Close encounters with “a musical UFO”

The album cover for the U.S. release of The Kick Inside
The album cover for the U.S. release of The Kick Inside

Friends introduced to me to Kate Bush’s music sometime during freshman or sophomore year of college and I honestly didn’t know what to make of it.  I’m far from the only person for whom it was, on first listening, mind-blowing.  When gathering some background information for this post, it was fun coming across these descriptions of her début single, “Wuthering Heights”:

“‘Wuthering Heights’…crash-landed into the charts and stood out like a musical UFO amongst the likes of ABBA….and Wings.” (Priya Elan on http://www.nme.com)

“January 1978 saw the release of one of the most unusual singles ever to hit the British charts….It’s a song that defies categorisation…” (http://tricialo.wordpress.com/)

“When ‘Wuthering Heights’, the teenaged Kate Bush’s debut single, hit #1 in the UK chart in January 1978, it…astounded listeners, who’d never, ever, heard anything like it before…” (Amy Hanson on http://www.allmusic.com)

You get the point.

And just in case you missed it, Bush was, as Hanson notes, a teenager (19 years old, to be exact) when the single–and the album on which it appeared, The Kick Inside–was released.  She was a precocious talent, and had started writing songs–lots of them–when she was just 15.  In fact, when “Wuthering Heights” topped the charts in the UK, it was the first time a woman did so with the song that she had written herself.

The album cover for the U.K. release of The Kick Inside
The album cover for the U.K. release of The Kick Inside

Bush’s inspiration was, of course, Emily Brontë’s 1847 novel of the same name, the tale of the doomed lovers, Catherine and Heathcliff.  The song takes its cue from a scene early in the book, in Chapter 3, in which the story’s narrator, in the midst of a blizzard, dreams he sees Catherine’s ghost trying to enter through the bedroom window.  The song is sung from the ghost’s perspective: Cathy has been haunting the moors for years, searching for her true love, Heathcliff.

In all of my other posts about pieces of music, be they classical or popular, I’ve pointed out particular moments or passages that get under my skin.  In the case of “Wuthering Heights”, what I like most is the overall mood it so effectively creates, evoking the weird, gothic intensity of the scene on which it’s based.  It’s both grand and unsettling….there’s something haunting and unhinged about Bush’s vocals, keening and swaying as they do in the uppermost registers of her extraordinary range.  For four minutes and twenty-nine seconds, carried along by the lush orchestration and Bush’s unique vocal style, I’m in another world, “out on the wiley, windy moors.”  (The wonderful guitar solo that meanders over the final minute and 15 seconds or so is by Ian Bairnson, formerly of The Alan Parsons Project (among other bands).

Out on the wiley, windy moors
We’d roll and fall in green.
You had a temper like my jealousy:
Too hot, too greedy.
How could you leave me,
When I needed to possess you?
I hated you. I loved you, too.

Bad dreams in the night.
They told me I was going to lose the fight,
Leave behind my wuthering, wuthering
Wuthering Heights.

Heathcliff, it’s me–Cathy.
Come home. I’m so cold!
Let me in-a-your window.

Heathcliff, it’s me–Cathy.
Come home. I’m so cold!
Let me in-a-your window.

Ooh, it gets dark! It gets lonely,
On the other side from you.
I pine a lot. I find the lot
Falls through without you.
I’m coming back, love.
Cruel Heathcliff, my one dream,
My only master.

Too long I roam in the night.
I’m coming back to his side, to put it right.
I’m coming home to wuthering, wuthering,
Wuthering Heights,

Heathcliff, it’s me–Cathy.
Come home. I’m so cold!
Let me in-a-your window.

Heathcliff, it’s me–Cathy.
Come home. I’m so cold!
Let me in-a-your window.

Ooh! Let me have it.
Let me grab your soul away.
Ooh! Let me have it.
Let me grab your soul away.
You know it’s me–Cathy!

Heathcliff, it’s me–Cathy.
Come home. I’m so cold!
Let me in-a-your window.

Heathcliff, it’s me–Cathy.
Come home. I’m so cold!
Let me in-a-your window.

Heathcliff, it’s me–Cathy.
Come home. I’m so cold!

Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon, as Heathcliff and Cathy, in William Wyler's 1939 release of Wuthering Heights
Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon, as Heathcliff and Cathy, in William Wyler’s 1939 film, Wuthering Heights

Trivia tidbit: “Wuthering Heights” isn’t the only Kate Bush song inspired by a work of literature. The title track of her 1989 release, The Sensual World, was inspired by Molly Bloom’s soliloquy at the end of James Joyce’s Ulysses.

6 comments

  • Somewhat related, I listened to Cloudbusting on my way home from work and I really liked it. Can it really be from 1985?

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    • Mary, it’s interesting you mention Cloudbusting! That too, apparently, was inspired by a book, although not a novel: Peter Reich’s memoir (“A Book of Dreams”) about his father, the psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, who, among other things, designed the ‘cloudbuster’.

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  • I had no idea Bush was so young when she wrote that. Of course, we were young then, too. Not so much anymore…I was in a store today that announced on the loudspeaker a discount for the over-55 crowd. Sadly, when I checked out, the clerk made sure to mention it to me, dashing my thought that I didn’t look a day over almost-52.

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    • Right there with you, Melanie!

      I couldn’t remember if it was you or Joyce H. that introduced me to KB’s music….I think it was you. My first discovery on “The Kick Inside” was actually “Them Heavy People”….”Wuthering Heights” entered my orbit soon after….

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  • ‘Wuthering Heights’ was a #1 in Australia in 1978 too.

    I recall making disparaging remarks about Pat Benatar’s steamroller version of WH when it appeared in 1980, particularly taking offence at the ironing out of all the weirdness. But Pat (and therefore Kate) probably made 10 times the money in the US as a result. Guess that’s life in the mass market.

    What a unique and fascinating talent Kate Bush was and continues to be. For those who may have lost track of Ms Bush, I highly recommend her 2005 album ‘Aeriel’. Older and wiser, sure. But still enchanting and a little unhinged.

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    • Thanks for your comments, Bruce. Dare I say that Benatar’s version of “Wuthering Heights” would qualify as ‘power pop’….but not in a good way! I’m not familiar with ‘Aeriel’, but it’s clear I need to be…I’ve never seen such a collection of laudatory reviews on iTunes. Thanks for the recommendation.

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