Music

Literally the Best Thing Ever: Kate Bush

I’d waited my whole life to discover her.

It’s a beautiful thing when you find an artist it seems like you were waiting your whole life to discover. I stumbled upon Kate Bush relatively late in the game, by way of Tori Amos (an entirely other post), because Tori was compared to Kate time and time again in magazine articles and reviews. It was 2003—exactly 25 years after the release of Kate’s debut album—before I finally got around to downloading a song of hers.

I started with “Wuthering Heights,” her first single, which had been a chart-topper in Europe, but was not as well known in the States. I was 22, a college student living in my first actual apartment, and after I listened to it, I couldn’t get Kate’s intoxicating, witchy, high-pitched wailing out of my head. This was my new soundtrack. (If you’ve heard this song, I’m preaching to the choir, but if you haven’t, do so now, and congratulations. Your life just became a whole lot more magical.) As you might have guessed, the song was inspired by the Emily Brontë novel of the same name, and it’s probably the best example of what I think makes Kate Bush so supremely special: the specificity and intensity of her lyrics. She doesn’t just loosely reference the book—she actually channels the (spoiler alert!) ghost of Catherine Earnshaw by addressing Heathcliff in the chorus, which is so nerdy and awesome and weird. I officially fell under Kate’s spell.

I soon found a VHS copy of her music-video collection, The Whole Story, on eBay, which takes her idiosyncratic style to a whole new level. (I mean, male dancers wearing an assortment of goat horns and dunce caps for no real reason? What goes on in your beautiful brain, Kate?) Unless you happened to catch her on her one and only tour in 1979, which you didn’t, these videos are the only way to really experience Kate in all her performative, peculiar glory. Here are my five favorites:

“Wuthering Heights”

Are you still alive? I know, it’s a lot to take. Kate’s intense facial expressions and the hilarious late-’70s special effects totally confirmed her place in my heart. One of the reasons this video is so enchanting is Kate’s background in dance AND, yes, mime, which is perhaps not a surprise given how expertly and unabashedly animated her moves are here. Actually, “Moving,” the first track from her debut album, The Kick Inside, was reportedly written for her mime instructor, Lindsay Kemp, who also worked with David Bowie. The record also includes some whale sounds, just in case your current musical rotation is lacking in whale sounds.

“Breathing”

This incredibly dramatic and gorgeous epic is sung from the perspective of a fetus affected by its mother’s exposure to nuclear fallout. It comes from the 1980 album Never for Ever, which I cherish for its dreamy cover art and the cartoon-fairy-kingdom sound of “All We Ever Look For” and just the strange surprises of Kate’s inspiration. “Egypt” tells of falling in love with a foreign country (please don’t miss this video), while “The Infant Kiss” is a story of a governess who finds herself attracted to a child in her care: “I’ve never fallen for a little boy before / No control.” (But don’t worry, the child in question is possessed by an older, presumably of-age male soul, so…)

“The Dreaming”

In college, my friends and I would put on this video and synchronize our dance moves to those of Kate and her troupe of background dancers, all of whom appear to be the moon (but the song is about the abuse of Aboriginal Australians and the desecration of their land). Anyway, I highly recommend trying this—you’ll become a pro at undulating your shoulders like a sea creature, which is useful—and I also recommend listening to the full album, because The Dreaming is my personal favorite. Kate apparently refers to it as her “gone mad” album (which, in the context of her delightfully nutty repertoire, is really saying something), and the moodier subject matter includes the Vietnam War, The Shining, and Houdini. The highlight for me is “Leave It Open,” in which Kate sings “we let the weirdness in,” a phrase she recorded backward so that it could be played forward (aka backmasking) for an ultra-possessed vibe.

“Cloudbusting”

No big deal, just the story of psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich and his actual rain-making machine, starring Donald Sutherland as Reich and Kate Bush as his son. (Reich also came up with the idea of an orgone energy accumulator, which is a little too complicated to explain.) This amazing song comes from Kate’s popular album Hounds of Love, which is comprised of two distinctly different and equally beautiful suites: the first side of the LP features pop hits like the title track and “Running Up That Hill,” while the second side, “The Ninth Wave,” feels sort of like being woken up by ghosts at dawn in the middle of the woods. It’s awesome.

