Maybe there is no point to this list. There’s no conflict here. There was never a time that I didn’t love Kate Bush. No hard won battle to overcome her progressive rock-opera proclivities. Never at odds with her vocal ascendancy over at least five octaves, occupying spaces that were ghoulish, languid, sexual, motherly. No personal affront to her anachronistic stage persona:
Like a bewitching, effeminate Icarus, she perhaps maneuvered too close to the buoyant repertoire of a Brian Eno or Rick Wakeman, or the mincing posture of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, finally incinerating like some glam-rock Billie Holiday somewhere over the Atlantic. Just try to remember that at the dear age of 19 she released her first album The Kick Inside (1978), which included songs she had written when she was as young as 13. Her first single, Wuthering Heights, reached number 1 on the UK singles chart, the first female singer/songwriter to ever do so with an original song:
Yikes! The term “original” is, I think, a bit too conservative to describe Ms. Bush. Though her early albums may strike you as somewhat camp, I suggest you listen to early Genesis for some context, such as Selling England by the Pound (1973) or The Lamb Lays Down on Broadway, the last two records to feature sometime-Kate Bush collaborator Peter Gabriel – a man who made concept albums just as easily as taking a dump in the morning. (Seriously, though, listen to them: they’re much fun…) Here the glam rock guitars, the rough collision of mixed time signatures, and the fantastical references to an England that never was, come to full light and begin to mesh together. Moreover, they seem to have prepared the young Kate Bush, having developed throughout the early Seventies, to later become the distinct vocal and songwriting talent that would handily define the music of the Eighties; the first female to ever reach the top of the UK chart, and to enter that chart at #1, both with her third album, Never For Ever (1980).
Some years later, acts like Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, Tori Amos, and Joanna Newsom would venture to follow her path, and they would do well. But never could they accede the vocal and lyrical territory that Bush did as matter of course, elevating her craft to a place both innocent and tawdry. Instead, in this author’s opinion, these imitators came off too often sounding like mewling cats: a fitting end for such ill-considered homage.
Don’t bother pretending you can relate: the beauty of Kate Bush is that you can’t. If you think that, in your time listening to Big Sky or This Woman’s Work, you could perchance to begin understanding Kate Bush’s whole thing, rest assured ye shall never touch her, for she is a delicate and beauteous gargoyle of mixed origins, her chimerical voice floating either as myriad petals upon that queer forest pond of progressive rock, or like grizzled and wounded bikers guzzling down six packs:
You just don’t get it: her’s is a world of unbridled dreaminess and femininity, redolent of some artful fantasy novel, implying a surfeit of energetic sex. Perhaps even I can’t relate; perhaps I shouldn’t be writing this list. I never tried to like Kate Bush, I just fell utterly in love with her like almost immediately, driving around in a 1979 Caprice Classic in mid-nineties Rochester NY, listening to her on a terrible factory stereo.
I was in love, you see.
So please think of the next three posts as my love letter to Kate Bush. Though I probably shouldn’t risk dishonoring her with such a reductionist move, this list is for Love (and many more reasons that I shall endeavour to mention in the weeks to come). So, without further ado, my top 3 favorite Kate Bush albums:
1.) The Third Best Kate Bush Album of All Time: Lionheart (1978)
Most of the music that I arrogantly refer to as ‘required listening’ I discovered in college. I’ll go on and on about Workingman’s Dead, or Vauxhaul and I. While I wouldn’t necessarily describe it as ‘required’, I actually discovered Kate Bush’s excellent Lionheart some four or five years ago, long after my college days had become like some sordid dream. That said, I believe that college still occasionally bares some principled and much valued fruit, so here I shall begin forthwith.
Among other locales, I had attended university in New Paltz, New York (incidentally with fellow Oldschoolrecordreview author Matt Meade). Anyone familiar with this seamy yet picturesque college town will no doubt understand the allure of the chance young girl passing by, her body barely visible in dirty, oversized sweatpants, sandals, a man’s shirt, walking about the dusty streets of this former Huguenot sanctuary, her hips swaying thus, reeking of cigarettes, herb, Djarums, her hair artfully ravaged by a night of self-abuse that you yourself may have been privy to. And like any urchin, she is as giving of her heart as she is of her bosom, her drugs. As you watch her, standing in line to buy a vegan burrito or chai latte at The Bakery, you deftly learn to appreciate this rough beauty for the promise of what she might become, whether in your bedroom, or in your deep future: a lover more in touch with love than you are; you, a damaged and selfish goon.
Though it was long after I had moved from New Paltz, from this same oafish breed of seduction did I fall in love with Lionheart, an extremely odd album that crosses that zany border between the relatively lighthearted ballads found on British songstress Kate Bush’s previous album, The Kick Inside, and the self-serious foothold of fantasy rock-and-roll á la Rick Wakeman or Yes, very common in Britain at the time. What results is a whimsical melange of showtune and fairytale that obscures from view the promise of a very intimate, beguiling artist. Just as that unrefined college girl’s youthfully-born accoutrement disguised an incredibly gorgeous and feminine persona, so too does this album’s late-Seventies, British, rock-operatic drapery hide a deeply beautiful assortment of songs. Though I attribute it in no small way to Lionheart’s cover art, I find this album’s contents similar to Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Cats, being authored around the very same time in London: terrible on the surface, but worth it for that one magical song:
Consider Hammer Horror, which at first listen is kind of annoying, but then becomes delightfully brilliant if you remain attentive to its more pleasing features. You would do well to remember this strategy, as I delve into much of Bush’s work in the next few weeks, as it could be thus applied to the majority of her (still growing) catalog:
Furthermore, I think it’s totally unfair that atonal, progressive Fullhouse remained always a B-side and never a single, for I think it’s one of the most brilliant songs on this album, and one that gives us Bush’s full-on intensity, but also her equally overstated femininity:
With orchestral flourishes, and wildly vacillating time signatures, Coffee Homeground is perhaps the most theatrical of these tracks, certainly borrowing cues from The Kinks, Bowie, Roxy Music, and Mick Ronson, but making interesting musical reference to earlier theatrical works like Bob Fosse’s Cabaret:
Finally, consider these seductive lyrics from the eloquent Symphony in Blue, arguably the best fucking song on this album:
The more I think about sex, the better it gets.
Here we have a purpose in life:
Good for the blood circulation,
Good for releasing the tension,
The root of our reincarnations.
I see myself suddenly
On the piano, as a melody.
My terrible fear of dying
No longer plays with me,
for now I know that I’m needed
For the symphony.
If this album feels at all rushed to you, that’s because it was, following heavily upon the heels of her debut album The Kick Inside, released earlier in the year. Bush blames the record executives at EMI for this, but I would counter that Lionheart stands as a testament to her youthful output and intensity: a much valued ability to produce timeless, intricate, and personal ballads, whilst coyly fitting the mold of the Progressive Rock zeitgeist that was then threatening to consume us all. In point of fact, I am more inclined to think of The Kick Inside and Lionheart as two sides of an incredibly deep and rich debut, double album.
So I shall begin this love letter with Lionheart, not solely to retain a modicum of indie cred, but mostly because I see it as an extension of the mystery and beauty she had set forth earlier in the year. Check in later for the second act of this three part love letter to Kate Bush.