24
Jul 08

KATE BUSH – “Wuthering Heights”

FT + Popular121 comments • 9,131 views

#420, 11th March 1978

I’ve never read Wuthering Heights, though I like to imagine its heroine does a pushy-arm dance at some point. Looking it up on Wikipedia, however, I was shocked to realise that Kate Bush is singing this song as a ghost, but really that’s just another oddness on a teetering pile of them: in a really excellent article on Bush for the late Stylus magazine, Marcello Carlin (hi dere!) points out that she is “the last musician to be allowed to do what she likes, as and when she likes”, and the precocious, precious “Wuthering Heights” is both evidence and justification for this indulgence.

On a parallel Earth somewhere, though, she never did anything else that anyone bought, and this is a one-hit-wonder, another in the seventies’ cavalcade of novelties. After all, we’ve already considered a hymn played on bagpipes, a tribute to Van Gogh, a mother-and-son barrelhouse piano romp, a spoken-word treatise on cosmic annihilation, a disco vision of the future, and a three-part rock opera, at least two of which are routinely ranked among the best singles ever. So a pop adaptation of a Bronte novel is unprecedented, but only as unprecedented as anything else thrown at the wall in this oddest of eras. Its ‘weirdness’, in other words, is not exactly why “Wuthering Heights” ought to be treasured.

To understand why this record is so brilliant, it helps to understand what it is: a power ballad. Like all great power ballads, it has a stonking big guitar solo, but that’s the least of its affiliation with the genre. It also has an absolutely steely conviction in its own seriousness and worth; it stares down even the merest notion that it might be ridiculous. And it continually raises its stakes: just when you think “Wuthering Heights” has peaked it pushes up somewhere higher, grander.

It starts off playful, Bush just revelling in how scrumptious words like “temper” or “greedy” sound when she’s singing them. Then – “bad dreams in the night” – she starts pushing things on a bit, and then rolls into the chorus, showing her range and melodic skills off. And then she really starts moving – “ooh it gets dark”, whipping up more of a storm, still playful enough to throw out that pine/find almost-rhyme though. The storm breaks on the second chorus, and Bush is imperious, working the song’s newfound groove. Still only halfway through, when she takes things up another notch, no longer singing as a character but letting song and story dissolve into one another, “let me have it!” – the tingliest point in a record full of them. “You know it’s me”. It’s one of those rare, liminal moments in pop when a performer seems to be trying to will a change in reality itself, to make our world simply swap places with the one her song’s creating. The piano strains at its upper limit, and then the strings come in, the moment of crisis passes, Kate Bush retires from her song in triumph and Dave Gilmour’s solo is a meandering, heartfelt round of applause.

And that, as far as we’re concerned, is that. Better one Kate Bush number one than none, and better this one than many, but it’s still a shame. After such an introduction, it’s us she’s haunting, a face pressed at pop’s casement window, mouthing a message: be this remarkable.

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Comments

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  1. 101
    lonepilgrim on 14 Dec 2011 #

    Kate skates:

    http://skatebush.tumblr.com/

  2. 102
    thefatgit on 14 Dec 2011 #

    #101 I can see her coming a cropper there. No Vans.

  3. 104
    Weej on 7 Apr 2012 #

    Wuthering Heights stretched to 36 minutes, truly astonishing – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsXhtJ9BTJA

  4. 105
    swanstep on 13 Apr 2012 #

    File under ‘what fresh hell is this?’: WH only made #96 on NME’s Best Songs of the ’70s list here. Lots of very good stuff on the list, of course, but shoe-in’s like I’m Not In Love and Benny ‘n’ the Jets and Rhythm Stick and Strawberry Letter 23 and Autobahn and New Rose didn’t make it, whereas relatively minor stuff like Prince’s I wanna be your lover and Moroder’s Midnight Express theme (Chase) and Blondie’s One Way or Another did. Lists.

  5. 106
    Brendan on 24 Sep 2012 #

    I appreciated the passion that Tom has for this song in his review, but sadly I’m one of those who couldn’t (and still can’t) get beyond the banshee wails (obviously they were more apt here than on some of her later songs, though, for me, it jars with the beauty of the music, whereas it fits in well with the more dramatic arrangements of songs like ‘Sat In Your Lap’ and ‘Hounds of Love’ both of which I have more of a fondness for than this as well as for the songs where her vocal matched the beauty of the music such as ‘Tbe Man With the Child In His Eyes’ and ‘Breathing’. But for its confirmation of her unique artistic talents I would give it an 8.

    On a more shallow note, the simultaneous arrival in the charts of a certain blonde thoroughly overshadowed Kate’s charms at the time and it wasn’t until MUCH later when I saw her play the bride in a ‘Comic Stip Presents…’ episode that I suddenly realised “OMG! she is the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen!”

