The Dreaming (1982)
When Big Boi from Outkast said that The Dreaming, the worst performing of Kate Bush’s 10 studio albums, was “a good place to start” in her catalogue, he was not wrong. Her previous three releases had established the high-octane prog-pop and catsuited hand-wafting image that still lingers today. But, though it seems ludicrous considering her legendary status now, Bush still wasn’t widely acclaimed by then. Most of the men writing about her would describe her looks or her tits, or ask her band whether she ever loses her temper with them, before acknowledging her songwriting craft. Even despite achieving a UK No 1 with Wuthering Heights at 19, her role as the architect of her own musical universe went largely unrecognised.
Faced with such idiocy, it’s little wonder that Bush secreted herself away and came up with something as deranged as The Dreaming. This isn’t the album that took her stratospheric (that was its follow-up, Hounds of Love) but it’s her Willy Wonka-sized adventure in sound; the self-sufficient cocoon that turned her, some say, from musician into “artiste”. The Dreaming was the first record that she produced entirely herself, which she would continue to do, using an expensive Fairlight sampler to dazzling effect. Listening to it now, it sounds like Bush unbound, unleashing her frustration like never before.
These are brilliant rackets where her ingenious use of sampling (smashed marbles! Twittering birds!) defies expectation and her voice pole-vaults to new heights. The intricacy is overwhelming and thrilling. Opening track Sat in Your Lap is one of her best ever, foreshadowing Running Up That Hill with its gated drum gallop, as she screeches how people think that a knob equals knowledge, the rhythm pushing and pulling with kinetic energy. Every song after comes like a shock: the Artful Dodger oompah-pah of There Goes a Tenner, the guttural howling of “I am aliiiiive!” on the onyx slink of Pull Out the Pin to rival any hair-metaller’s, a title track about aborigines having their homeland stolen that unfortunately has Rolf Harris on didgeridoo, a chorus of donkeys on the closing song …
Bush has called The Dreaming her “mad” album, amused that many, like Björk, have called it their favourite. But perhaps she shouldn’t be so surprised: in the decades since, it’s been reappraised as technically pioneering – especially poignant because women in the studio are still not being given due credit compared to their male peers. And, once you’ve got through it, the rest of her oeuvre will land on your ears like tufty down.
The Whole Story (1986)
In the end, Bush had the last laugh after all that donkeying around. Her No 1 album Hounds of Love, with its smash singles including Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God), which she self-produced yet again, was the payoff. Its success was so great that Bush’s first compilation album swiftly followed, gathering up her previous 11 singles into one all-killer, no-filler package. In the context of this article, you might call it cheating, or sacrilege, but in one fell swoop you get Bush careening gracefully from her romantic phase to her Balearic pop one, from her 1978 albums The Kick Inside and Lionheart through to the 80s. Ever the perfectionist, Bush is constantly rearranging her catalogue, her oeuvre ever-evolving like a living, breathing organism, and here there is Wuthering Heights with a newly recorded vocal, as well as a new song, Experiment IV, whose scary sci-fi video Bush directed (and which was subsequently banned by Top of the Pops). You will absolutely need to go back to listen to her first three albums in order afterwards – but this is a taster. Like I said, cheating.
The Sensual World (1989)
This was a softer Bush, totally feeling herself. She turned 30 during the making of this Ulysses-inspired album and there’s a sense that she’s finally revelling in her womanhood after years of being under constant scrutiny. She has said that she wanted to “express myself as a woman rather than as a woman wanting to sound as powerful as a man”. Of course, her simmering feminine energy is forcible, bolstered by the ululating voices of Trio Bulgarka. Their Bulgarian influence mingles with Celtic folk – a Bush staple – and far-flung instruments to create an otherworldly, Cocteau Twins-ish combination. And yet it is down-to-earth: This Woman’s Work, written for a John Hughes film, is one of Bush’s most-streamed songs, possibly because of its naked emotion, the fear of loss in her lyrics more universal than her usual storytelling theatrics; Deeper Understanding is about finding solace in computers.
After 1993’s The Red Shoes (much Prince; a fun calypso tune about fruit), Bush took a leave of absence from the limelight to focus on bringing up her son. Rumours abounded: had she lost it? Was she tired of fame? When she returned, this double album said all she needed to say: it evoked the family idyll she’d been luxuriating in. On this album she is mother and domestic goddess, making a song about loading the washing machine sound whimsical on Mrs Bartolozzi and nodding to fanciful preoccupations with Elvis and mathematical constants. The second side, a song cycle called An Endless Sky of Honey, though, is something else entirely: a startlingly warm, amber-hued mini Disney movie of flamenco, Balearic folk, lambent new age, painterly piano, birdsong and skits with son Bertie (previously recorded by Rolf Harris, now removed), which she performed in full at her London live shows in 2014.
Yes, that Rocket Man. Bush once said that “there’s always room for humour in music” and it’s a shame that musicians tend to take themselves so seriously. She memorably put her love of larks to great use in this reggae cover of her mate Elton’s track. You can find it on the rarities collection, The Other Sides, which came out in 2019 (also featuring Candle in the Wind and her take on Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing), or watch it via the long-lost video that she directed for it in 1991, where she jauntily plays a ukulele and conducts the moon rising as band member Davy Spillane emotively plays the Irish bagpipes. While you’re there, do play the video for her nourishing duet with Peter Gabriel, Don’t Give Up, too – and, if you can, hug your loved ones tight.
Kate Bush: Under the Ivy, by Graeme Thomson (2010)
It says something of Bush’s stealth that the first in-depth study of her art was published only 10 years ago. Journalist Graeme Thomson interviewed more than 70 collaborators and friends to create this thorough analysis of her work.
How To Be Invisible by Kate Bush (2019)
Bush in her own words, so to speak: her lyrics.
Kate Bush: On Tour (1979)
There are scant docs about Bush available on kosher platforms, so, while you wait for the BBC one to be released once more, try this 1979 version following Bush as she puts on her first and only live tour. As she fielded sexist questions from the presenter about whether she’d give it all up for motherhood, it’s amazing she kept her cool.
This article contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if a reader clicks through and makes a purchase. All our journalism is independent and is in no way influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative. By clicking on an affiliate link, you accept that third-party cookies will be set. More information.