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

John Scalzi

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

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

  1. I think Cloudbursting is my favourite on that album, for the positive feeling chorus but also the overall mad scientist vibe.

    I just know that something good is gonna happen
    I don’t know when
    But just saying it could even make it happen

  2. I’m glad that the Bush fans aren’t going all gatekeeper-y. If there’s one thing about my generation (X) I’d change it’s how judge-y and gatekeeper-y we can be about things (like John Cusack’s Roger Gordon in the film adaptation of High Fidelity).

    If I had a nickle for how many times someone from my age group said, “They’re popular now, so of course they suck (or sold out, etc.),” well, I would have many MANY nickles.

    Hey guys who watched Stranger Things and in the words of my daughter, discovering Kate Bush slaps? Enjoy. Welcome. I’m glad that you like it!

  3. “The Big Sky” is also, let’s note, structurally bananas! It starts out like a more standard pop tune — but when she says (at 1:28), “If you’re coming, jump! ‘Cause we’re leaving with the big sky!” SHE MEANS IT. The song lifts itself off the ground and into this totally different, ecstatic space, and it never returns.

    God, I love this album.

  4. I like this album and song, but for me it will always be “Wuthering Heights.” I just can’t think of another song that evokes pining love better.

    and “This Woman’s Work” as used in the otherwise by-the-book John Hughes movie She’s Having a Baby still gets me any time that movie floats across a movie channel

  5. I don’t have a lot of vivid memories from the early ‘80s but one of them is the first time I heard Kate Bush. I was stereo shopping and a sales guy at a stereo store in San Francisco played me some tracks from The Dreaming. I was instantly hooked. It warms my heart that she’s being rediscovered. She always deserved more recognition than she got. (Although the recognition she did get was of the deeply devoted kind.)

  6. Oh, I am so glad you listed this song from this album. The Ninth Wave side of Hounds of Love is one of my favorite stretches of music, and I’ve been a Kate Bush fan ever since I first heard “The Dreaming” (which was, not unfairly, represented to me as “like a female Peter Gabriel.”)

    Bush is a remarkable and singular talent, and her discovery by a new generation makes me so happy. To be honest, it’s hard for me to watch her videos because she’s so affected, but I don’t really care. I even love the things by her I don’t like, if that makes any sense.

  7. This album is one of the best things that ever happened to me, and that song never fails to make me happy.

  8. I read this essay and just a few minutes later they’re playing “The Big Sky” on WFMU.

  9. Lol. I said that your Joan Armatrading pick was one of the few albums my wife and i had in common when we met.

    Kate Bush i only knew from her duet with Peter Gabriel, “Don’t Give Up”, but i was introduced to both Hounds Of Love and Red Shoes.

    Gotta love em. My personal favourite, though, the Cloudbusting video with Donald Sutherland

  10. What makes The Big Sky one of my favorites is the video. It really captures the feeling and seeing Kate going all out during the video is a lot of fun. I still pop in my laserdisc from the LP to watch all the videos every once in a while. Still no commercial DVD/bluray of these – maybe the resurgence will make it happen or at least a release of the video from her recent concert, which I’m still jealous that Paul Cornell got to see. Here’s the link to see it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sV7w5TaYjRA&ab_channel=KateBushMusic

    For a creepy scifi take from Kate, check out Experiment IV.

  11. I have Kate Bush’s first album, and her 1986 greatest-hits compilation The Whole Story, but I’d never actually listened to the entire Hounds of Love album until prompted by the recent resurgence of her work. I’m glad I did, both for the singles on the first side and The Ninth Wave suite on the second.

    Folks who like Hounds of Love might also enjoy her later album Aerial, which I also listened to in full for the first time this week. As with Hounds of Love, the first half is a collection of interesting songs with various subjects, and the second half is a long conceptual suite (A Sky of Honey) that’s quite striking.

    Aerial was initially released in 2005, twelve years after her previous album, an interval in which her son was born. A remastered version, released in 2018, replaces some of the original secondary vocals by a since-convicted-and-disgraced musician with vocals by her son.

  12. I’m a long time Kate Bush fan. I’m glad more people are discovering her. Loved the Stranger Things tie in.

    Kate Bush is on frequently in my playlist.

    Each of these music posts has me nodding along and discovering new (to me) music along the way. Thanks.

  13. Love this album – I think Hello Earth is my favorite track, followed by And Dream of Sheep and Under Ice. The entire track list is a masterful collection.

  14. LOVE “Big Sky”! But I think my favorite is “Wuthering Heights”, both the original and the re-do with newer vocals in her more mature voice. Can’t decide which version I like more.