The 40 greatest Kate Bush songs of all time

Under The Ivy (B-Side of Running Up That Hill, 1985)

Troy Donockley, Nightwish: “It was 1985 and this song was the B-side to the single Running Up That Hill but wasn’t on the album Hounds Of Love, which I adored. As it was new to me, I selected it one rainy afternoon in Leeds on a jukebox. The sound of the outside world faded, and I was entranced. In fact, I fed all my available money into repeat plays.

“It’s mysterious but at the same time very clear. It evokes shadowy romantic Pre-Raphaelite visions in me. I think it’s the most erotic song I’ve ever heard; a perfect, beautiful deep eroticism which, of course, isn’t explicit. It’s just Kate singing and playing piano with some perfectly placed minimal backing voices. It’s this simplicity with an extraordinarily emotional performance which raises it to my favourite Kate song of all time. And I’ve got loads.”

Hounds Of Love (Hounds Of Love, 1985)

This warning on the dangers of love opens in menacing form with a line of dialogue from the 1957 film Night Of The Demon: ‘It’s in the trees! It’s coming!’ Be afraid. Be very afraid. 

Sharon Den Adel, Within Temptation: “[This song is my favourite] vocally because Kate did things that no one had done before. It was out-of-the-ordinary, and that’s one of the key reasons that so many people fell in love with her music and her voice. And her stage presence of course, with the way she danced, was a new thing that people didn’t see much. She was free, very expressive in her movements.”

Mother Stands For Comfort (Hounds Of Love, 1985)

A dark song about a mother protecting her son no matter what – even after he’s committed murder.

Gavin Harrison: “The atmosphere of this piece is extraordinary: it takes you into a dark cupboard and down a long secret tunnel inside Kate’s subconscious thoughts. The Fairlight conjures up instruments that don’t exist: rhythmic broken glass, icy whistling flute playing haunting melodies.

“The duet between Kate’s voice and Eberhard Weber’s electric double bass is the definition of sheer beauty itself. His bass lines feel like you’re sliding into a bath of warm oil, maybe the only real comfort in the song. Like Houdini from her previous album, they entwine each other completely. Kate’s eerie vocal ad libs during the later part of the song reflect the madman, the murderer, the special relationship between mother and [son] and the chilling temperature of the production. A song I’m too afraid to listen to in the dark.

“I can’t think of many artists that have touched me so deeply as Kate. She is a national treasure.”

Cloudbusting (Hounds Of Love, 1985)

Cloudbusting was inspired by Peter Reich’s memoir A Book Of Dreams, which explored his relationship with his father, the writer and psychologist Wilhelm Reich, who built a machine that he claimed could create clouds and rain.

Alice Freya, Last Flight To Pluto: “We were travelling home from a gig in our band van. Daz, our drummer, was always the designated driver, so he used to get the first pick on what song was played and he chose Cloudbusting. When I got home, I watched the music video and the song instantly got cooler. Anyone sticking one up to the government and their control gets a thumbs-up from me. I was so happy at the end of the video, when the machine worked and it started raining, I hit the replay button.

“The lyrics tell the story from Peter’s point of view, the pain he felt losing his father and the feeling of helplessness that he couldn’t protect him. The sadness of it all shook me. It made me find a new respect for Kate Bush’s songwriting. I realised that she wrote stories, not just senseless lyrics, which is something that I try to do myself.”

And Dream Of Sheep (Hounds Of Love, 1985)

Side two of Hounds Of Love is devoted to The Ninth Wave, a seven-part suite about someone lost at sea, struggling to stay awake but knowing that to fall asleep means succumbing to the waves. And Dream Of Sheep is the first movement: the line ‘Come here with me now’ is spoken by Bush’s mother. When Bush had bad dreams as a child, her mother would invite her to climb into the parental bed with those words and her nightmares would melt away. 

Bjørn Riis, Airbag: “It’s the simplicity of it and her honest lyrics [that make And Dream Of Sheep stand out for me]. It’s very intimate and a great opening to the otherwise dramatic suite.

“Artists that believe in what they do and stick with it no matter what are very inspiring to me. Also, her unique way of blending piano and analogue instruments with electronics and new technology, especially in the 80s and on Hounds Of Love.”

Under Ice (Hounds Of Love, 1985)

Anna Phoebe: “I think what struck me was the theatrical operatic nature: the lead lyric and then these ghostly chanting backing vocals, together with that ominous string riff. You’re automatically captured and thrust into this dark parallel universe of Kate Bush. The whole album – the exploration of dreams and this parallel universe where you see yourself split between reality and this dream freak world – is just so utterly compelling.

