By the beginning of 1978, the first wave of Punk seemed to be running out of spit and the New Wave was still to fully break. And, at that very point, an utterly unique and category-defying talent was unleashed onto the UK market. Or, rather, chose to unleash herself…
The pre-album debut single “Wuthering Heights”, released on January 20th, was completely unlike anything that had been heard before. In my high school musical microcosm, the camps were irreconcilably divided following her Top Of The Pops appearance: those who called for the burning of the wailing witch, and we who were more than happy to accept her offer to “Let me grab your soul away…” Interestingly, gender wasn’t a factor and, with the benefit of hindsight, it seems that the pop-listening world in general was similarly split, though with a big enough “aye” vote to creep it to Number One. Two promo videos were issued to accompany the song: the first of an ongoing series of innovative pulses in the newly burgeoning sub-genre.
Kate Bush had already been signed to EMI since mid-’75, having been brought to their attention by Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour, who had personally financed her demo. Possessed of a staggering singing voice, straddling both ends of the soprano range, she was a self-taught pianist, and had been songwriting since adolescence. Her evident talent convinced the company that she could well be the great ‘alternative experimental artist’ they’d been looking for. Little could they have known what they were letting themselves in for!
Given that she was only sixteen at that time, at the insistence of Kate and her family, EMI conceded to holding back on full-scale recording while she finished school (which she did with ten ‘O’ Levels). Having ensured her loyalty by means of a sizeable advance, they simply sat on the ‘golden egg’. The money was used to finance a course of dance/movement classes, under the guidance of David Bowie’s former tutor Lindsay Kemp.
A couple of the album’s tracks were cut soon after she signed, but the majority of the recording was completed in the summer of ’77, with Kate — still just eighteen — having built up her stamina fronting ‘The KT Bush Band’ with her brother and his mates around the London pubs. EMI did manage to convince her to use professional session players in the studio (an impressive list of multi-instrumentalists), although brother Paddy made some musical contributions.
Release, however, was stalled for six months by another show of the artist’s prodigious single-mindedness: objecting to the ‘sexy girl’ cover shot which they had in mind for both the LP and the preceding 45 (though it was employed for the US issue) — not to mention the now notorious tight leotard ‘nipple-shot’ posters for the promo campaign. Me being a geeky fourteen-year-old back then, I didn’t have any problem with the marketing of her undeniable feminine attributes: maturity, however, has given me a greater respect for and understanding of her desire “to prove that I’m an artist in a female body.”
The Kick Inside was eventually issued on February 17, 1978: coincidentally, I’m sure, my fifteenth birthday. It’s quite straightforward, musically speaking, compared to her increasingly complex subsequent works (just seven more albums in the ensuing thirty years). The playing and the production — c/o Andrew Powell, another Gilmour contact — remain faultless nevertheless, with the orchestral textures complementing everything impeccably. Kate was responsible for most of the instrumental choices. She did later state that it could have been “so much better” …but that’s Our Katie for ya!
It is, however, her subject matter which still stands her apart from the majority of other artists in female form. Another of her avowed intentions was to embellish the music of the fairer sex with the balls normally reserved for the macho form. The themes here encompass sexual love, menstruation, pregnancy, incest and suicide: all wrapped up with a richness of poetic imagery and a frank maturity way beyond her years.
The follow-up, Lionheart, was rush-released on the back of its success to cash in on the Christmas market. The six week ‘Tour of Life’ around Britain and Northern Europe followed in the spring of ’79: an elaborate fusion of music, dance and theatre, pioneering the use of backing tapes to complement the band and the radio-mike headset, specially developed for her. Having — typically — insisted on supervising every aspect of the show, Kate was left burnt out and swearing that she would never again go on the road. To date, she has remained true to her word, which very probably explains her lack of recognition Stateside. Thank the lord I was lucky enough to see her — and get a peck on the cheek afterwards to remember it by!
But I’m getting ahead of myself (or drowning in self-indulgent reminiscences)… let’s get back to The Kick, with a snippet of her own dedication: “To all of you with open ears — please feel it.”
Kate Bush — The Kick Inside: Track-by-track review
The album opens with the eerie sound of whalesong. Pure sound, to reflect the purity of movement with which Lindsay Kemp, who inspired the song, had so overwhelmed his young pupil. A brief, rippling piano intro leads into and accompanies the vocal, Kate’s voice as ethereal as those of the cetaceans which precede it:
Moving stranger, does it really matter
As long as you’re not afraid to feel?
