(Published on Walloh)
With Kate Bush about the embark on a London residency that couldn’t be a hotter ticket if it was literally made of flames, every music blog is clamoring to offer their ten best tracks. However, most of these lists read like the work of people with only access to her greatest hits LP The Whole Story and a very short deadline. Where other music blogs have simply run up that road, we here at Walloh have run up that hill and run up that building to give you a list of KB classics you may have not heard, from her inventing the plot to the film Her 25 years before the film itself, to her sexy ode to Ken Livingstone.
Never For Ever, 1980
You know you’re in weird territory right from the cover art of Kate’s third album, Never For Ever, which shows a whole menagerie of animals coming out of her skirt like Doctor Doolittle gone very wrong. Things only get more wonderfully strange from then on with this sorta tribute to the English composer Frederick Delius featuring Bush squealing indecipherably along side an odd male voice and samples of what sounds like bees. Essentially, it is Kate Bush’s early work concentrated to its bizarre essence.
The Dreaming, 1982
Her music always leans towards the theatrical, but there is pretty much a whole opera’s worth of intensity within this lead single to her strangest album. Across almost tribal drums and staccato piano, she laments that she is unable to instantly absorb knowledge (that standard subject for lyrics). Combined with the frantic choreography of the video, the song ends up more like a late Beckett play than a pop song.
Hounds of Love, 1985
Only Kate could make a song so good that sounds so much like it is an off-cut from RIverdance. Coming halfway through the Ninth Wave section of her masterpiece Hounds of Love, the song is a slight respite from the genuinely terrifying Under Ice and Waking the Witch as the protagonist fights for life in an icy lake. With its diverse influence and message of dancing as a metaphor for living, it is another song that sums up what is so compelling about Kate Bush.
Love and Anger single, 1990
A spot-on parody of film theme songs like Huey Lewis and the News’ ‘The Power of Love’ from Back to the Future, this song was itself the theme for The Comic Strip’s film GLC, and is to my knowledge a) the only song ever written about a Mayor of London candidate and b) the only song to call Ken Livingstone a ‘funky sex machine’, and deserves to be considered a classic if only on those grounds alone.
The Sensual World, 1989
Person downloads computer program with a sexy lady voice that is able to understand them better than the people around them can….basically, Spike Jonze owes Kate Bush a fair few royalty checks. Although the re-recorded version for Director’s Cut is worth a listen for taking the song in a very different direction, it is the cut on The Sensual World (my personal favourite Bush album) that works the best, with Bush’s sensual computer voice making Scarlett Johansson sounds like Gilbert Gottfried.
The Sensual World, 1989
Very few artists would have so many strong songs that they could afford to have a song like ‘Walk Straight Down the Middle’ as simply a CD bonus track. Without it, The Sensual World ends on the devastating This Woman’s Work, and with it the albums ends with this response to that song, with Kate sounded perhaps the most hopeful she has over sounded on the chorus lyric ‘she thought she could never cope/ but she did.’ You have appreciate a song so powerful that it can completely change the tone of an album’
The Red Shoes, 1992
Bush’s videos have always been works of cinema in themselves, and songs like ‘Hounds of Love’ famously sample movie dialogue, but this is Kate’s most explicitly cinematic song since 1978’s ‘Hammer Horror’. Written about the Hans Christian Anderson story and Powell and Pressburger film of the same name, it manages to pack all of the technicolour splendour of the three hour film into just under five minutes. Also featuring the line, ’she’s gonna dance ’til her legs fall off’ which no other singer could get away with without it sounding utterly awful.
King of the Mountain single
Yes, I mean that ‘Sexual Healing’; the b-side to Bush’s comeback single ‘King of the Mountain’ really is her cover of the Marvin Gaye Magic FM staple. And in typical Kate Bush style, what seems at the beginning obviously a joke with its cod-reggae synthesisers has by the end been utterly sold to you by her voice and complete commitment to the song. If these gigs go totally wrong, she could definitely do a sideline in redeeming slightly awful songs.
Director’s Cut, 2011
‘Flower of the Mountain’, a total rewriting of the eponymous opener of ‘The Sensual World’, sees Kate finally given permission to do something she had originally been denied: to make a song around the Molly Bloom’s soliloquy at the end of Ulysses. And thank goodness she was denied permission at first, with Bush’s older, huskier voice perfect for one of literature’s most sensual beings. Not only that, but it led to Director’s Cut, an album that has seen her most prolific work for decades and has eventually led to this tour.
50 Words For Snow, 2011
Bush’s decision to make a kinda-Christmas album, a genre usually a cultural wasteland of Bublés and Biebers, led to some of the strangest and most compelling music of her entire career, with this Elton John duet about time travel and possible reincarnation amazingly one of the less strange songs on the album (which lest we forget also features duets with her 13 year old son and Stephen Fry). Bush’s duets are a small but fascinating aspect of her career (see also ‘Don’t Give Up’ with Peter Gabriel), and this is perhaps the best of all.