“Kate is a true pioneer and artist, in a world where women especially were moulded by the industry and the men around them. It feels like she had such a clear vision of her artistry.”

Watching You Without Me (Hounds Of Love, 1985)

The drowning protagonist sees their loved one at home, waiting for them to return, seemingly in vain. 

Susanna Wallumrød: “The sound of Kate Bush’s voice is so special: angelic and fierce, a totally unique tone. Her performances are always interesting. I like Watching You Watching Me, the soft feel of it, the way she sings; in some parts it’s hard to understand the lyrics. It reflects the dreamlike universe of her music, which to me is vivid and floating.

“I’m so lucky to have heard her live as well, being on the first row at her first performance in 35 years at the Hammersmith Apollo [in London]. That was wild. She is a true pioneer, and I hope she will keep inspiring new generations like she has with me. Her inheritance is immense.”

Jig Of Life (Hounds Of Love, 1985)

Hayley McDonnell, A Formal Horse: “I felt drawn to Jig Of Life as soon as I heard the fiddles and pipes in the intro. It resonated with my Irish Celtic roots. I like how this song works within the album as a whole and the continuation of the main storyline. Jig Of Life is about the protagonist’s future self giving them hope and strength to keep going, to survive and be able to live their life when struggling, lost at sea, fighting for breath.

“Her voice is so unique. I love her range and vibrato, which has influenced me in my singing with A Formal Horse. Listening back to Hounds Of Love and this song in particular inspired me to want to write something with a storyline that progresses like this.”

Hello Earth (Hounds Of Love, 1985)

A lullaby for the planet, looking down on Earth from high above.

Lucy Chevchuck, Square Wild: “I saw her, and still do see her, as a fairy-like creature, not quite of this Earth, in the best way possible. There was a magic, ethereal essence about Kate Bush that had me entranced and still does to this day. In Hello Earth, the ebbs and flows and dynamics pull and push you into different feelings and thoughts dependent on the line being sung or part of the song. You’re on a journey listening to Hello Earth, floating with the sine waves. The song is said to be about someone drowning at sea and it’s incredible that Kate Bush has managed to convey that scene using not many words at all. The addition of Gregorian hymns in the background, chanting as though it’s a funeral, is stunningly creative and dark.

“Her music feeds something inside me that not a lot of other music does. I’m forever thankful for having an idol that is so unapologetically herself, which is a skill I think so many of us could do with harnessing.”

The Sensual World (The Sensual World, 1989)

Another dive into the literary world, this time drawing upon James Joyce’s Ulysses – wherein the character Molly Bloom describes her first sexual experience.

Louise Patricia Crane: “My teenage years had almost ended; I was venturing into early womanhood when I first heard Kate’s breathy ‘Mmm, yes…’ And at that moment I was bewitched. Stepping into the shoes of Ulysses’ Molly Bloom, Kate delivers an interpretation of her soliloquy and, musically, she conjures the perfect imagery for her finding herself suddenly made flesh, with all the pleasures of the world at her feet. There’s a quiet confidence in Kate’s soft, intimate vocal delivery throughout, remaining constant and controlled, beginning to end. An iron fist in a velvet glove; she knows well the power she wields.

The Sensual World gave me liberty with my own songwriting, to explore my own sense of femininity and romanticism for my heritage, and the legends within it.”

Deeper Understanding (The Sensual World, 1989)

A prescient musical thesis on the replacement of human connections with technological ones.

Arjen Lucassen: The Sensual World is my favourite Kate Bush album. Indeed, it’s very, eh, sensual! For me, it has her best compositions and I love the warm sound. I love the way she tells mini stories with her songs, especially in this track. The intense relationship between people and their computers resulting in less contact between humans themselves has always intrigued me.

“In this song, she sings lower than usual, making it more intimate and mysterious. Almost like she’s forcing us to listen to her words. She has influenced me immensely. Inspired by this song, I wrote Don’t Switch Me Off on my second solo album, Lost In The New Real. Yes, about a love affair between a person and a computer.”

This Woman’s Work (The Sensual World, 1989)

Written for the soundtrack for John Hughes’ film She’s Having A Baby, this song addresses the fear of complications during pregnancy. 

Ms Amy Birks: “This song moved me to tears. I’m also drawn to the honesty of the lyrics. You know quite quickly that it’s about love and longing, dread, and regret, all the powerful stuff, but it never fully explains itself either, so it keeps you wanting more. ‘Give me that little kiss/Give me your hand.’ It’s simple, personal, full of empathy and extremely sensitive and the last line is almost child-like, ‘Just make it go away,’ making it super-vulnerable. Beautiful.

