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Few musicians are as gifted and wildly creative as Kate Bush. The British singer-songwriter has been famous since she was a teenager, yet she's managed to cultivate an air of otherworldly mystery. At just 19, Bush hit it big on the UK pop charts with one of her signature songs, "Wuthering Heights," in 1978, and she enjoyed continuing success in her home country throughout the '80s. Bush has long had a cult following in the US and her literary lyrics and singularly soaring voice have been touchstones for generations of artsy women.
Delightfully, Kate Bush reached her biggest audience to date in 2022, when her 1985 song "Running Up That Hill" was featured prominently in season four of the wildly popular '80s-set Netflix sci-fi show Stranger Things, and in 2023 she was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Whether you're a longtime fan or have just discovered Bush's music thanks to the show, there are many fantastic songs to lose yourself in, from eerie gothic fantasias to propulsive pop anthems. Here are 10 essential Kate Bush songs.
1. "Wuthering Heights" (1978)
Bush's debut single, "Wuthering Heights," topped the UK pop charts and remains one of her best-known and most beloved songs. It's easy to see why: The song shows off Bush's powerhouse pipes while also featuring evocative, literary songwriting.
The lyrics, filled with angsty romance, are written from the perspective of Catherine Earnshaw, the protagonist of Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, and it's hard not to sing along with the "Heathcliff, it's me, I'm Cathy" chorus.
2. "The Man With the Child in His Eyes" (1978)
Bush wrote "The Man With the Child in His Eyes" when she was just 13 years old and recorded it at 16 — an impressive feat considering the sophistication of the song.
Bush has said the ballad was inspired by "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."
3. "Babooshka" (1980)
One of the more rockin' songs in Bush's catalog, "Babooshka" tells the tale of a woman trying to test her husband by sending him love letters signed with a pen name. Spoiler alert: The plan doesn't work, but the song, which used a then cutting-edge digital synthesizer and ends with the sound of breaking glass, certainly does.
4. "Sat in Your Lap" (1981)
"Sat in Your Lap" was the first single from Bush's 1982 album The Dreaming. While The Dreaming is considered her most experimental work, "Sat in Your Lap" was a hit in the UK, and stands out thanks to its dramatic percussion.
In an MTV interview, Bush said, the song was about "a search for knowledge. And about the kind of people who really want to have knowledge but can’t be bothered to do the things that they should in order to get it."
5. "Running Up That Hill" (1985)
If you only know one Kate Bush song, it's probably this one. "Running Up That Hill" topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 2022, making it the singer's biggest-ever US hit some 37 years after it was first released! The powerful, synth-driven song won over countless new fans when it was featured in Stranger Things.
Stranger Things star Winona Ryder pushed for the song to be used, saying, "I’ve been obsessed with her since I was a little girl. I’ve also for the last seven years been dropping hints on set wearing my Kate Bush T-shirts." Bush was delighted by the resurgence of the song and told The Guardian, " [it's] just extraordinary … quite shocking really, isn’t it? I mean, the whole world’s gone mad."
Even without the Stranger Things connection, the song is in a league of its own, perfectly mixing Bush's artsiness with '80s excess and moving lyrics which Bush said were "written as the idea of a man and a woman swapping with each other. Just to feel what it was like, from the other side.”
6. "This Woman's Work" (1988)
"This Woman's Work" originally appeared in the 1988 John Hughes movie She's Having a Baby. Bush wrote the song specifically for the film, and it soundtracks a climactic scene in which Kevin Bacon thinks back on happy moments with his wife (Elizabeth McGovern) as he learns that she and her unborn baby may be in danger.
Bush called the movie scene "really very moving" and said, "it’s one of the quickest songs I’ve ever written. It was so easy to write." The song has had major staying power, and has also been used in shows like The Handmaid's Tale, Party of Five, Felicity and Alias.
7. "The Sensual World" (1989)
Like "Wuthering Heights," "The Sensual World" is based on a classic work of literature. Bush was inspired by the ending of James Joyce's Ulysses, and wanted to put it to music, but unfortunately Joyce's estate wouldn't give her permission.
Ever the intrepid songwriter, Bush came up with a creative solution to create a potent, seductive song, recalling, "it gradually turned into the song about Molly Bloom the character stepping out of the book, into the real world and the impressions of sensuality. Rather than being in this two-dimensional world, she’s free, let loose to touch things, feel the ground under her feet, the sunsets, just how incredibly sensual a world it is."
8. "Rubberband Girl" (1993)
"Rubberband Girl" would be Bush's final UK hit until 2005, as she took a 12-year hiatus following the release of her album The Red Shoes in 1993. While many of Bush's songs are filled with melancholy, this one is surprisingly upbeat (she modestly called it "just a silly pop song, really"), with lyrics using a rubber band as a metaphor for resilience.
9. "King of the Mountain" (2005)
The UK hit "King of the Mountain" was a return to form for Bush, who had just spent over a decade away from the public eye. The lyrics are characteristically quirky, featuring references to Citizen Kane and Elvis.
Bush wanted to capture the loneliness at the heart of Elvis' stardom, saying, "that kind of fame that he must've been living with, must've been unbearable... I can't imagine what it must be like. I don't think human beings are really built to withstand that kind of fame."
10. "Wild Man" (2011)
"Wild Man" is Bush's final single to date. Ever an ally to outsiders and a lover of mythology, Bush was inspired by the image of the mysterious Yeti, saying the song "is meant to be an empathetic view of a creature of great mystery." Add some David Bowie-esque backing vocals into the mix, and you have a modern-day Kate Bush classic.
Kate Bush hasn't released an album since 2011, and maintains a low profile, which only makes her more of a captivating figure. The songs above are just a sampling of her gorgeous oeuvre. As the queen of art pop, she has a rich tapestry of wild and wonderful songs to explore, and we hope she'll release more music one day.
Read on for more of our favorite '80s music!