‘Hello Old Lady, I know your face well. I know it well.‘ – Kate Bush, Jig of Life, 1985
In the early 1980s, music critics used to write really dumb things about Kate Bush, such as that she had failed to live up to her early promise. After all, her debut single, Wuthering Heights, had gone to number 1 on the charts in 1977.
Now, thanks to it featuring in the Netflix show Stranger Things, Kate Bush’s haunting 1985 single Running Up That Hill has given her another number 1 hit, some 37 years after its release, and 45 years after her first number 1.
When you put this in context in time, this is really freaky. If you go back 37 years before 1985, you are in 1948, at the start of the Cold War and seven years before Rock Around The Clock redefined music. If you go back 45 years before 1977, you are in 1932, not all that long after Yes We Have No Bananas became the first ever documented Number 1 hit song, and where Weimar Germany was in its death throes. Either comparison takes us back to a very different world, far different than 1985 is from us now, for all that we have smart phones and internet on tap.
I am very happy about this resurrection of Kate Bush. I have been a fan of hers since my teen years, particularly since the release of Hounds of Love, the 1985 parent album that featured Running Up That Hill.
Between Wuthering Heights, which came off the 1978 debut album The Kick Inside, and Hounds of Love, she had put out another 3 studio albums, making for the respectable output of 5 albums in 8 years. Whilst some of those albums were a bit uneven in quality, they all featured at least one fantastic song.
After that, her output slowed down, with The Sensual World in 1989 and The Red Shoes in 1993. Then she disappeared for a long time into a life away from rock music, resurfacing with Aerial in 2005 and 50 Words For Snow in 2011.
She’s been quiet since then, until this pleasant surprise of an unexpected revival.
And let’s face it, for all that the moronic music critics of the early 1980s used to claim to be disappointed with her, Hounds of Love is a brilliant album (and a very solid comeback for her after her frenetic early productivity), and a great entry point for a new generation to discover Kate Bush.
For a while there, I thought that her more mature work, The Sensual World and The Red Shoes, were better albums. But last night, I lay back on the couch and streamed all my old favourites from those albums, and I was reminded as to exactly why I thought Hounds of Love was such a great album.
Pulling out my CD of that album now, I can confirm that the original B side to the album was named The Ninth Wave, and the slip includes a quote from Tennyson’s The Holy Grail:
“Wave after wave, each mightier than the last
‘Til at last, a ninth one, gathering half the deep
And full of voices, slowly rose and plunged
Roaring, and all the wave was in a flame.”
And perhaps that it is a hint to us from Kate Bush, that she felt that the six songs on that B side of her album, whilst none of them are exactly singles worthy or particularly suited to the lowest common denominator which is radio, are perhaps her greatest work.
I certainly think so.