Skip to main content

Enter your email below to be the first to hear about new releases, upcoming events, and more from Dig!

Please enter a valid email address

By submitting my information, I agree to receive personalized updates and marketing messages about WMX based on my information, interests, activities, website visits and device data and in accordance with the Privacy Policy. I understand that I can opt-out at any time by emailing privacypolicy@wmg.com.

Best Kate Bush Songs: 20 Must-Hear Examples Of This Woman’s Work
Alamy Stock Photo
List & Guides

Best Kate Bush Songs: 20 Must-Hear Examples Of This Woman’s Work

From her attention-grabbing debut through to some of the most forward-thinking pop, the best Kate Bush songs are the work of a unique mind.

Back

Since bursting on to the scene with Wuthering Heights in 1978, Kate Bush has constantly expanded our ideas of what music could and should do, creating one of the most remarkable catalogues in pop music. From the early age of 19, she has been uncompromising in her vision, whether that be choosing her own debut single or producing her own albums at a time when that was, incredibly, unusual for female artists. Picking just 20 songs that emphasise her importance is no easy task, but the best Kate Bush songs will give newcomers to her music a thrill while reminding fans of some of her most glorious moments.

Listen to the best of Kate Bush here, and check out the best Kate Bush songs, below.

20: Among Angels (From ‘50 Words For Snow’, 2011)

The closing song on 50 Words For Snow emphasises the strength of Kate’s latter-day material. A near-seven-minute mediation – initially for piano and voice before strings wind their way around the song – Among Angels moves slowly and gracefully, with Kate in fine voice as she offers words of support to a friend in need. The song obviously means a lot to her: it was the only track from the album performed during Before The Dawn, her magical 2014 residency at London’s Hammersmith Apollo.

19: Sat In Your Lap (From ‘The Dreaming’, 1982)

Kate’s fourth album, 1982’s The Dreaming, marked the point where she became a true auteur, producing herself for the first time and embracing the Linn drum machine and the Fairlight CMI synthesiser. The result was a daring and experimental album that pushed her music into new places – not least with Sat In Your Lap, an extraordinary, frantic song about the search for knowledge. Careening through several gear changes, it was – unusually for her songs up until this point – built from the propulsive rhythm track up.

18: Moments Of Pleasure (From ‘The Red Shoes’, 1993)

One of the more obviously autobiographical entries among the best Kate Bush songs, Moments Of Pleasure is an electric celebration of people who have impacted on the singer’s life. As she said in a letter to her fan club at the time of The Red Shoes’ release: “I feel my dearest memories have been spent with people I love, those things that still make me laugh, the people that have touched me. The song is saying thanks to those friends of mine who were fun to be with, some of whom aren’t alive any more – though they are still alive in my memories.” The song took on a more elegiac tone when it was revisited for Bush’s 2011 album of remakes, Director’s Cut.

17: Babooshka (From ‘Never For Ever’, 1980)

A tale of a suspicious woman testing her husband by sending him “scented letters” from a fictional admirer, only to find the husband fell for it because the letters remind him of… his wife back in happier days. As Kate would later explain to the Australian TV show Countdown: “The whole idea of the song is really the futility and the stupidness of humans and how by our own thinking, spinning around in our own ideas, we come up with completely paranoid facts.” It might not sound like obvious hit-single material, but Babooshka – a Russian-tinged gem with an explosive chorus – hit the Top 5 in the UK and became one of Bush’s signature songs.

16: Sunset (From ‘Aerial’, 2005)

Though 12 years had passed since the release of her previous album, The Red Shoes, when Kate returned to music in 2005, with the double-album Aerial, it was worth the wait. The first disc, A Sea Of Honey, was a relatively conventional collection of songs that spoke of Kate’s experiences and interests – family, domesticity, mathematics, Joan Of Arc, Elvis Presley. Meanwhile, the second disc, A Sky Of Honey, was a 42-minute song suite in thrall to the power of nature and linked with birdsong and narration that took the listener on a journey through a summer’s day. The warm and jazzy Sunset beautifully captures the time of day when the light falls and evening is beckoned in.