“Experiment IV”

I have to include this video, because the idea of the military conspiring to create a sound so horrible that it can kill people is effed-up and strange and maybe not even that far-fetched. The video dramatizes the whole thing beautifully, and includes some cameos by British actors (yes, that’s Hugh Laurie from House). This track appeared only on Kate’s greatest-hits collection, which is also called The Whole Story. Normally I wouldn’t recommend starting with a compilation, but The Whole Story was her first album that I heard in its entirety, and it did the trick.

I know I’m hardly alone in my intense love of Kate; her legacy is everywhere. Bat for Lashes and Florence and the Machine owe her a lot, and Big Boi from OutKast is obsessed. Plus, she is still putting out great albums to this day; plus, there is her ONE AND ONLY tour, which you can find on video; plus, there’s her 1979 Christmas special OMG! She’s timeless. And you know what? The best thing about getting into Kate Bush is discovering each and every one of those jewels for yourself. ♦

Erika Wilder is a poet and writer from Seattle. She currently lives in New York City and loves linguistics, cereal, and witches.

50 Comments

  • lxmldrt December 7th, 2012 7:04 PM

    KATE LUVVVVVVVVVVVVVVV

  • Mrs.BertieWooster December 7th, 2012 7:16 PM

    Oh Kate! Oh Rookie! Also if you haven’t seen this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=du4uH1fC9B8 you must it is LITERALLY the best thing ever.

    • Skatapus December 7th, 2012 8:27 PM

      Haha, I was literally just coming down to the comments in order to link to this! <3 Love Noel. Also, I demand a Rookie article about the Mighty Boosh! Someone, anyone?

      • chloegrey December 7th, 2012 8:43 PM

        YESSS we need us some Mighty Boosh RIGHT AWAY, tut suite. And have you seen Noel on Never Mind the Buzzcocks? It’s like a quiz show thing so different but quite good, I just watched the episode where he dressed up as a mousecat for literally no discernable reason.

        • SpencerBowie December 8th, 2012 1:40 AM

          IM OLD GREGG!!!!

          ;)

        • Alice123 December 8th, 2012 6:08 AM

          I DISCOVERED THE BOOSH THROUGH READING WUTHERING HEIGHTS IN CLASS (sorry for all-caps, so excited about fellow fans). I tried to find the movie (one of them anyway) on youtube, got to the Kate Bush video – and then continued onto Noel’s haunting performance..! And the Mighty Boosh is LITERALLY the best thing ever.

    • Liana January 10th, 2013 10:48 PM

      Thanks you have just made my day! :)

      aporiadownmypants.wordpress.com

  • witheringslytherin December 7th, 2012 7:34 PM

    KATE IS A GODDESS. So wonderfully weird.

  • ironsides December 7th, 2012 7:40 PM

    If I could, I’d make a deal with God and I’d get Him to swap our places.

    Kate Bush is AMAZING. So glad to see her mentioned on Rookie :)

  • Isobel-cat December 7th, 2012 7:40 PM

    YES!!!! I feel like I’ve been waiting my entire life (or at least since the creation of rookie, which arguably is when my life began) for THIS! Kate is my ultimate favorite person of all time, that doesn’t even make much sense but I’m just so happy that rookie is finally paying homage to THE QUEEN!xxx

  • lacecat December 7th, 2012 7:57 PM

    YES! Thank you! I love love love Kate Bush. She is the ultimate ethereal queen!
    PS you guys should do: Best Thing Ever: Françoise Hardy

  • Abby December 7th, 2012 8:22 PM

    OH MY GOD YOU GUYS KATE BUSH…. so in my English Lit&Comp class in senior year of high school, we had to read classics (WUTHERING HEIGHTS INCLUDED, which is, btw, Literally the Best Thing Ever in and of itself…), and then write what my teacher called journals, which were basically 10 (usually more) page long big-ass book reports, analyzing the SHIT out of the book we’d just read. So, naturally, when I found out that someone had written a SONG about my favorite book EVER, I freaked the hell out, and “Wuthering Heights” by Kate Bush became my soundtrack for writing my journal. And when I say it was my soundtrack, I mean it was literally all I listened to the entire time I was writing the journal. The ENTIRE TIME. On CONSTANT REPEAT. Needless to say, my family hated me… And also, Cloudbusting is also Literally the Best Thing Ever. It’s so sad and yet happy and yet sad…. I LOVE KATE BUSH OH MY GOD.