“Feeling” is what Kate Bush is all about. If you get it, you’ll never be the same again (“it always takes you over and sets your spirit dancing”); if not, you’ll never even begin to appreciate what she does. The band gently unfurls the backing, Kate harmonising with herself to create multiple textures and sub-rhythms for the refrain:
Give me life
Please don’t let me go
You crush the lily in my soul
The whales return, and we flow, “as liquid” into the following track…
2. “The Saxophone Song”
Piano picks up again from the whalesong, this time exquisitely counterpointed by acoustic guitar. We’re transported to a candlelit bar in Berlin, where a girl sits, transfixed, as the sax player blows his tune-up scales.
“There’s something special, indeed” about the sound of a saxophone: soulful and sexy all at the same time, and Kate clearly feels its force in both ways:
It’s in me, it’s in me — and you know it’s for real…
The staggering part is that she’d written the song — and felt the feelings — when she was just thirteen, making it the oldest composition on the album. It was recorded during her first ‘pro’ session, with different (though equally adept) musicians from the rest of the record. Alan Skidmore obligingly tosses in some sultry sax, playing off Kate’s ‘dabadabadoo’ scales: though never even trying to match her pitch. An extended jazzy playout fades gently away…
3. “Strange Phenomena”
Soon it will be the phase of the moon
When people tune in
Every girl knows about the punctual blues
…and, to an extent, so do all the fellas who live with them — though menstruation isn’t a topic which either sex normally feels too comfortable talking about. Not one I’m particularly accustomed to writing about, either.
Om mani padme hum in Tibetan scriptNever shy of confronting taboo, Kate calls on us to “raise our hats to the strange phenomena”, the heightened awareness and tele-empathy which often precedes and accompanies the period: intuition, premonition, those inexplicable ‘coincidences’… In trying to find some kind of rational explanation, there’s the inference that ‘God’ must be a man (“He has the answer”). Logical: were the guiding hand a woman’s, it would surely have been men who were sentenced to menstruate… God knows! The “Om mani padme hum” mantra is invoked, seeking resonance with the psychic frequency of universal knowledge and enlightenment.
Appropriately enough, she employs her spookiest of voices to ponder the perplexities, harmonising with herself to “tune in to the phase of the moon”. There’s plenty of witchy weirdness woven into the musical mix also. Producer Powell’s synth is particularly creepy; as are the sombre male voices which softly but insistently take up the “Om mani” intonation at the close, with Kate’s final spectral oooooooo floating off on the ether.
“Beelzebub is aching in my belly-o”: uh-oh, it’s that time of the month again…
Maybe it’s the relationship between the menstrual cycle and the lunar one, maybe it’s the physical pain and loss of blood; but most women do seem to go at least a little crazy during the period of purging. Kate wants to turn herself into a kite, “and fly a diamond night” away from the discomfort and disconcertion she’s feeling. It’s the image on the album cover — her own concept, “big eyeball” an’all — which she insisted on using in place of EMI’s plans for a ‘cute’ portrait.
It skitters along on the syncopated bassline, with the electric piano accentuating the jittery alteration. The flight — like the lady — is out of control. Kate’s looping backing vox, together with the chattering clavinet keyboard and intermittent percussion describe the dizzy delirium, while her lead vocal takes us soaring up and away, “over the lights, under the moon, over the moon.” The only problem is how to get back down…
The B-side of the “Wuthering Heights” single, this is also a great song to check out how she incorporated dance and mime into her music for ‘The Tour of Life’ (see the YouTube video).
Ooh, what a diamond!
5. “The Man With The Child In His Eyes”
Written when Kate Bush was sixteen, this was the first track to be recorded for EMI, with mentor Dave Gilmour acting as executive producer.
By her own confession, Kate — still at school — was terrified by the experience: particularly working with an orchestra for the first time. She managed to hold it together, at any rate: an amazingly pure vocal and her (then) trademark tinkling piano floated along on a sea of strings and woodwind.
It’s never quite clear if the ‘Peter Pan’ character is real or just a dreamy fantasy about an older man:
I realise he’s there
When I turn the light off
And turn over
It’s a big secret, anyway: “Nobody knows about my love”. Yet in sharing it with us, as we listen to the song Kate invites us, entices us, into her world of sensual imagination.
Slightly remixed, it subsequently became the second 45 to be taken from the LP, making #6 in the UK and earning her a Novello Award for ‘Outstanding British Lyric’. It was also performed during her one and only ‘Saturday Night Live’ appearance in America (though it only made 85 on the Billboard chart).