  6. 107
    Erithian on 21 Mar 2014 #

    “Wow” – if you missed seeing Kate live in ’79, the rush begins next Friday at 9.30…

  7. 108
    hectorthebat on 25 Jul 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010)
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Pitchfork (USA) – The Pitchfork 500 (2008)
    Shredding Paper (USA) – The 50 Greatest Singles Ever (2002) 41
    BBC (UK) – Pop on Trial, Top 50 Songs from the 1970s (2008)
    Mojo (UK) – The 50 Greatest British Tracks Ever (2006)
    Q (UK) – The 1001 Best Songs Ever (2003) 592
    Q (UK) – The 1010 Songs You Must Own (2004)
    Q (UK) – Top 20 Singles from 1970-1979 (2004) 11
    Nils Hansson, Dagens Nyheter (Sweden) – The 48 Best Rock Songs (1998) 46
    Panorama (Norway) – The 30 Best Singles of the Year 1970-98 (1999) 1
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Toby Creswell (Australia) – 1001 Songs (2005)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

  8. 109
    Ed on 27 Aug 2014 #

    Anyone been to / going to the Hammersmith shows?

    (@93 Yes! I have exactly the same reaction. The Hammond organ behind the second “let me have it” always strikes me as the absolute pinnacle of recorded music.)

  9. 110
    Auntie Beryl on 30 Aug 2014 #

    I went last night. You can find the setlist and photographs online if you care to do so, but I’m not minded to go into details here in case of spoilers.

    One of the finest (and longest) gigs I’ve ever attended, though, and I’ve been to a few. Any concerns about her voice’s ability to do the songs justice were swiftly forgotten. She seemed to be a having an absolute ball, as well.

    Never thought I’d see the day…

  10. 111
    Tom on 30 Aug 2014 #

    I’m going on the 17th! No spoilers I guess. :)

  11. 112
    punctum on 6 Oct 2014 #

    TPL update, with an edited version of my hitherto unposted comment on “Wuthering Heights”: http://nobilliards.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/kate-bush-whole-story.html

  12. 113
    Larry on 16 Nov 2014 #

    Count me a lonely dissenter from the WH love. I, too, can’t get past the vocal. Too squeaky. Also, her performance feels too operatic, like it might belong in some Lloyd Webber musical.

    Have really enjoyed the scholarly discussion in the above 112 comments :)

  13. 114
    Lazarus on 17 Nov 2014 #

    First shown in late August – to coincide with the shows, I assume, though I missed it at the time – tonight’s ‘The Kate Bush Story’ on BBC4 will surely be worth a look.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04dzswb

  14. 115
    Mark M on 18 Nov 2014 #

    Re 80 (a reply six years on!): In the documentary, Amos talks about driving her car off the road the first time she heard Running Up That Hill on the radio, which sounds like she was aware of KB earlier than Lex suggests, although not definitively.

    What I quite liked about the programme was that Brett Anderson was allowed to express the idea that the early work – both in terms of the songs (esp the vocal leaps) and the look – was ‘a bit am-dram’. Also, the (generally wearying) Guy Garvey suggesting (approvingly, in his case), that KB is prog. Which is ‘duh’ on one level, but as he says, not that often stated. (Partly because a large chunk of her fanbase is uninterested in the taxonomy of rock).

    Also, the Fairlight was a horrible thing.

  15. 116
    Justified Ancient on 18 Nov 2014 #

    The “Kate Bush = prog” equation has resurfaced from time to time. I remember a contemporary review of “The Dreaming” in German mag Sounds, written by super-intellectual Pop guru Diedrich Diederichsen (yes, that’s his real name) in his early years. In which he briefly shrugs her off as “Genesis-Kate” and likens his disinterest and non-understanding of Bush’s music to his disinterest and non-understanding of “girls putting posters of horses on their bedroom walls”. More than slightly misogynistic, even by 1982 standards. And completely missing the point, especially as to “The Dreaming” which is not only my favourite Bush album (me, too, being less fond of The Squeaky Years), but also the one where she explores (in lyrics and voice) male figures and stereotypes (scientist, pilot, bankrobber) because she damn well can, while horses remain entirely unmentioned.

  16. 117
    beeflin on 24 Jan 2016 #

    Guitar by Ian Bairnson of the pop group Pilot, not David Gilmour who as far as I know hasn’t played on any of Kate Bush’s records.

  17. 118
    Girl with Curious Hair on 24 Mar 2016 #

    What I can’t get over when I listen to this song (and the whole of The Kick Inside) is that she was 19 when she did this. I mean, bloody hell, she just appeared, already fully-formed and like nobody else out there. Lennon and McCartney hadn’t even been to Hamburg when they were 19.

    As much as I love Kate Bush, and think she did plenty of great stuff later on, I feel like she never quite built on this. In that sense, it’s appropriate that this is the only appearance she’ll be making here: a beautiful banshee, glimpsed for a second at the window then never seen again. There always was something pretty ethereal about her.

    I have another analogy, comparing her to Wayne Rooney, but I think this one sounds nicer.

  18. 119
    Paulito on 25 Mar 2016 #

    On an extremely pedantic note, I feel duty bound to point out that the Beatles first arrived in Hamburg in August 1960, at which time Lennon was 19 and McCartney 18…. But yes, at 19 their songcrafting skills were still in embryonic form, compared with Kate’s prodigious achievements at the same age. That said, and without wishing to take anything away from her (I think she’s a genius), it’s worth remembering that The Kick Inside was the product not only of Kate’s natural talents but also of EMI’s foresight in nurturing those talents for two or three years beforehand.

  19. 120
    Girl with Curious Hair on 25 Mar 2016 #

    Ah yes, I stand corrected. Thank you!

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