  • iamrachii December 7th, 2012 8:27 PM

    This post has come at the perfect time, my flatmate and I are obsessed with Kate at the moment! Our favourite Kate moments: Running Up That Hill, Wow, the dancing in Wuthering Heights (those crazy eyes! those outstretched zombie arms with wiggly fingers! that wave goodbye!), and that interview where she gets asked what the highest note in her range is and she replies that she sings in the bath. She’s nuts and I love her.

  • minniemoreno December 7th, 2012 8:32 PM

    KATE BUSH MAN. KATE BUSH. Wuthering Heights was the anthem of my summer. Great article, A+ for your fascination of a quirky red headed singer.

  • CarolineEAnd December 7th, 2012 8:40 PM

    Yes. Yes. Yes. Take note everyone. Kate is a princess.

  • tellyawhat December 7th, 2012 8:43 PM

    Everyone please google “Kate Bush pours tea.” Watch the video and repeat, forever. She is unreal crazy amazing wonderful.

  • lizziemcguir3 December 7th, 2012 8:44 PM

    I remember being like 8 years old and watching the film clip over and over again with my mother. We used to get all her silk scarves (for some reason she had a lot ?) and twirl them around dancing.

  • chloegrey December 7th, 2012 8:49 PM

    LOVE Wuthering Heights but I never really listened to any other song by her and now I am totadefinabsolutely going to. The world needs more ladies like Kate, Florence Welch, Bjork, Joanna Newsom, etc…. they’re kind of like a pantheon of lady music goddesses I think.

  • Erykaneisha December 7th, 2012 9:06 PM

    Why isn’t “The Red Shoes” music video not here? :( It’s practically insane but so lovely.
    Anyway, thank you for this. Rookie is the friend I lack in real life :)

    • secondtolastunicorn December 9th, 2012 10:51 AM

      YES! I absolutely loved this article but was surprised to see Kate’s later work go unmentioned. If readers enjoyed this they should definetly check out Kate’s film “The Line, the Cross, and the Curve”

  • Amelie December 7th, 2012 9:37 PM

    OMG DAWN FRENCH, HUGH LAURIE AND KATE BUSH IN ONE MUSIC VIDEO? GAH I LOVE KATE BUSH!

  • Ladymia69 December 7th, 2012 10:05 PM

    You have GOT to see Kate Bush Live at Hammersmith Odeon from 1979 (I think??)….she dances interpretively through all her songs in colored leotards and chiffon…it is crazy spacy wonderful!

    • Ladymia69 December 7th, 2012 10:06 PM

      Here is a link of her opening performance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2U23938zDU4

      • Ladymia69 December 7th, 2012 10:19 PM

        Also, a link to her performance of “The Heavy People”, whose lyrics are just darn tootin’ for Rookie’s theme this month!

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCoHfe6Spqw

        Rolling the ball, rolling the ball, rolling the ball to me.
        Rolling the ball, rolling the ball, rolling the ball to me.

        They arrived at an inconvenient time.
        I was hiding in a room in my mind.
        They made me look at myself. I saw it well.
        I’d shut the people out of my life.

        So now I take the opportunities:
        Wonderful teachers ready to teach me.
        I must work on my mind. For now I realise:
        Everyone of us has a heaven inside.

        Them heavy people hit me in a soft spot.
        Them heavy people help me.
        Them heavy people hit me in a soft spot.
        Rolling the ball, rolling the ball, rolling the ball to me.

        They open doorways that I thought were shut for good.
        They read me Gurdjieff and Jesu.
        They build up my body, break me emotionally.
        It’s nearly killing me, but what a lovely feeling!