6. “Wuthering Heights”
Ohmygod: thirty-odd years on, and that piano intro with the wind chimes still sends shivers down my spine, butterflies to my stomach and the hairs standing up on the back of my neck. The release of the single, a month prior to the LP, marked one of the most clearly defined before-and-afters in the history of popular music. No one had ever heard anything like it and, given its massive impact (in Britain, at least), things would clearly never be the same again. If nothing else, its attainment of the UK topspot gave Kate Bush the distinction of being the first woman to so with a self-penned composition.
EMI were set on putting out “James And The Cold Gun”, considering it to be the most commercially viable proposition on the album. The feisty Ms Bush, however, had other ideas and defiantly showed her balls to the giant. Once the execs had changed their mind (or had them changed), she did it again forcing them to change the sleeve design.
Based not on the novel, but the final scene of a TV adaptation which had blown her away, the song was composed in a single night, watching the moon through an open window. Reading the book later, Kate discovered that as well as sharing her name with its heroine, she also shared the same birthday as writer Emily Brontë. Spooky!
And spooky the song most certainly is. What else could you expect from a musical evocation of Cathy’s ghost, winging across the galeswept moors to reclaim her lost love, Heathcliff: “my one dream, my only master”? The vocal is an extraordinary demonstration of her devastating range, soaring and swooping in an intense, uncompromising quest “to possess you” and “grab your soul away.” It’s hardly surprising that many people simply couldn’t (and can’t) handle it. I truly believe that my folks, for example, found Kate far more disturbing than Johnny and Sid put together — though my Gran, bless her, was a great fan… A noticeably lower new vocal was recorded for the Whole Story compilation in ’86, but it’s the original which really raises the goosebumps.
The instrumentation, as on all of the album, is exquisitely blended to conjure up the scene. Kate’s piano is supplemented by organ, electric piano and that oh-so-creepy celeste. Stuart Elliott’s drums have the window crashing back and forth, as the symphonic grandeur encapsulates the bleak, gothic immensity of the “wiley, windy moors”. And, even if you’re one of those who simply can’t stand the song, you can’t knock the majestically restrained guitar solo at its climax, contributed by the Parsons Project’s Ian Bairnson.
A devastating debut, and a monumental musical milestone, to which all the alliterative hyperbole in the world can’t even begin to do justice. A wonderful welcome to — and warning about — the World of Bush.
7. “James And The Cold Gun”
Opening side two, this is the song which EMI originally had lined up as the first 45. It’s not difficult to see why: with most of the ballads probably too risqué to get past the BBC censors, it’s the closest thing to straightforward rock ‘n’ roll on the album — though with distinctly feminine bollocks, naturally! KT and The Band had already tested it out live on the pub circuit, and the studio group do it proud on the record, relishing the opportunity to raunch things up a bit.
James is a smalltime gangster, caught up in the shady underworld of gin joints, gambling clubs and guns. Or, rather, lost in it: realising he’s in way over his head, and very likely to end up dead. The narrative voice could be someone from his former life pointing out the folly of his ways — or, perhaps, James himself conducting an internal dialogue in the second person, with those jarring backing vocals as the voices in his head, chiding and tormenting him for “selling your soul to a cold gun”:
You’re a coward, James!
You’re running away from humanity!
You’re running out on reality!
An extended 8 ½ min live version was later featured on the “On Stage” EP, rocking it even more. This was another stunning piece of choreography from the show: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtnXAPIMh5w
8. “Feel It”
While it’s pretty commonplace for lads to crow about their sexual exploits, girls generally tend to keep it to themselves (or between themselves, at least). Young Catherine, on the other hand, couldn’t be more explicit about her post-party frolic:
It could be love
Or it could be just lust
But it will be fun, it will be wonderful!
Falling stockings and fondling fingers, “the glorious union” is graphically described in her silkiest and most seductive voice (how else?!!), accompanied solely by her lilting piano. It would hardly have been appropriate to let the other boys in during such an intimate encounter, would it? “Nobody else can share this.”
Perhaps this song is the real reason the album release was stalled till she was nineteen. It most certainly warrants an ‘adult only’ classification!
Synchronize rhythm now
Oh feel it, feel it my love
See what you’re doing to me
To those of a sensitive disposition, be warned: there’s more to ‘come’…
9. “Oh To Be In Love”
Who can truly understand or explain that overwhelming sense of disorientation which inevitably accompanies the first waves of love? All that anyone really knows — or feels — is that everything goes feet uppards, and that nothing is the way it was:
It’s terribly vague what’s gone before
A barrage of unanswerable questions ensue (emotion always defying rationalisation), echoed by the mock-baroque instrumentation, Paddy Bush’s mandolin fluttering over the guitars. You can’t explain it, and neither can you resist it (even if you wanted to). Go with it:
Oh, to be in love and never get out again!