15: Army Dreamers (From ‘Never For Ever’, 1980)

Another unlikely hit single: a mannered-sounding waltz featuring mandolin and bodhrán, with lyrics that find Kate adopting the role of a mother wracked with guilt and grieving for her young son, who’d been killed on military manoeuvres. Kate was just 21 when she recorded her second album, Never For Ever, yet she already possessed an extraordinary ability to put herself in her characters’ shoes, as she revealed when discussing Army Dreamers with Melody Maker in 1980: “It’s just putting the case of a mother in these circumstances, how incredibly sad it is for her. How she feels she should have been able to prevent it. If she’d bought him a guitar when he asked for one.”

14: Under The Ivy (‘Running Up That Hill’ B-Side, 1985)

Apparently written and recorded quickly when a B-side was needed for Running Up That Hill, Under The Ivy is a powerful piano ballad in which the narrator is making the step of inviting a partner into their life. As Kate told Doug Alan, the founder of the Love-Hounds fan discussion group, in 1985: “It’s very much a song about someone who is sneaking away from a party to meet someone elusively, secretly, and to possibly make love with them, or just to communicate, but it’s secret, and it’s something they used to do and that they won’t be able to do again. It’s about a nostalgic, revisited moment… I think it’s sad because it’s about someone who is recalling a moment when perhaps they used to do it when they were innocent and when they were children, and it’s something that they’re having to sneak away to do privately now as adults.”

13: The Man With The Child In His Eyes (From ‘The Kick Inside’, 1979)

Written when Kate was just 13, and one of the songs that attracted the attention of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour – which eventually led to her record deal – The Man With The Child In His Eyes puts the listener in the place of a teenage girl in the throes of an all-consuming crush. Typically, there was more to it, as Kate said in a press release that accompanied The Kick Inside: “The inspiration was really just a particular thing that happened when I went to the piano. The piano just started speaking to me. It was a theory that I had had for a while that I just observed in most of the men that I know: the fact that they just are little boys inside and how wonderful it is that they manage to retain this magic.” Immediately taking is place among the best Kate Bush songs, it was a universal hit – and her first to enter the US Billboard Hot 100, reaching No.85 in early 1979 – and remains one of her most-covered tunes.

12: The Sensual World (From ‘The Sensual World’, 1989)

Kate originally intended the lyrics of the lead single and title track of her sixth album to use the breathless conclusion of Molly Bloom’s soliloquy at the end of James Joyce’s Ulysses. In the novel, Molly candidly describes a sexual awakening with a stream-of-consciousness narrative; when Kate was denied permission to use Joyce’s writing, she set about reframing it, paraphrasing the text to consider the sensorial (and, yes, sensual) overload that might overwhelm Molly were she able to step “out off the page” into the real world. There was an appropriate sense of awakening to the track – not only in Bush’s pent-up, punchy delivery, but the thwacking drums and glossy production. By the time of Director’s Cut, Joyce’s estate had reconsidered and allowed her to use the lyric as originally intended, so Kate re-recorded the song as Flower Of The Mountain.

11: Breathing (From ‘Never For Ever’, 1980)

Recorded in early 1980 and released as Never For Ever’s lead single in April that year, Breathing is written from the perspective of a foetus preparing to enter a post-apocalyptic world. As she told Smash Hits at the time of the single’s release: “It’s about a baby still in the mother’s womb at the time of a nuclear fallout, but it’s more of a spiritual being. It has all its senses: sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing, and it knows what is going on outside the mother’s womb, and yet it wants desperately to carry on living, as we all do of course. Nuclear fallout is something we’re all aware of, and worried about happening in our lives, and it’s something we should all take time to think about. We’re all innocent, none of us deserve to be blown up.” Again, despite the foreboding subject matter, it’s a gorgeous-sounding entry among the best Kate Bush songs – a sumptuous prog masterpiece that showed her musical ambition.

10: Get Out Of My House (From ‘The Dreaming’, 1982)

The Dreaming’s closing track saw Kate embrace the darker corners of her musical imagination. Get Out Of My House is unsettling enough – thanks to clattering percussion, ominous synths and blood-curdling background screams – but with around two minutes to go, Kate appears to transmogrify into a braying mule, to absolutely terrifying effect. The feeling of claustrophobia and panic matched the subject matter. Speaking to Company in 1982, Kate explained: “It’s all about the human as a house. The idea is that as more experiences actually get to you, you start learning how to defend yourself from them. The human can be seen as a house where you start putting up shutters at the windows and locking the doors – not letting in certain things. I think a lot of people are like this – they don’t hear what they don’t want to hear, don’t see what they don’t want to see. That’s sad because as they grow older people should open up more. But they do the opposite because, I suppose, they do get bruised and cluttered. Which brings me back to myself; yes, I have had to decide what I will let in and what I’ll have to exclude.”

