Kate Bush – every UK single ranked!

As her 80s albums are reissued, we look across the 40-year career of the singer-songwriter and actual, no-further-questions genius

29. Rocket Man (1991)

Few of Kate Bush’s professed influences – David Bowie, Roy Harper, Pink Floyd – are really audible in the music she makes, but she paid homage to her childhood hero Elton John on this cover, a rare misstep that misses the original’s unease in favour of an oddly twee reggae-ish lilt.

28. The Dreaming (1982)

Clearly struggling over what the hell to release from her fourth album – frequently brilliant, but deeply experimental and devoid of obvious singles – her label plumped for the title track, an Aussie-accented tale of the destruction of Indigenous Australians’ homelands in the search for uranium. Not a hit, for some reason.

27. Deeper Understanding (2011)

You could see why Bush chose to trail the Director’s Cut album, where she reinterpreted songs from her back catalogue, with Deeper Understanding – its lyric about the isolating effects of technology seems weirdly prescient for a song from the 80s. But it’s one instance where the original, replete with ethereal vocals by Trio Bulgarka (subsequently swamped by a guest appearance by Bush’s son, Bertie), is better.

26. The Man I Love (1994)

A forgotten and atypical Bush single – a straight orchestral reading of the Great American Songbook standard, recorded for a tribute album of Gershwin songs by the legendary harmonica player Larry Adler. Very nice, but inessential.

25. December Will Be Magic Again (1980)

Kate Bush had a whole album’s worth of flatly brilliant, at least vaguely festive-themed music in her – 2011’s 50 Words for Snow – but her first attempt at a Christmas single 31 years earlier fell oddly flat, never quite sounding as magical as its title suggests.

24. Hammer Horror (1978)

Bush is no fan of her second album, Lionheart, saying in 2005: “I just didn’t like it.” Its flop lead single Hammer Horror wasn’t quite up to the standard set by her debut LP, The Kick Inside: it feels strained, as if it’s trying a bit too hard to sound kooky. That said, the dramatic orchestral arrangement is great.

Kate Bush.

23. Lyra (2007)

A single by default, not design: it charted on downloads from the soundtrack album of The Golden Compass alone. Belying Bush’s reputation as a pernickety studio perfectionist, it apparently took 10 days to write and record. It’s not her greatest song, but its ambient synth and choral backing is luscious and enveloping.

22. The Red Shoes (1994)

The Red Shoes was one song vastly improved by Bush’s rerecording on Director’s Cut. The original single was fine, its lyrical exploration of the creative impulse chafing against its perky folk backing, but the new version trumped it: darker, more insistent, more powerful.

21. Experiment IV (1986)

It’s tempting to see Experiment IV’s lyric – about scientists impelled to make a lethal sonic weapon – as a kind of allegory for Bush’s perfectionist approach to recording and belief in music’s power. Either way, it’s a more direct and undemanding piece of music than her preceding singles, from Hounds of Love, its mid-80s sound more dated.

20. There Goes a Tenner (1982)

Other countries got the extraordinary if impenetrable Suspended in Gaffa as a single from The Dreaming. In Britain, it was the less abrasive, but similarly Kurt Weill-ish There Goes a Tenner. Its shifts from am-dram oompah to hypnagogic ambience are suitably unsettling and odd.

19. And So Is Love (1994)

The last single that Bush put out before her 11-year absence from the release schedules is suitably downbeat – “whatever happens, what really matters?” – and decorated with guitar solos by Eric Clapton. It’s another track improved by its Director’s Cut makeover, its glossy feel replaced with something mistier and more touching.

18. The Big Sky (1986)

It seems odd to think of how Bush was once popularly perceived: not with the reverence she’s held in now, but as a dippy space cadet with a penchant for saying “wow”. Then again, The Big Sky is essentially a song about how nice clouds are. Still, its wide-eyed glee is genuinely infectious.

17. Wild Man (2011)

Seemingly released as a single to disabuse anyone who thought 50 Words for Snow might be a straightforward Christmas album, Wild Man deals with sightings of the yeti, features both Andy Fairweather-Low, pretending to be a Nepalese mountain-dweller, and an addictive, insistent guitar riff.

16. Love and Anger (1990)

Cut from a similar musical cloth to The Big Sky – percussion-heavy, giddy – Love and Anger might be the most bizarrely upbeat song ever written about a relationship curdling because of a partner’s refusal to say what they really mean. You’re left unsure if the problem is a dark secret or just passive aggression, but the music is transcendent.

In concert in 1986.
In concert in 1986. Photograph: Fotex/REX

15. The Sensual World (1989)

Another of the songs re-recorded on Director’s Cut, The Sensual World was fine to start with: a little oblique for a single, perhaps, but its drowsy flow of erotic, James Joyce-inspired imagery works spectacularly well. Classic only-Kate-Bush-would-do-this twist: it’s interpolated with traditional Macedonian music played on the uilleann pipes.