The deep male backing here counterpoints some of Kate’s highest notes to compound the swimmy-headed dizziness. Andrew Powell slips in a sensuous synth solo to accompany the walk across the clouds.
But, as we all know, that heightened state seldom lasts for long. Being in love is not the same as loving, “slipping into tomorrow too quick”. Enjoy it while you can!
10. “L’Amour Looks Something Like You”
Completing the love/sex trilogy: another chance encounter, a booze-fuelled fling which could be the one…
Sleeping it off at a station,
Were you only passing through?
It seems to be the case. Heartbroken, yet unable (or unwilling) to shake off the sensations, once again she’s left alone to relive the experience in her dreams, and to fantasise about what happened and what could have been:
All the time I find I’m living in that evening
With that feeling of sticky love inside
With gentle backing to carry the lament, this is the album’s shortest track: but a little gem nonetheless. It was one of the four songs released on the live EP the following year.
11. “Them Heavy People”
For ‘Heavy’, read ‘Deep’. Them people who roll you into the realms of the ‘why are we here’, bringing you to boggle at the big questions and hunger for the answers before you really feel ready for it. “Rolling the ball” is easy enough: lilting piano and vocal; but then it starts rebounding like a pinball, toppling your comfortable personal belief barriers with the heady realisation that all the great teachers and teachings have been saying pretty much the same thing all the time:
Everyone of us has a heaven inside!
We humans got it all, we perform the miracles!
That’s the Heavy part! The music matches the emotional, existential and spiritual turmoil of the trip, pace for pace. David Paton’s superbly edgy bassline marks the faltering steps through “open doorways that I thought were shut for good”, while the drums and guitars catch the wide-eyed wonder and wary bewilderment in equal measures as the “rooms in my mind” are illuminated. Paddy Bush provides backing vocals: offering big brotherly support as his convent-educated kid sister tries to come to terms with it all:
Break me emotionally
It’s nearly killing me
But what a lovely feeling!
She performed this song on ‘Saturday Night Live’ — her only US TV appearance to date. At the end of ‘The Tour of Life’ the following spring, it was issued as the lead track on the live EP, which peaked at #10 on the UK chart.
12. “Room For The Life”
“Hey there you lady in tears”: the song starts as a statement of sympathy and encouragement for a pregnant woman, seemingly abandoned by the father, undecided on how to go on (contemplating termination?). The instrumentation is, to begin with, wonderfully restrained; acoustic and electric guitars, piano, bass and hi-hats interplaying perfectly as Kate builds to the affirmation that:
Woman, the two-in-one
There’s room for a life in your womb, woman
Inside of you can be two, woman
With the repetition of the chorus, extra textures of percussion are piled on (Boo Bams and beer bottles included), with a multi-tracked Kate scatting variations on a theme of “mama-woman-two-in-one” behind, between and on top of her main theme — as if having to compensate for the absence of male support here too. It builds into a glorious and triumphant celebration of all things female: “like it or not, we were built tough!”
Irresistibly infectious, it gradually builds to a kind of tribal chantalong (or maybe a white-witch ritual). I can’t help but wonder if she revisited it during her own pregnancy, twenty years later…
13. “The Kick Inside”
The title track is a sombre note on which to close the album. A suicide note, in fact.
Loosely based on an old folk song called “The Ballad of Lucy (or Lizzy) Wan”, a young girl reflects on the incestuous relationship with her brother which has left her with child: “The Kick Inside”. Scandalous enough in any day and age, here the references to “lace and chintz” give it a historical setting. To spare the shame which would surely ensue — for herself and for the father — she takes her own life.
Childhood memories flood back as the poison begins to take effect and, it seems, there are no regrets:
I’ll send your love to Zeus
Oo, by the time you read this, I’ll be well in touch
No band: Kate’s delicate piano and the beautifully understated orchestral backing are all that are needed to echo the poignancy of the words. The quality of the vocal goes without saying. And, as the first verse is repeated at the close, the quill-pen falls from her lifeless hand:
I’ll send your love to Zeus
Oo, by the time you read this…
The Kick Inside by Kate Bush
“The Saxophone Song”
“The Man With The Child In His Eyes”
“James And The Cold Gun”
“Oh To Be In Love”
“L’Amour Looks Something Like You”
“Them Heavy People”
“Room For The Life”
“The Kick Inside”