        I love the whirling of the dervishes.
        I love the beauty of their innocence.
        You don’t need no crystal ball,
        Don’t fall for a magic wand.
        We humans got it all, we perform the miracles.

        • SpencerBowie December 8th, 2012 1:42 AM

          Love this song! Almost disco-y!!!!

  • spatergator December 7th, 2012 10:12 PM

    Well its about time isn’t it!

    A long while back I listened to her obsessively when I started working at a record store. After closing up I’d just lock myself in there all night and listen to everything in stock. I discovered Hounds of Love while a heavy blizzard blew all over the empty strip mall, and I just didn’t want to take it off the turntable. All night I painted or paced around the store, in disbelief that these songs were real. I was explosive with this new overabundant sense. I had so many FEELINGS. Once she had finished singing “The Morning Fog,” I would trudge home in the new snow with my head filled with baroque pop ghosts…

  • jessicafied December 7th, 2012 10:46 PM

    Yes!!! Kate Bush!!!

  • soviet_kitsch December 7th, 2012 11:26 PM

    oh man KATE BUSH. she is one of the best musicians to ever exist. “wuthering heights” makes me cry every time and “hammer horror” is phenomenal (and underrated, go check it out! it’s kate goes rocky horror)

  • bluemeanie96 December 7th, 2012 11:47 PM

    Mein gott hearing Sat in your lap then seeing the video was awe-inspiring. I learned about Gurdjieff and Jesu from Kate Bush she’s amazing color me obsessed.

  • katrinaexplainsitall December 8th, 2012 12:45 AM

    Oh god, when I was 10, I used to be obsessed with Wuthering Heights. And I would sing the chorus over and over again. “It’s me! Oh Cathy, I’ve come hoooooooooooome. I’m so cooooooooooooold” Some part of me honestly thought I sounded just like Kate Bush, and a part of me still wishes I did.

    http://www.katrinaspice.blogspot.com

  • SpencerBowie December 8th, 2012 1:49 AM

    Hounds of Love is M Y song!!!!!!

    Because David Bowie is my number one, I used to see Kate’s name in mags ‘n such all the time. So I checked her out and fell in love! Cloudbusting, Wuthering Heights, Them Heavy People, Running Up That Hill, Barbooshka, This Woman’s Work…ALL AMAZING!

    The best thing I think I’ve seen though is her one and only concert tour!!! I watched the entire show on YouTube and was blown away from her talent and sheer coolness. Kate is the best.

    “Take my shoes off and throw them in the lake!”

  • Mary the freak December 8th, 2012 4:20 AM

    Shit, this is weird and amazing. totally amazing.

    http://birdiewearsatie.blogspot.com/

  • Elizabete December 8th, 2012 5:35 AM

    Oh, my.

    Wuthering heights is definitely one of my favorite songs, i Love songs based on books and Kate feels like the real Cathy, you know, the same name, the same birthday…

    The book is awesome on its own too, i didn’t get it the first time, but the second time i read, the ~vibes~ didn’t leave me for weeks. Offtopic, but what made me read WH for the second time was anime Aoi hana where the girls were doing a play of it. Just wanted to share the love for this anime :’)

    http://melodyfairitale.wordpress.com/

  • Sorcha M December 8th, 2012 6:08 AM

    I wonder if The Infant Kiss was inspired by The Turn of the Screw by Henry James? Hmm.

  • EmmaGrahn December 8th, 2012 6:41 AM

    Oh, Wuthering Heights ! I recommend the red dress version of the video

  • O. December 8th, 2012 6:56 AM

    OMG I freaking LOVE Kate Bush! Not only do I love her music, she grew up in my area so I feel like we share some kind of connection :P In fact, a classmate’s aunt went to school with her. (Yeah, my claim to fame sucks!)

    For a school ICT project, my friends and I had to film a music video and I had the brilliant idea of doing Wuthering Heights – well, it would have been brilliant if people knew the song. Everyone thought it was pretty weird and four years later people still tease me about it :P

  • DragonCaller December 8th, 2012 12:00 PM

    Dude! I love Kate Bush! I grew up on her music. My mom discovered Kate Bush’s music when she was a teenager, back in the 70′s, and loved it. She had the music video collection on vinyl. I remember being two or three and watching the “Experiment IV” video and getting totally freaked out by it.

