Dec 21, 2022
By Alex Nguyen
The summer of 2022 belonged to Kate Bush. Her unlikely but welcome return to the music world has been a meteoric rise with “Running Up That Hill” recently reaching 158 million YouTube views and taking the top spot on Billboard’s music charts. It’s been 44 years since her previous number one hit, “Wuthering Heights,” the longest wait in history. However, these milestones mean little in comparison to the new generation of music listeners discovering Bush’s music for the first time thanks in part to the song’s use in the Netflix show Stranger Things.
Many of the lists that have been made guide readers through her best songs like “Wuthering Heights,” “This Woman’s Work,” and “Babooshka,” well-known singles that have already found their audience. Because of this, Under the Radar looks back at the artist’s best hidden gems—the non-single album tracks that deserve the same recognition. To capture both the vastness and diversity of her discography, one track was chosen from each of her 10 albums.
1. “Feel It” (from The Kick Inside, 1978)
The Kick Inside’s exploration of female sexuality and frequent shifts in narrative perspectives were unique and groundbreaking in mainstream music. “Feel It” is all about desire where the narrator is “Locking the door/My stockings fall onto the floor, desperate for more.” Bush then gets explicit, singing, “Keep on a-moving in, keep on a-tuning in/Synchronize rhythm now.” It’s playful but determined where the narrator gets exactly what she wants. The track only contains a sole piano, played by Bush, allowing room for her expressive voice to pierce the empty space.
2. “Don’t Push Your Foot on the Heartbrake” (from Lionheart, 1978)
While many songs on The Kick Inside draw on the romantic and sexual perspectives of love, “Don’t Push Your Foot on the Heartbrake” addresses love from a slightly kooky direction. It’s a song about attempting to maintain control in the face of heartache. The narrator emotionally spirals on the road, using car imagery: “breaking down,” “stuck in low gear,” and “fears of the skidding wheels” after they are left by their lover. This is also the most rock-oriented Bush ever reached in her career with driving piano chords and horns keeping the urgency of the song up. The track’s rawer vocal delivery would feature more prominently on her next album, Never for Ever, on tracks like “Breathing.”
3. “Violin” (from Never for Ever, 1980)
Where “Don’t Push Your Foot on the Heartbrake” is rock and roll, “Violin” is progressive rock. Complete with a full electric guitar solo, it’s fitting as David Gilmour of Pink Floyd was influential to the early part of Bush’s career. As a teenager, she attended St. Joseph’s Convent Grammar where she learned to play the piano and violin. “Violin” seems to come out of frustration for the instrument with Bush singing, “Get the bow going/Let it scream to me,” in an unhinged manner on the chorus. In her Christmas special performance of the song, Bush dresses up as a bat and is attacked by anthropomorphic violins. She channels her personal anxieties into a character who seems to have set off in a mental and emotional spiral, and the track is all the better for it.
4. “Leave it Open” (from The Dreaming, 1982)
The Dreaming was the first time Bush took production duties all on her own with the tracks sounding more skeletal compared to some of the more extravagant instrumentation on her previous work. The album is probably her most experimental too, and while it initially received a mixed reception, its reputation has improved significantly over time. The record also sees Bush change from writing character-based narratives to unknowable, abstract concepts. This is the case in “Leave it Open,” where she seems to compare human minds to doors that open and shut themselves. When the door is shut, one’s mind may become narrow-minded and self-centered while when it’s open, one may be more accepting of the outside world. The distorted vocals on the outro chant, “we let the weirdness in,” a phrase welcoming different perspectives and new ideas that depart from convention.
5. “Jig of Life” (from Hounds of Love, 1985)
While side one of Hounds of Love contains some of Bush’s most well-known singles, the often-overlooked second side, entitled The Ninth Wave, is a mini-concept album about a woman shipwrecked, floating alone in the sea at night. It contains more experimental tracks, embracing the surreal and abstract and reflecting more personal themes. The “Jig of Life” picks up the story as the woman begins to freeze. She has a vision, seeing her future self pushing her to fight for her life and her future children. After The Dreaming’s “Night of the Swallow,” Bush was interested in exploring more Irish music. She incorporated pipes and fiddles, giving the track a more celebratory feeling as the woman reaches a turning point in her psychological journey and is later rescued.
6. “Rocket’s Tail” (from The Sensual World, 1989)
The track opens with only vocals, featuring Bush and The Trio Bulgarka, a Bulgarian vocal ensemble who also feature on a few other songs on this album and The Red Shoes. Their presence transforms the record, adding warmth and beauty to the feelings of pain and loss. Bush rarely collaborated with other vocalists to this creative extent, especially so with women. There is a feeling of euphoria here when the drums and David Gilmour’s guitar kick in ’90 seconds into the track, reflecting the track’s theme of living in the moment. The imagery of a rocket is apt as even though its presence only lasts a couple of seconds, one must enjoy that brief moment. Rocket was also the name of one of Bush’s cats and was the inspiration of the song.
7. “Top of the City” (from The Red Shoes, 1993)
Although The Red Shoes may be Bush’s most personal and confessional album with tracks like “Moments of Pleasure” and “Top of the City,” Bush has said that she was not fond of the way the album sounded. She embraced more digital techniques that she later felt robbed the album of its warm sensibility, leading her to rerecord many of the tracks on 2011’s Director’s Cut. “Top of the City” features two sections of instrumentation with the chorus and refrain being a piano ballad and the verses opening up to more prominent percussion, guitar, and backing vocals. The track sees its character looking for a change in perspective both mentally and spiritually (“Put me up on the angel’s shoulders”) after a failed relationship. This follows the album’s inspiration, a 1948 film of the same name, which depicts a ballerina who must choose between her career and love.
8. “A Coral Room” (from Aerial, 2005)
Aerial is a double album that was released after a 12-year absence where Bush devoted her time to her family and raising her son. The piano ballad “A Coral Room” is the final track on the A Sea of Honey side of the album. It marks the passage of time, providing imagery such as towers covered in webs as “the spider of time climbs over the ruins.” In particular, the song is about the passing of Bush’s mother and her resulting feelings and memories—“My mother and her little brown jug/It held her milk/And now it holds our memories.” Despite its simplicity, Bush packs so much passion into her vocal delivery, delivering a stunning performance.
9. “Moments of Pleasure” (from Director’s Cut, 2011)
The Red Shoes’ themes of memory, loss, and determination come together on the ballad “Moments of Pleasure.” Bush remembers small moments such as laughing at jokes and receiving advice from her mother. The track honors various people who impacted Bush’s life who are no longer alive, including her mother, who was sick at the time of the song’s original recording in 1993. Director’s Cut features no new material, instead containing rerecorded works from The Sensual World and The Red Shoes. While The Red Shoes version contains a sweeping orchestral arrangement by Michael Kamen, this interpretation is stripped back, only featuring a piano. The song is shortened lyrically with the chorus replaced with hums from a choir, giving the track a more intimate and elegiac feeling than the original.
10. “Misty” (from 50 Words For Snow, 2011)
As the longest song in Bush’s catalog, “Misty” is given time to unfurl an absurd story about a tryst between a woman and a snowman. The track builds through jazzy piano and drums and shifts to a tone of desperation as the woman realizes the snowman has melted. It’s a ridiculous yet dark idea for a song that perfectly captures Bush’s attempts to push boundaries into unexpected territories. There has always been a sense of play and sexual suggestion in Bush’s music, and she has revisited the theme of transitory love many times, making “Misty” a perfect encapsulation of her career.