Let me set the stage.
It was college.
New friends and new music to be discovered. I was a ripe young set of ears. My college suite-mate Anton was into Violent Femmes, Elvis Costello, Tears For Fears and a lot of artists that I had never even heard of. We hit it off musically though we had nothing in common academically. He was a deep thinker and was studying Russian, which seemed to me to be quite an uphill battle. We were fast friends for a semester.
He ended up changing schools and despite his best efforts to stay in contact with me…
I let him down. Sorry Anton.
At any rate, among Anton’s record collection he had a vinyl copy of “Kate Bush – The Kick Inside”, her first album.
He spun it one day as we were sitting around talking. No intro. No set up. He just played it.
I was suddenly listening to a songbird. Her voice was high and trilly and so far removed from the type of stuff I was listening to at the time that at first I barely heard what Anton was saying to me, I was all ears on the music. Wow, that voice. Did I hate this I asked myself? I wanted to say yes, it was ridiculous and too high and silly and … no, no I didn’t hate it. I found myself really digging it. It touched something in me, and it may have just been the absolute perfect time in my life to hear this. I was stupefied and enthralled by that voice, and to boot the songs were hooky and well crafted to take advantage of her range. I picked up the record sleeve and began examining it, trying to synthesize what I was hearing. Anton noticed. Then came the obvious question: “You never heard Kate Bush before?!”
He proceeded to give me all the history he had on Kate and her albums and he was as enthused as I had ever seen him. He clearly loved Kate Bush and was excited to share her with me.
The first 5 songs – “Moving”, “The Saxophone Song”, “Strange Phenomenon”, “Kite” and “The Man With The Child In His Eyes” totally transfixed me. Before the album was over I knew I had to dub this album onto cassette to keep.
We listened to “The Kick Inside” and “Never For Ever” back to back which prompted the comment from his roommate, who was studying throughout all this, something to the effect of “What is this shit?”. He was not a fan. That’s okay, he was a Top 40 guy. Kate Bush is certainly NOT Top 40 and I am willing to concede that she is not to everyone’s taste.
I ended up copying the “The Kick Inside” and “Never For Ever” for my tape collection and listened to them aggressively. That was how I started with Kate Bush, but what made me a fan for life was in the latter part of 1985 when she released “Hounds Of Love”.
The track “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” was on college radio and it was awesome to know her and be aware of her music ahead of this. It was almost obligatory that Anton and I ended up at the record store near campus shortly after the release of the album and he bought “Hounds Of Love” on vinyl. We went back to the dorms and played it in my room.
In short, it changed me.
If you are a regular reader of my site you have probably heard me say that about other albums, but in 55 years there have only been a legitimate handful that have had this effect on me. This was certainly one that continues to hold golden status.
I dubbed the album from Anton onto a leftover tape, and eventually some years later bought the store released cassette. I have the CD and of course have several backed up copies of the digital album. Recently, I even purchased the remastered vinyl album.
Why this album? What is it that connects with me so deeply when I listen to these songs?
I have asked myself that for years and I don’t know if there is any one single answer that suffices. The album is an experience, conveniently broken into 2 parts. I was excited to get it on CD at one point to be able to listen to all the songs straight through, but for me, forever, I will think of this album as 2 distinct parts. That is why I bought the vinyl. I don’t know if the effect of listening to “Hounds Of Love” on vinyl will replicate how I felt when I heard it in my room with Anton that day in 1985, but it is the best way I can respect the thrill of that discovery. I intend to sit and listen, uninterrupted, concentrating on the voice and sounds of one of my favorite albums of all time.
The first side starts strong with “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)”. Donald Sutherland is in the video for this song and he was an actor very familiar to me. Remember the last scene in “Invasion Of The Body Snatchers”? Was this the first time I saw an actor in a music video? Did that make it especially unique? Perhaps. Also, I think I may have seen the video before I heard the song on the radio, which may be why I always temper the audio of the song with the images from the video.
The big drums and the doo doo’s of “Hounds Of Love” are etched in my brain forever.
“Take my shoes off
And throw them in the lake
And I’ll be
Two steps on the water”
What the hell does that even mean beyond the pun? I’m not sure I’ll ever know, but the song carries me and the emotion is melancholy with a dash of hope. Perfect.
“The Big Sky” is another drum beat songbird vocal explosion. “Pause for the jet.” I couldn’t seem to get enough. I love the background singers in this one.
Then we get to “Mother Stands For Comfort” which is a slow track and threatens to derail the whole side on it’s rocket ride through your consciousness, but the bass and the weird calliope / organ sounds give it a dreamy sort of vibe which I ended up loving.
Plating off the slow track before it, “Cloudbursting” slides in and closes the album side. It’s another melancholy track and a slow builder. The drums that are interspersed throughout the album return and the side ends on a smooth note with train whistle.
I confess to falling asleep to this side of the album many many times. It’s perfect. Side One starts off strong then slows down without losing it’s effect throughout.
If you liked Side One, Side Two is yet still more amazing.
“And Dream Of Sheep” starts you off. Slow and subtle and sweet, almost lullaby-ish. There is a subtle sound of voices in the background foreshadowing the coming chaos. A simple soothing song that tries to contain the next few songs.
“Under Ice”. The ominous cellos in this song are set opposite to Kate’s simple lyrics and cry of “It’s me!” The sound is soft, but urgent and foreboding.
“Waking The Witch” begins with lolling piano sounds and a collection of voices that start with gentle nudges and caution and end up giving way to a dark voice that accuses and threatens. The bit with Kate’s voice all cut up sends shivers down my spine. Then the bass line kicks in and undulates to the end. “Guilty! Guilty!” The odd helicopter and “get out of the water” bring the song to a close.
“Watching You Without Me” follows and brings you back with more calliope sounds and some really slithery bass lines. Its soft and is filled with renewed melancholy. There is more Kate vocals chopped up and sped up neat the end to juxtapose with the previous song.
“Jig Of Life” sounds lifting, with a bouncy beat and instruments. Literally a jig. It’s short, but ends the bought of melancholy that the previous songs accentuated. It brings you out and back into the world. “I put this moment here.” There is a vocal from a man to close it out. Normally I would disapprove of vocals by other than the artist, but it works here.
“Hello Earth” sounds like the music played a film’s closing scene, the scene where everything gets resolved, mysteries revealed, and the sun comes out finally. Kate’s voice is angelic and there is a muted chorus along with her. Sounds from the previous songs make a return here softly, like the submarine. It is a great wrap up.
Then after all the ups and downs, the chaos and the soft melancholy, there comes “The Morning Fog”. This song lifts you up and makes you forget all the angry voices and primes you to take the journey all over again. A better end to the album seems impossible. That it is too short is the only complaint, but you walk away happy and tapping your toe.
If you have never listened to “Kate Bush – Hounds Of Love” I recommend it of course. I would caution you thought that it is not for every moment. Choose your time. Choose a time when you can listen deeply. Listen when you can soak in the aural journey that Kate presents for you. There are pop songs here, but the whole album is an experience to be taken as a whole.
I guarantee it’s worth it.
SO worth it.