    Okay, I have to go listen to Hounds of Love now. :-)

  • ShockHorror December 8th, 2012 12:59 PM

    Seeing as Wuthering Heights was (of course!) mentioned – I thought you guys might like a listen of these version:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjHRFkkGYgA – Kate Bash (one the most wonderful things to witness live)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FF0VaBxb27w – Ukulele Orchestra of Breat Britain (another beautiful rendition + AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION!)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8rYEiERfKqU – Puppini Sisters.

  • Amalie December 8th, 2012 4:03 PM

    Ah! I’ve been waiting for Kate Bush to appear on here. She’s literally the best, I love her so much.

  • Jemima December 8th, 2012 7:21 PM

    YES I was waiting for an article on Kate, she’s my queen!!!!! thank you!!!

  • selinau December 9th, 2012 10:42 AM

    totally needed to comment!!Kate love.The first sentence is exactly how I feel. My first Kate’s album that I bought was also The Whole Story and now I own them all. It’s almost impossible to say which album is the best since I feel like it changes during the seasons. Now I’d say Hounds of Love.

    AND YOU MUST LISTEN TO THIS:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0S0zNFzK_ns

    So beautiful. I love Kate’s lyrics, I don’t know how she does it. She’s full of magic. haha such a long fangirl comment but couldn’t help it!

  • littleshoshalist December 9th, 2012 12:32 PM

    Runnin’ Up That Hill is my heart’s song

  • Nanna December 9th, 2012 4:20 PM

    Thank you so much for this article ! I heard “Wuthering Heights” for the first time in 2009 (when I was 15) and my dad walked by my room, opened the door and asked, “Are you listening to Kate Bush? Try Babooshka!” while beaming with joy.

  • ComfortableMother December 10th, 2012 9:10 AM

    In the late 80′s and 90′s I was obessed with Kate! Becoming a wife and mother aftwerwards put music on the backburner. Fortunately I’ve rediscovered her again and am IN LOVE with 50 Words for Snow. Absolutely beautiful!!

  • voluptuwench December 10th, 2012 10:18 AM

    I just got married in October and my walking down the aisle song was ‘Under the Ivy’. Can’t believe it was only a B-side, it is too gorgeous. Nobody else’s music makes me feel so at home somehow..

    • Erika Wilder December 10th, 2012 8:50 PM

      What a choice! I couldn’t agree more about that song–”Under the Ivy” literally makes me cry.

  • rockslita December 10th, 2012 12:34 PM

    Hey I e-mailed you guys to do something at RookieMag with Wuthering Heights and now YOU ACTUALLY DID :-) Kinda. I love Kate Bush, she is so cool oh my god. I love this article :-)

    Lots of love,
    Rosalie from http://www.rockslita.com

  • stockton December 31st, 2012 11:53 AM

    Hope it isn’t creepy for a late 40′s straight artist/photographer male to be following a teenage pop culture fashion site. I couldn’t care less about fashion or most pop culture for that matter.

    However, I heard the founder of this site on a podcast, liked her moxie, and decided to see what the kids are diggin’ these days.

    That as over a month ago and now I’m hooked! Great resource for cool stuff and excellent writing. Who’d a thunk?

    Anyway, back to Kate Bush… waaaay underrated in my opinion. I’ve been a huge fan of hers for years and have all of her CDs.

    She re-recorded a bunch of tracks from her early albums this last year released as Kate Bush | Director’s Cut that’s very good. And her duet on Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give up” is nothing less than pure ethereal bliss. I listen to it every time I’m feelin’ low: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=VjEq-r2agqc

  • Liana January 10th, 2013 10:52 PM

    Kate <3 <3 <3

    http://aporiadownmypants.wordpress.com

  • Cutesycreator aka Monica May 2nd, 2013 12:45 PM

    Wow!!! Thank you for introducing me to Kate Bush! She’s going on my long list of artists I need to check out and/or download the entire discographies of. :)