Kate Bush (born Catherine Bush on 30 July 1958 in Bexleyheath, Kent, now part of Greater London) is an English singer-songwriter with an expressive four-octave voice. She is known for her eccentric, idiosyncratic literary lyrics, and eclectic and meticulous musical and production style. She debuted in 1978 with the surprise hit “Wuthering Heights”, which was number one in the British music charts for four weeks. While this was the height of her UK singles chart success, she has achieved considerable album sales throughout her career and has retained substantial popularity and critical acclaim.
A pattern began to form in the 1980s, in which Bush would disappear for up to four years while she honed her new material until it was ready for release.
After the release of The Red Shoes in 1993 there was no reason to suppose that she would not reappear in three or four years with another set of songs. But the period of silence that followed her seventh studio album was much longer than anyone had anticipated.
Bush dropped out of the public eye for many years, although her name occasionally cropped up in the media in connection with rumours of a new album release.
The press continued to speculate wildly about what she was up to; they viewed her as an eccentric recluse, sometimes drawing a comparison with Miss Havisham, from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. In fact she was trying to give her young son a normal childhood, away from the world of show business.
Never for Ever was the first album to be released by Kate Bush in the 1980s, it featured synthesisers and drum machines, in particular the Fairlight CMI, to which she was introduced when providing backing vocals on Peter Gabriel’s eponymous third album in early 1980. It was her first record to reach the top position in the UK album charts, also making her the first female British artist to achieve that status, and the first female artist ever to enter the album chart at the top. The top-selling single from the album was “Babooshka“, which reached number five in the UK singles chart. In November 1980, she released the standalone Christmas single “December Will Be Magic Again“, which reached number 29 in the UK charts.
September 1982 saw the release of The Dreaming, the first album Bush produced by herself. With her new-found freedom, she experimented with production techniques, creating an album that features a diverse blend of musical styles and is known for its near-exhaustive use of the Fairlight CMI. The Dreaming received a mixed reception in the UK, and critics were baffled by the dense soundscapes Bush had created to become “less accessible”. In a 1993 interview with Q (magazine), Bush stated: “That was my ‘She’s gone mad’ album.” However, the album became her first to enter the US Billboard 200 chart, albeit only reaching number 157. The album entered the UK album chart at number-three, but is to date her lowest-selling album, garnering only a silver disc.
“Sat in Your Lap” was the first single from the album to be released. It pre-dated the album by over a year and peaked at number 11 in the UK. The title track, featuring Rolf Harris and Percy Edwards, stalled at number 48, while the third single, “There Goes a Tenner“, stalled at number 93, despite promotion from EMI and Bush. The track “Suspended in Gaffa” was released as a single in Europe, but not in the UK.
Continuing in her storytelling tradition, Bush looked far outside her own personal experience for sources of inspiration. She drew on old crime films for “There Goes a Tenner”, a documentary about the war in Vietnam for “Pull Out the Pin”, and the plight of Indigenous Australians for “The Dreaming”. “Houdini” is about the magician’s death, and “Get Out of My House” was inspired by Stephen King’s novel The Shining.
Hounds of Love was released in 1985. Because of the high cost of hiring studio space for her previous album, she built a private studio near her home, where she could work at her own pace. Hounds of Love ultimately topped the charts in the UK, knocking Madonna‘s Like a Virgin from the number-one position.
The album takes advantage of the vinyl and cassette formats with two very different sides. The first side, Hounds of Love, contains five “accessible” pop songs, including the four singles “Running Up that Hill“, “Cloudbusting“, “Hounds of Love“, and “The Big Sky”. “Running Up that Hill” reached number-three in the UK charts and re-introduced Bush to American listeners, climbing to number 30 on the Billboard Hot 100 in November 1985. The second side of the album, The Ninth Wave, takes its name from Tennyson’s poem, “Idylls of the King”, about the legendary King Arthur’s reign, and is seven interconnecting songs joined in one continuous piece of music.
The album earned Bush nominations for Best Female Solo Artist, Best Album, Best Single, and Best Producer at the 1986 BRIT Awards. In the same year, Bush and Peter Gabriel had a UK Top 10 hit with the duet “Don’t Give Up” (Dolly Parton, Gabriel’s original choice to sing the female vocal, turned his offer down), and EMI released her “greatest hits” album, The Whole Story. Bush provided a new lead vocal and refreshed backing track on “Wuthering Heights”, and recorded a new single, “Experiment IV“, for inclusion on the compilation. Dawn French and Hugh Laurie were among those featured in the video for Experiment IV. At the 1987 BRIT Awards, Bush won the award for Best Female Solo Artist.
Bush’s black humour features in 1989‘s The Sensual World. One of the songs, “Heads We’re Dancing”, is about a woman who dances all night with a charming stranger only to discover in the morning that he is Adolf Hitler. The title track drew its inspiration from James Joyce’s novel Ulysses. The Sensual World went on to become her biggest-selling album in the US, receiving an RIAA Gold certification four years after its release for 500,000 copies sold. In the United Kingdom album charts, it reached the number-two position.