Kate Bush’s seminal album, The Kick Inside, turns 45
The name ‘Kate Bush’, prior to May 27, 2022, was principally evoked in two types of conversation. The first: nostalgic comments by “80s kids” who yearn to return to the “good old days” through the soundtracks of their youth, of which Bush is often a staple. The second: in secondary-school English lessons; if you were studying Emily Brontë’s tale of ill-fated love Wuthering Heights, your teacher probably introduced you to the homonymous song by Bush (influenced by the 1970 BBC adaptation rather than the book). While cemented in the annals of the great female singer-songwriters, she was, in no way, prevalent in pop culture. That was, until the launch of the fourth season of the Netflix phenomenon Stranger Things. Bush’s song ‘Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)’ from her fifth album Hounds of Love (1985), was used as a motif across Max’s (Sadie Sink) storyline of grief and acceptance. The emotionally gripping plot captivated tens of millions of viewers who were introduced to Bush. She hurtled back into mainstream discourse and, nearly 37 years after its original release, the song reached the #1 spot on the UK Official Charts and the Billboard Global 200. Since then, there has never been a better time to explore the wacky world of her music — and where better to start with her first album: The Kick Inside.
The fourth track ‘Kite’ is unabashedly whimsical
The creation of Bush’s début is somewhat mythological among her fans. She was discovered in 1975 by David Gilmour of Pink Floyd renown at the age of fifteen. Two songs on The Kick Inside, ‘The Man with the Child in His Eyes’ and ‘The Saxophone Song’ were recorded in those initial sessions with Gilmour. However, the record label she was signed to, EMI, lacked faith in her ability to helm an album so young. When, in 1977, the record was finally complete, she pushed for ‘Wuthering Heights’ to be her debut single against the label’s wishes. Finally, they yielded, and it became the first self-written song by a female artist to reach #1 in the UK. The album itself was released on February 17, 1978.
This anecdote perfectly encapsulates the unrelenting and self-assured nature of Bush and her skill; and ample skill she does possess. The first traces of her creativity are on full display from the get-go. The album opens with whale song samples. The fourth track ‘Kite’ is unabashedly whimsical. The titular track interpolates the Scottish folk tale of forbidden incestuous love ‘Lucy Wan’. Bush demonstrates staggering lyrical dexterity on the album too. The intoxicating ‘The Saxophone Song’ contains luscious descriptions, with verses such as:
“The candle burning over your shoulder is throwing
Shadows from your saxophone, a surly lady in tremor
The stars that climb from her bowels
Those stars make towers on vowels”.
Furthermore, the album switches from ‘Feel It’, an intimate piano ballad about a protagonist’s first sexual experience, to a bombastic love anthem with a smörgåsbord of backing vocals, synths, and instruments with ‘Oh to Be in Love’. The proverbial crown jewel of The Kick Inside, though, is Kate Bush’s vocal ability. It is unparalleled; siren-like and haunting, but so delicate and emotional. It can swoop up and down four octaves — from shrill note to hooting croon, and vice versa, — in an instant.
Bush breaks down an artistic “glass ceiling” in the music industry
All of this shows an aptitude for music well beyond her years. Most would kill to have such a masterful big break in the unforgiving music industry as a teenager. Bush, through this project, is expressing her unbridled willingness to learn about the perpetual physically and emotionally “moving” human experience, which, funnily enough, is both the first song and the first word sung on the record. This is summed up by the title of the album, which connotes ideas of a baby’s kick inside a mother’s womb. Such a centrepiece situates her at the tail-end of the second wave of feminism in the UK, where the new generation of women realised that structures of patriarchy perforated every aspect of society, including the arts. Bush breaks down an artistic “glass ceiling” in the music industry with her urge to discover and experiment without sacrificing her individuality.
This novel representation of the experience of the modern young woman has inspired many trailblazers in popular and alternative music. Björk, considered by many to be one of the greatest living creative minds in the arts, has declared her admiration for Bush on multiple occasions. Imprints of the eccentricity and singularity of Bush can be seen in the projects and public personas of Imogen Heap, Lady Gaga, Charli XCX, FKA twigs, and Caroline Polachek, just to name a few. As for my encounters with Kate Bush, the music video for ‘Wuthering Heights’ mesmerised me, and encouraged my nine-year-old self to read the book. Here I am now, reading a book for my English Literature degree while listening to ‘This Woman’s Work’. My appreciation of Bush can be summed up by one of her lyrics on The Kick Inside’s opening track: “How you move me / With your beauty’s potency”