9: Hello Earth (From ‘Hounds Of Love’, 1985)

One of the stand-out moments from The Ninth Wave, the seven-song suite about a woman attempting to stay alive in the aftermath of a shipwreck which comprises the second half of Hounds Of Love, Hello Earth is an ambitious piece and in of itself. A shoo-in among the best Kate Bush songs, it marks the point in the story where the narrator is losing consciousness as the rescue team reaches her – the blurring of perception echoed by the song’s various sections, which shift from stately piano balladry to grandstanding choruses with vocal intervals inspired by Gregorian hymns. It also marked the breathtaking point in the Before The Dawn shows where Kate was carried aloft through the crowd, a spectacle that fans lucky enough to obtain tickets won’t forget.

8: Suspended In Gaffa (From ‘The Dreaming’, 1982)

The Dreaming has no shortage of contenders for the best Kate Bush songs, and Suspended In Gaffa is a head-spinning piece of intoxicating and inventive art-pop with one foot in music hall, the other in the avant-garde. As for the unusual lyrics, Kate explained them to her fan club in 1982: “The idea of the song is that of being given a glimpse of ‘God’ – something that we dearly want – but being told that unless we work for it, we will never see it again, and even then, we might not be worthy of it. Of course, everybody wants the reward without the toil, so people try to find a way out of the hard work, still hoping to claim the prize, but such is not the case. The choruses are meant to express the feeling of entering timelessness as you become ready for the experience, but only when you are ready.”

 

7: Cloudbusting (From ‘Hounds Of Love’, 1985)

The first half of Hounds Of Love saw Kate take the sonic daring of The Dreaming and apply it to universal, skyscraping songs that found a huge audience. Cloudbusting was a case in point – a stunning song propelled by a stately marching beat, an insistent, choppy string arrangement and, for the most part, little else. By the end it has become something utterly triumphant, and yet the lyrics are based on Peter Reich’s 1973 memoir, A Book Of Dreams, which dealt with his painful relationship with his father, the controversial psychoanalyst Wilhelm. It deals with memories of childhood on their family farm, called Orgonon, where the two attempted to cause rainfall by pointing a machine (a cloudbuster) designed and built by Reich at the sky to break up clouds. The song goes on to describe the effect of Wilhelm’s arrest and imprisonment on Peter, and his helplessness at being unable to protect his father. It takes a rare genius to turn all of that into a hit single.

6: A Coral Room (From ‘Aerial’, 2005)

One of the best Kate Bush songs of the 21st century, the final song on Aerial’s first disc is a moving piano-and-vocal memorial for Kate’s mother, Hannah. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row programme around the time of album’s release, Kate said: “The song is really about the passing of time. I like the idea of coming from this big expansive, outside world of sea and cities into, again, this very small space where, er, it’s talking about a memory of my mother and this little brown jug. I always remember hearing years ago this thing about a sort of Zen approach to life, where you would hold something in your hand, knowing that, at some point, it would break, it would no longer be there.”

5: And Dream Of Sheep (From ‘Hounds Of Love’, 1985)

The opening song of The Ninth Wave introduces the protagonist, stranded at sea, with one of Kate’s most direct, simple and affecting melodies, and a stunning vocal. She explained And Dream Of Sheep in her fan club newsletter in 1985: “It’s about them fighting sleep. They’re very tired and they’ve been in the water waiting for someone to come and get them, and it’s starting to get dark, and it doesn’t look like anyone’s coming and they want to go to sleep. They know that if they go to sleep in the water they could turn over and drown, so they’re trying to keep awake; but they can’t help it, they eventually fall asleep.”

