer looking for an affair. Babooshka, the wife’s adopted nom de plume, is (when spelled “babushka”) actually the Russian word for "grandmother." This was something Kate Bush was unaware of when the song was written.
It's actually a happy accident, however, since it could be taken as an ironic stab at how the woman's husband no longer finds her attractive – seeing her as an old woman instead. In our personal interpretation of the song, we think the word "Babooshka" actually becomes a name of empowerment for the wife.
6. "Hounds of Love"
“Hounds of Love” is the third single from Kate Bush’s highly-acclaimed fifth studio album of the same name. We love how much this song moves. It's like running through the woods within a pack of wild dogs. We also love how Kate is able to manipulate her vocals when she sings that "Ooh ooh ooh" bit. She literally sounds like a chorus of dogs!
Anyway, the relatable "Hounds of Love" is all about the feeling of trepidation before falling deeply in love, and the feeling of being trapped inside a relationship. The song is partly inspired by one of Kate's favorite horror movies called Night of the Demon. In the movie, a demon appears within trees. The line at the top of the song, ‘It’s in the trees — It’s coming!’, is actually a direct quote from the film. No wonder why this song sounds so cinematic!
5. "This Woman's Work"
This is, without a doubt, Bush's best piano ballad. "This Woman's Work" is all about being forced to confront an unexpected and frightening crisis during childbirth. The song was used in the movie She’s Having a Baby, when Jake (Kevin Bacon) learns the lives of his wife (Elizabeth McGovern) and their unborn child are in danger.
Honestly, we feel "This Woman's Work" is a tense, heartbreaking piece that rivals the work of other master balladeers like Phoebe Bridgers and Sam Smith. It's full of grief as well as majesty, and features some of Kate's best vocal work to date. Unlike the soon-to-hopefully-be father in this song, we have no problems crying to this track. They just come flowing out!
4. "The Sensual World"
Atmospheric, fantasy-like, and just as sensual as the title suggests! "The Sensual World" is pure magic, and also the title of Bush's 1989 studio album. The single entered and peaked at Number 12 on the UK single charts, and features a beautiful orchestration of uilleann pipes, fiddles, whistles, and Kate's soothing, wispy voice.
The song was inspired by Molly Bloom stepping out of the black and white, two-dimensional pages of James Joyce’s Ulysses into the real world. The track was originally supposed to quote Molly Bloom’s ending soliloquy, but Bush could not secure the rights from the Joyce estate originally. Later, however, the song was re-recorded with Bloom's soliloquy and released as “Flower of the Mountain.”
Along with "The Sensual World," this sublime song makes us feel so free when listening to it. In a sense, that's the theme of "Cloudbusting" – longing for freedom and peace.
The fifth track on Kate’s 1985 LP Hounds of Love, this song is based on Peter Reich’s 1973 memoir A Book of Dreams, which explores Peter's memories of his father Wilhelm Reich: one of Sigmund Freud’s earliest students. He later became known for his esoteric theories of energy, believing that he could harvest energy from the sky by making it rain with his "cloudbusting" machine. Unfortunately, Wilhelm was incarcerated by the FBI in 1941, and this song is all about Peter remembering the good times with his father...and wishing for those times back.
We love the graceful strings in this song, the melancholy edge, and the emotion Kate puts behind the line "Ooh, I just know that something good is gonna happen." While "Running Up That Hill" got its time in the spotlight through Stranger Things, this gorgeous song came in handy during season 3, episode 11 of The Handmaid’s Tale.
2. "Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)"
Here it is! While we don't think "Running Up That Hill" is Bush's best song of all time (we'll get to that in a second), we do believe it deserves all the praise it's been getting recently. In Stranger Things, this song describes the relationship between Max and her brother, Billy. But in reality, "Running Up That Hill" is actually Kate Bush's fantasy of having men and women switch places in order to understand each other better.
“Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” was the first single from Hounds of Love. The song was originally titled “A Deal With God,” but Bush's label changed the title to make the track more palatable to religious countries. The single was released on August 5, 1985 and originally peaked at No. 3 on the UK charts and No. 30 on the US Billboard Hot 100. Following its usage in Stranger Things, the song achieved two new peaks: No. 1 in the UK and No. 4 in the US. In the US, it remains Bush’s first and only major charting success. In 2022, the song now also holds the record for the longest-ever gap between No. 1 singles, the longest time for a single to reach No. 1, and the oldest female artist ever to score a No. 1. You go, Kate!
Theatrical, intense, and emotional, "Running Up That Hill" has all the makings of a #1 hit. But we still think Bush's original #1 success is just a bit more iconic...
1. "Wuthering Heights"
This was the song Kate Bush was best known for pre-Stranger Things. In 1978, at only age 19, she topped the UK Singles Chart for four weeks with her debut single "Wuthering Heights," knocking off ABBA in the process. She became the first female artist to achieve a UK number one with this self-written song. Oh, and she also did the music production for it, too. And choreographed the dancing for the music video. Kate Bush is just oozing with talent, folks.
“Wuthering Heights” is based on Emily Brontë’s novel of the same name, although Bush was more inspired by the 1967 BBC miniseries adaptation when penning this track. Ironically, her and Brontë share the same birthday – July 30.
"Wuthering Heights" quotes lines directly from the novel and focuses on two characters: Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw. The reader is introduced to Catherine (Cathy) following her death. During her lifetime, she shared a romance with Heathcliff, but ultimately married someone else. Heathcliff did not take the rejection well, assuming that she never loved him, and became a bitter, violent man. This song, told from Cathy's perspective, reflects on their turbulent relationship.
We love how Bush incorporates the themes of the novel not only in the song's lyrical content, but also within her vocal performance. The ghost of Catherine is described by Heathcliff as having “a most melancholy voice,” and Bush uses a shrill-yet-somber tone when singing the lines of the song. And who can get that awesome chorus out of their head? "Heathcliff, it's me, Cathy / I’ve come home, I'm so cold!" Some people prefer books to movies. We prefer this song to the book.
"Wuthering Heights," just like Kate Bush herself, is abstract, defiant, empowering, emotional, theatrical, sensual, and spiritual. No wonder why so many artists – like Florence Welch, Tori Amos, and Björk – have been inspired by Bush. There's only one proper word to describe Kate and her discography: timeless.
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Article Image: A painted portrait of Kate Bush. (Stephen Luff [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons.)