14. Babooshka (1980)

As straightforwardly pop as Bush ever got, famed for a video that looks like a dream a Dungeons & Dragons-playing pervert once had, Babooshka is still irresistible: its howled chorus unshakeable, the sound of smashing glass presaging 80s sample-mania.

13. Wow (1979)

The one undisputed classic on Lionheart. It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Bush making a subject as ordinary as an underemployed, second-rate actor – “he’ll never make The Sweeney” – quite so eerie and epic, beautifully drawing the gulf between the gushing praise of his friends and the lonely reality of his life.

12. Moments of Pleasure (1993)

The Red Shoes was an album frequently haunted by loss, never more so than on this moving piano ballad, on which Bush listed dead friends by name, quoted adages used by her late mother and concluded: “Just being alive – it can hurt so much.”

11. King of the Mountain (2005)

Comeback album Aerial wasn’t exactly overburdened with obvious singles. Perhaps the beautiful, sunlit Somewhere in Between might have worked out of context of the Sea of Honey song-suite, but instead Bush plumped for a song that involved her impersonating Elvis and knowingly ruminating on the benefits of withdrawing from the public eye.

10. Breathing (1980)

There were a lot of songs about nuclear war around in the early 80s, but few as strange and bewitching as Breathing, written from the point of view of a fully sentient foetus. Five episodic minutes long, blessed with a gorgeous chorus and a spoken-word section describing a nuclear blast, it signalled that Bush had seized artistic control of her career.

9. Cloudbusting (1985)

When the audience at one of her 2014 shows sang along to Cloudbusting, Bush was moved to exclaim: “Oh, what a lovely song!”, as if she hadn’t written it herself. She was right: powered by its string arrangement, Cloudbusting twists and turns dramatically, before reaching its final euphoric refrain.

8. Sat in Your Lap (1981)

It says something about the sheer weirdness of The Dreaming that someone thought Sat in Your Lap was its most commercial track. Even in a pop climate where the Associates’ Party Fears Two could become a hit, this sounded thrillingly unhinged: three and a half minutes of screeching vocals, frantic PiL-influenced rhythms and Fairlight-driven sampling overload.

7. Rubberband Girl (1993)

Widely thought of as a disappointment, accompanied by a film she later described as “a load of old bollocks”, The Red Shoes LP nevertheless has its moments, not least its lead single: angular, life-affirming funk perhaps displaying the influence of Prince, who declared Bush his “favourite woman” and appeared elsewhere on the album.

6. Army Dreamers (1980)

Subtly affecting, promoted with a supremely bizarre performance on German TV – involving a rubber-glove-sporting Bush sweeping the stage while dressed as a cleaner – Army Dreamers demonstrates the influence of folk music on her work. Its anti-war message is straightforward, but its eerie mood gets under your skin and into your bones like cold weather.

Bush in 1978.
Bush in 1978. Photograph: Rex Features

5. Hounds of Love (1986)

Like a lot of Bush tracks, Hounds of Love looks faintly ridiculous on paper (the hook is provided by backing vocalists barking like dogs), but the reality is sublime. The moment when its mood of pregnant fear finally shifts into one of gleeful surrender – “don’t let me go, hold me down” – is one of the most jubilant in Bush’s catalogue.

4. Wuthering Heights (1978)

It’s hard to get across how extraordinary the swooping vocals and gothic romance of Wuthering Heights sounded on arrival, like nothing else in the pop landscape of the time, or indeed before it. Bush had to resort to tears to persuade her label to release it as her debut; as an opening statement of individuality, this takes some beating.

3. This Woman’s Work (1989)

Charged with the unpromising task of writing a song to order for the US romcom She’s Having a Baby, Bush came up with this: a sparse, moving meditation on loss, regret, female strength and male frailty. There’s almost nothing to it beyond her piano and her voice, which is all you need.

2. The Man With the Child in His Eyes (1978)

Coming up with The Man With the Child in His Eyes – lushly melodic, at turns creepy and erotic, mysterious and alluring – would be an astonishing achievement at any age. The fact that Bush was 13 when she wrote it was perhaps the earliest sign she wasn’t just a singer-songwriter but an actual, no-further-questions genius.

1. Running Up That Hill (1985)

For all her hits, there is a sense in which Kate Bush is not a singles artist: you can’t really get a sense of the scope and depth of her albums via the singles taken from them. But if you were forced to choose one song that encapsulates her uniqueness, you should choose Running Up That Hill, a hit in 1985 and (remixed) in 2012, and a track that simultaneously functions as pop and something infinitely stranger. Its sound is ghostly and faintly sinister – an ominous cloud of synthesiser hangs in the background; weird, garbled backing vocals crash in out of nowhere – but its chorus is exhilarating and euphoric. It draws the listener inexorably into its idiosyncratic world: pop music made by someone alive to the possibilities of what pop music can be.


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Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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