Personal History of Music

A Personal History of Music, Day 13: “The Big Sky,” by Kate Bush

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It must be an interesting moment to be Kate Bush. 39 years after her masterwork Hounds of Love came out, it’s back, thanks to a canny placement of its song “Running Up That Hill” in the hit Netflix series Stranger Things. And when I say “it’s back,” it’s actually to say that it’s hitting higher than it ever has: “Running” is at #8 of the Billboard Hot 100 in the US making it the first time Kate Bush has ever hit the top ten in this country (it only got to #30 when it originally came out, which was her previous high water mark on the US charts). Hounds of Love as a whole reentered the album charts at #28, two positions higher than its peak in 1985. In fact, the album has gotten as high up on the Billboard 200 as Bush has ever gotten, tied with her album The Red Shoes. It’s possible both the album and song could chart even higher this week. (Update, 3:33pm: Yup.) We should all have work we did decades ago hit so well with the youth of today.

Having legions of Those Kids Today glom onto one of your favorite artist is a perfect time for old people to go all hipster and gatekeepery, so I’m delighted to see that, so far at least, old school Kate Bush fans have not been like that at all — they’re genuinely happy to see one of their favorite artists have a renaissance in to pop culture. I think this is especially the case since the Hounds of Love album is probably the best marriage of Kate Bush’s commercial sensibilities (see: the first side of the LP) with her experimental urges (see: side two). There aren’t many albums that could feature both crowd-pleasing pop hits, and a thirty-minute conceptual song suite about drowning in the North Sea. That Kate Bush offers both without apology, and indeed with a certain witchy sort of glee, is part of what makes her unique in the canon of Anglosphere rock musicians. Why wouldn’t her old fans want to share this album?

And while “Running Up That Hill” is indeed probably the best Starter Kate Bush song out there — there’s just so much drama in it — allow me to suggest “The Big Sky” as a follow-up for the folks who don’t know if they want to commit to a whole album just yet. “The Big Sky” is, as they kids say, a whole bop: relentless but not unrelenting drums, bouncy rather than thundering, hammer on while Bush sings a paean to the glories of the huge bowl of the universe opening up above you. It’s not about much, but does it have to be? No! It can be about clouds looking like Ireland, and maybe people being confused about why Bush is so darn pleased about that. Be happy with Kate! Dance with her! Pause for the jet! Then dance again! Maybe it’s possible not to be happy when this song is playing, but I think you really have to work at it.

The whole of Hounds of Love is terrific, and it is one of my favorite albums. But in the days when I was still making mixtapes, it was “The Big Sky” that I picked more than any other Kate Bush song. Listen to it. Maybe you’ll hear why.

— JS

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