What the hell is Kate Bush doing in the "cult artists" category? Do I hear you say she should be in the "legendary artists" pile? Well, you’re not wrong. By any definition Kate ticks all the boxes of a legendary artist, including huge sales and widespread appeal yet – as part of a very exclusive club – she also retains the artistic credibility and outsider-appeal of the cult artist. Few of the world’s biggest artists can say the same over a long career (Bowie certainly and perhaps Dylan, Prince, and John Lydon?).
By the time nineteen-year-old Kate Bush had emerged, or rather, exploded onto the nation’s radios and televisions in the early months of 1978 with her debut single, “Wuthering Heights” she had already written more than 200 songs. Her label EMI had earmarked “James and the Cold Gun” for her debut but Kate had insisted on “Wuthering Heights”. It took a mere six weeks for the complete unknown’s choice to hit number one.
Nothing like “Wuthering Heights” had ever been heard before. As if this wasn’t enough of an indication of a unique and soon-to-be major star, the follow-up, “The Man with the Child in His Eyes”, provided proof that here was someone who’d gone straight to genius without passing Go. This track was written when Kate was thirteen and recorded at sixteen. Four decades on it never fails to stop me in my tracks whenever I hear it. I sometimes overuse this word but in this instance no other adjective gets close – it is simply sublime.
The songs in this playlist appear in chronological order picking tracks from all ten studio albums, though 2011’s Director’s Cut contained only reworkings of previous material. "I really like the idea of work being allowed to continually evolve," Kate said about the album. "I’m not sure you’re ever really happy with something you create, you try and do your best, and there’s always certain constraints, whether it’s energy or whatever, but you can only do your best at the time. I just think it’s really great to have situations where you can open it up again if you want to." The Kate Bush we hear on “50 Words for Snow” in 2011 is the unmistakably the same fully formed artist we heard in 1978, which isn’t to say she hasn’t progressed or developed, it’s just that no one (except perhaps Stevie Wonder) has ever been that good at nineteen.
Not only could she set her intelligent and literary lyrics to music of exquisite delicacy, sung in whatever idiosyncratic style the material necessitated, she could also wig-out with a full-on rock line-up – check out “Don’t Put Your Foot on the Heartbreak” or “Violin”. Another early favourite is “Coffee Homeground” from Lionheart, sung in the manner of a 1930s Kurt Weill opera.
The Hounds of Love in 1985 contained four hit singles, the biggest being “Running Up That Hill”, the nearest she came to another chart topper. The album went double platinum in the UK. It was her fifth album in seven years, but thereafter her fans have learnt to be patient with just five more in the next three decades, but quality always trumps quantity.
As a kid my bedroom wall was plastered with photos of footballers, eventually replaced by The Stones, Bowie, Buzzcocks, The Fall, and Magazine as music gained prominence in my life. It wasn’t until Kate Bush came along that the men on my wall were replaced by a woman. At fifteen, I spent many hours wondering how the situation could arise whereby Kate and I would get married. She was also from Kent and only seven years older than me. Beauty, brains and talent – I’m sure we’d have made a great couple (insert ironic smiley face emoji)!
We finish back at the beginning with “Wuthering Heights”. Kate Bush has influenced many over the past forty years such as Tori Amos, Bjork, Cate Le Bon, Lady Gaga, Florence Welch, and John Lydon ("Her shrieks and warbles are beauty beyond belief to me") but still no one sounds quite like her. An enigma and genius, she invented a musical genre that contains just one artist – the music of Kate Bush.