Kate Bush: 10 Essential Tracks
From the moment Kate Bush announced in March 2014 that she would be performing a run of shows at London's Hammersmith Apollo, it was obvious that getting hold of a ticket was going to be a struggle. The 22 shows booked at the west London venue were to be the singer's first live appearances in 35 years and in the end it took less than 15 minutes for the shows to sell out, leaving some of the not-so-lucky fans feeling a little disappointed.
However, this week provides some recompense to those who missed out on seeing and hearing the live performances in the flesh with the arrival of Before The Dawn, a live album featuring highlights from the run of 22 shows.
The new album is available on CD and vinyl, with each featuring a total of 29 tracks culled from the various Hammersmith Apollo shows. In both cases, the first disc features seven of her best-known songs including 'Hounds of Love' and 'Running Up That Hill', while the second features the 'Ninth Wave' suite of songs that make up the second half of Hounds of Love. Finally, the third disc of the CD version features a career-spanning set of 12 songs, which will be spread across the final two discs in the four-LP set of the vinyl edition.
To celebrate Kate Bush's first live album since 1981's Live at the Hammersmith Odeon (as the venue was called back then), below we've picked 10 of the most essential songs from her long and distinguished career...
Bush was just 19 when her debut album The Kick Inside was released, but she had already been signed to EMI for two years by then, with the label fearful that someone so young might not be able to handle the pressures of watching her debut album either fail or succeed. But this was an artist determined to control her own destiny from the beginning and even though the record label wanted to release the much safer 'James and the Cold Gun' as the first single, Bush was adamant that it should be 'Wuthering Heights'. It was a bold move, to say the least, but a smart one; this was a song so far removed from anything else on the radio that it was instantly recognisable and was soon at the top of the charts. Remarkably, this was also the first time in history that a female artist had reached Number One in the UK with a song written by herself.
'The Man With the Child in his Eyes'
One of three songs recorded as demos under the tutelage of Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour - a friend of of Kate Bush's family who helped bring her to the attention of his record label EMI - 'The Man With The Child in his Eyes' was written when Bush was just 13 years old and wound up being her second single after 'Wuthering Heights'. Incidentally, the engineer for the three-track demo was none other than Geoff Emerick, best-known as the right-hand man to George Martin and the man who engineered all of The Beatles' albums.
The opening track from Bush's third album Never For Ever represented a return to commercial success following a second album that the singer was never entirely happy with, and which failed to match the commercial performance of her debut. Written about a woman who tests her husband's loyalty by writing him letters from a fictional admirer (only to come unstuck when he realises how paranoid she has become), the song was accompanied by a typically arresting video featuring Bush as both the veiled wife and her imagined love rival, providing proof, if any were needed, that she's just as consummate a performer as she is a songwriter.
'Running Up That Hill'
After the disappointing commercial performance of Bush's 1982 album The Dreaming, for which the studio sessions were both arduously long and very expensive, Bush resolved to build her own 48-track studio and produce her own records, working at her own pace. The result was 1985's Hounds of Love, which proved to be her most commercially successful album and, arguably, her creative masterpiece. The opening track became one of her biggest hits and remains one of her best-loved tunes.
'Hounds of Love'
The title track from her 1985 album, 'Hounds of Love' is one of the most unusual songs about love you're ever likely to hear, in which Bush addresses and chides her own cowardice in being too afraid to commit to a relationship. The song was covered by The Futureheads in 2005, who scored a Top 10 hit with their version, while the first ever live performance of the song by Bush herself can be found on Before The Dawn.
'This Woman's Work'
This cut from 1989's The Sensual World was originally written for John Hughes' film She's Having A Baby and the lyrics essentially describe the existential crisis that Kevin Bacon's character is experiencing, feeling pressured to conform to the norms of suburban life while his wife is expecting their first child. She liked it so much that it was subsequently included on her 1989 album and it remains a fan favourite.
The opening track from her 1993 album The Red Shoes, 'Rubberband Girl' was also the album's lead-off single and represented a shift to more of a 'live band' feel than her previous albums, which had involved a lot of layering and overdubbing in the studio. The idea was that the new songs would be easier to recreate live, although the planned tour never materialised. The song was reworked for the dancefloor by Eric Kuppa shortly afterwards, and again by Bush herself for her album of re-recorded songs Director's Cut in 2011, but out of all of these we still prefer the original album version, which you can find below.
'King of the Mountain'
When Bush decided to take a break after The Red Shoes, none of her fans – and perhaps not even the singer herself – imagined it would be 12 years before her next album. When she did return in 2005 with Aerial, her first and only double album, it was heralded as one of the best albums of the year by fans and critics alike. We could have picked any one of about four or five songs from Aerial, including the title track and 'Joanni', but in the end 'King of the Mountain' just about edged it. Featuring lyrics about the pressures of fame, the song became her first Top 5 hit in almost 20 years.
One of two songs on our list taken from her most recent studio album 50 Words for Snow, 'Snowflake' is the album's opening gambit and while it wasn't released as a single from the album, for our money it's one of the most hauntingly beautiful things she's ever written. The sparse arrangement consists mainly of piano and Bush's voice in one of the more intimate performances she has recorded and at nearly 10 minutes long it's a daring opening statement, but one that provides the ideal introduction to the album.
'50 Words for Snow'
Our final pick is the title track from 50 Words for Snow and features Stephen Fry gently narrating in hushed tones with a series of translated Inuit expressions describing the cold, powdery white stuff. The whole thing is underpinned by a hypnotic drum groove provided by legendary session drummer Steve Gadd and even on an album as absorbing as this, the title track is one of its most arresting moments.