4: This Woman’s Work (From ‘The Sensual World’, 1989)

One of the most beloved, affecting entries among the best Kate Bush songs, This Woman’s Work was written to soundtrack an emotionally fraught scene in the otherwise light John Hughes film, She’s Having A Baby. In the film a young father-to-be is confronted with the unthinkable as complications arise in childbirth, as Kate told BBC Radio 1 in 1989: “While she’s in the operating room, he has to sit and wait in the waiting room, and it’s a very powerful piece of film where he’s just sitting, thinking; and this is actually the moment in the film where he has to grow up. He has no choice. There he is, he’s not a kid anymore; you can see he’s in a very grown-up situation. And he starts, in his head, going back to the times they were together. There are clips of film of them laughing together and doing up their flat and all this kind of thing. And it was such a powerful visual: it’s one of the quickest songs I’ve ever written. It was so easy to write. We had the piece of footage on video, so we plugged it up so that I could actually watch the monitor while I was sitting at the piano and I just wrote the song to these visuals. It was almost a matter of telling the story, and it was a lovely thing to do: I really enjoyed doing it.”

3: Hounds Of Love (From ‘Hounds Of Love’, 1985)

Is there a single song that captures the curious mix of anxiety and exhilaration that comes with falling in love quite as successfully as Hounds of Love? Drums thump, cellos saw incessantly and the vocals are every bit as dramatic and breathtaking as the song requires – the lyrics depict somebody who’s afraid of what falling in love might entail, and all too aware of how limiting that fear can be (“I’ve always been a coward/And I don’t know what’s good for me”), before throwing off those shackles and surrendering themselves to the “hounds”. Kate later embellished on her choice of imagery in a 1992 Radio 1 interview: “I thought Hounds Of Love and the whole idea of being chased by this love that actually gonna… when it gets you it’s just going to rip you to pieces, you know, and have your guts all over the floor! So this very sort of… being hunted by love, I liked the imagery, I thought it was really good.”

2: Wuthering Heights (From ‘The Kick Inside’, 1979)

The song that started it all. From the off, Kate showed she was no pushover by insisting that Wuthering Heights should be her debut single, going against the thinking of her record label. She was right, of course – it hit the top of the UK charts within a month of release and was the first No.1 written and performed by a female solo artist. Forever enshrined among the best Kate Bush songs, it captured the public’s imagination as few debut singles ever have, and marked the young songwriter out as a unique talent. She wrote Wuthering Heights after catching the end of the 1967 BBC series based on Emily Brontë’s novel of the same name, and borrowed the book from her brother John to fill in the gaps. The song is a melodramatic thrill – a giddy gothic ride of frenzied romance that continues to win her new generations of fans.

1: Running Up That Hill (From ‘Hounds Of Love’, 1985)

After The Dreaming baffled some critics, Kate silenced them all with Running Up That Hill, one of the all-time great comeback singles. Topping our list of the best Kate Bush songs, it’s an utterly seductive, breathtaking epic that dealt with extraordinarily forward-thinking ideas of gender in the mid-80s. As she explained to Radio 1 in 1992: “I was trying to say that, really, a man and a woman can’t understand each other because we are a man and a woman. And if we could actually swap each other’s roles, if we could actually be in each other’s place for a while, I think we’d both be very surprised! And I think it would lead to a greater understanding. And really the only way I could think it could be done was either… you know, I thought a deal with the devil. And I thought, Well, no, why not a deal with God! You know, because in a way it’s so much more powerful the whole idea of asking God to make a deal with you. For me it is still called A Deal With God – that was its title. But we were told that if we kept this title that it wouldn’t be played in any of the religious countries… So we changed it to Running Up That Hill. But it’s always something I’ve regretted doing, I must say. And normally I always regret any compromises that I make.” Whatever its title, Running Up That Hill is a staggering musical and lyrical achievement of the sort that only Kate Bush is capable of.

More Like This

Best 70s Albums: 20 Great Masterworks Of The Decade
List & Guides

Best 70s Albums: 20 Great Masterworks Of The Decade

From fearless folk outings to hard-rock missives, the best 70s albums rescued the decade with a courageous ear and a progressive ambition.

Best Iron Maiden Album Covers: 20 Of Eddie’s Finest Moments
List & Guides

Best Iron Maiden Album Covers: 20 Of Eddie’s Finest Moments

Gory but glorious, the best Iron Maiden Album covers, starring the band’s undead mascot, Eddie, are among heavy metal’s most iconic images.

Sign up to our newsletter

Be the first to hear about new releases, upcoming events, and more from Dig!

Sign Up