Bryget Chrisfield explores a favourite record which spelled the lift-off to cultural stardom for an important act. This month: Kate Bush’s Hounds Of Love (1985).
After a pivotal scene in Season 3, Episode 11 of The Handmaid’s Tale, Cloudbusting soundtracks the final moments, which alternate between the Marthas acting as crime-scene cleaners, and June waking up and putting on her Handmaid’s outfit. Kate Bush’s masterpiece-within-a-masterpiece continues to play out over the end titles – you’d swear direction was timed to ensure the action was complemented by lyrics and crescendos in the song.
“I still dream of Orgonon/ I wake up crying,” Bush sings, after a single cello note is played. As the arrangement swells, we note Bush’s Fairlight CMI obsession before military drumming adds urgency. Enter that celebratory chorus – “Yay-ee-yay-ee-yay-eeeeeee-oooooooooh!” – which opens the gate for childhood memories to skip through: “But every time it rains/ You’re here in my head…”
Then the whole sonic journey closes with the a steam train pulling into a station, while sounding its whistle. During an interview with Richard Skinner, Bush revealed that her bassist Del Palmer created the hissing sound, while the train’s whistle comes courtesy of her Fairlight.
Peter Gabriel actually gifted Bush her Fairlight CMI, which is possibly why she hugged him so incredibly closely for the entire duration of the clip for Don’t Give Up (their famous duet). In the Bush-featuring Queens Of British Pop short doco, Gabriel extols: “I think she was one of the first female artists that sort of started a creative community around her, and controlled it and shaped it, really, and was just unafraid to experiment, for better and for worse.”
Watching Cloudbusting’s accompanying music video back when it first came out, I remember wondering what the hell it was all about: why was Bush dressed as a young boy and wearing a bad wig to boot? I was an INXS-obsessed 15-year-old, and Madonna was the reigning Queen Of Pop, so I relegated Bush to a file labelled ‘too weird’. But I stand corrected, Kate! Your songs are exquisite works of art-pop fabulism.
Bush exudes mystery, and you have to do the work to try and figure her out.
John Lydon is a massive fan: “Those shrieks and warbles, they’re beauty beyond belief to me… She supplies me with all the clues and it’s up to me to put the answers together. Well, that’s the Qur’an of music, and that’s surely what we’re looking for; no easy answers or anything.”
In true Bush fashion, Cloudbusting was inspired by literature – Peter Reich’s autobiographical memoir, A Book Of Dreams – and documents Reich’s doting relationship with his inventor/psychoanalyst father Wilhelm. As a young boy, Peter helplessly witnessed government officials arresting his father, and the song’s accompanying film clip – conceived by Terry Gilliam and directed by Julian Doyle – sees Bush playing the central figure of Peter while Donald Sutherland co-stars as Wilhelm.
When interviewed by Daniel Robert Epstein, Sutherland revealed that he was ‘cast’ in the clip after Bush found out through Julie Christie’s hairdresser that the actor resided in a suite at the Savoy Hotel in London. Bush knocked on Sutherland’s door and personally invited him to participate in the project. Of the shoot, Sutherland recalls: “I remember the first morning on set seeing her coming out of her trailer smoking a joint, and I cautioned her, saying she shouldn’t smoke that, it’d affect her work, and she looked at me for a second and said she hadn’t been straight for nine years, and I loved her.”
Utah Saints sampled one line from Cloudbusting (“I just know that something good is going to happen”) for their ravetastic chart hit Something Good (1992), which reminds me of another Bush-sampled dancefloor-filler that Australia’s-own Infusion released in 2003 as Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush Vs Infusion (of which only about ten copies were originally pressed) – still sounds fresh AF!
Running Up That Hill, also from Bush’s career-defining fifth album Hounds Of Love, boasts insistent, galloping, ‘80s-style drums; something which sounds like tuneful sea lions mating; and that sexual, persuasive bridge: “Oh come on, baby/ Oh come on, darling/ Let me steal this moment from you now…”
Bush explains the meaning behind Running Up That Hill: “I was trying to say that, really, a man and a woman can’t understand each other because we are a man and a woman. And if we could actually swap each other’s roles, if we could actually be in each other’s place for a while, I think we’d both be very surprised!”
At the age of 11, Bush taught herself to play piano. While expressing concern over her debut album The Kick Inside’s cover shot, which features a bra-less Kate sporting a pale pink leotard, she said, “People weren’t even generally aware that I wrote my own songs or played the piano. The media just promoted me as a female body. It’s like I’ve had to prove that I’m an artist in a female body.”
When she was just 16, David Gilmour helped Bush produce the three-track demo tape that attracted the attention of EMI Records. In Queens Of British Pop, Bob Mercer shockingly admits, “There was literally a mantra at EMI: ‘Birds don’t sell’,” around the time when he personally signed her to the label. Mercer also says he pushed for the more rock-oriented James And The Cold Gun to be released as her debut single, but Bush – aged 19 – insisted on Wuthering Heights, which topped the UK Singles Chart for four weeks in 1978, making her the first female artist to achieve a UK #1 with a self-written song. Wuthering Heights also topped the ARIA Singles Chart.
Bush has produced all of her studio albums since 1982’s The Dreaming. For this album’s title track, she drew inspiration from Indigenous Australians being driven from their sacred land as colonisers moved in to dig for ore.
Revisiting Hounds Of Love now, the production is pristine. Sounds crash and fizz through alternate earbuds – an ideal headphones-listen released back when boom boxes were all the rage. (Meanwhile, how cool were those dual cassette decks for recording bootleg copies?)
Bush wrote all of the tracks on Hounds Of Love (except the Georgian traditional choral in Hello Earth), and built a 24-track studio in the barn behind her family home so that she could record at her own pace.
The record was composed specifically for vinyl and cassette formats with two separate sides: 1) Hounds Of Love, containing five ‘accessible’ pop songs (including the album’s four singles) and 2) The Ninth Wave, a conceptual suite of seven interconnecting songs documenting the internal monologue of a person who somehow winds up in a body of water overnight (yep, also filed under ‘weird’). “It’s about their past, present and future coming to keep them awake, to stop them drowning, to stop them going to sleep until the morning comes,” Bush clarifies.
Album closer The Morning Fog is the rescue: “The light/ Begin to bleed/ Begin to breathe/ Begin to speak…”
For the Hounds Of Love album release party, guests were invited to watch a laser show inside the London Planetarium while listening to a playback of the album in its entirety. How much do you wish you were there right now!?