“The performance is pure Kate – raw and honest, pure brilliance – and it just shows you what is achievable when you use the voice as a second instrument.”

Rubberband Girl (The Red Shoes, 1993)

Talking to Mojo, Bush described Rubberband Girl as “just a silly pop song really” and it’s among her most upbeat, catchy tunes. 

Christna Booth, Magenta: “She was seen as a ‘serious’ artist and I thought this song showed that she had a fun side and didn’t always take herself too seriously. I loved the lyrics and the message I got at the time was that to survive the music industry you had to be resilient and be able to stretch yourself creatively and bounce back from whatever is thrown at you.

“I love how she uses her voice as an instrument. She gave me the confidence to experiment with my voice and realise that you don’t have to sing ‘words’; that you could just use your voice to make ‘noises’. She is unique and will always have a place in my heart as a true musical pioneer.”

Moments Of Pleasure (The Red Shoes, 1993)

Heather Findlay: “With our tendency, as part of the human condition, to either dwell on the past and all the could-have-beens, or waste time worrying about the future and its infinite array of what-ifs, this song is a great reminder to simply be present. To invest in those we love and ‘those who will survive’. What that line means to me is that thing we do as writers, to immortalise those we love and have lost in song, poetry and art.

“We [Mostly Autumn] were playing the Town Hall in New York in 2003 and I remember Angela [Gordon] and myself fervently willing it to snow while staying in our top-floor Fifth Avenue hotel room, so that we could authentically sing: ‘The buildings of New York, look just like mountains through the snow…’ 

“And in that, we too made a little moment of our own to remember.”

You’re The One (The Red Shoes, 1993)

Anneke Van Giersbergen: “Kate’s lyrics are usually very poetical and sometimes mystical, but this song is so down-to-earth and honest: ‘I’m okay and will move on,’ but suddenly she gets really honest and confesses that she just misses her big love. That contradiction always gets me.

“The song has a long outro solo by Jeff Beck, which is breathtakingly beautiful. There’s a lot going on vocally. There’s this beautiful contrast both musically and lyrically between the verses – descriptive and practical – and the choruses, which are so very emotional and desperate.

“I love that Kate is so involved with every aspect of her music. Also, she doesn’t seem to care about fame or success, but wants to create on her own terms. She has taught me the importance of integrity and being honest as an artist.”

A Coral Room (Aerial, 2005)

This tribute to Bush’s mother is sparsely arranged for piano and voice; achingly beautiful.

Chrissy Mostyn, The Blackheart Orchestra: “As someone who’s a little obsessed with time and all it takes away, the image of us all being captured in time’s web sings to a deep primal part of me, even more so since losing my own mum. The song creates such a strong visual in my mind. I interpret the boat as the present and the water as our past – we can dive in at any time and re-experience all that happened there; even just tracing our fingers on the surface can call up the feeling that nothing really leaves, rather just continues like echoes under the surface.

“When I was a kid, Kate was the first artist that ever made me cry with her music. I wasn’t old enough to really understand the subject matter, but it hit me anyway, so she taught me the immense emotional power of music.”

Prelude (Aerial, 2005)

Jo Quail: “I remember as a child hearing this particular birdsong over and over in my Nana’s garden. Prelude immediately takes me back to the soft haze of childhood summers. I remember being curious why the pigeons would sometimes add an extra beat to their call, and when I heard Prelude the first thing that struck me after the initial beauty and grace of the song was how Kate Bush had ‘moved the one’, i.e. the second syllable of the birdsong became the first beat of the bar in the sequence. I’d always heard it the other way, with the first bird syllable being the first beat.

“It sounds pretty innocuous, but this ‘beat moving’ became an ingrained part of what I do now, how I write and perform. With a loop station, one of the ways I create development and movement within a piece is to move the primary beat around, and Prelude was one of those sea-change moments, albeit one that took a few years to mature for me!”

Nocturn (Aerial, 2005)

Robert Reed:  “What I love about this track is the confidence to use just four chords
and make an amazing track that lasts just under nine minutes. The groove is just hypnotic and the chords are to die for. Bass player John Giblin and drummer Peter Erskine are flawless. The vocal sound is so dry and reserved, but they build, and show off the trademark multitracked chant vocals that Kate does so well. When you think it can’t get better it just keeps delivering musical surprises and ear candy. I was lucky enough to see this live when Kate did her [residency in 2014]. The show was the best concert I’ve ever seen.”

Snowflake (50 Words For Snow, 2011)

Wintry vibes suffuse Bush’s last studio album, where the stripped-down arrangements foreground the piano, bass and session legend Steve Gadd’s drums.

Leah Rasmussen, Goldray: “I remember hearing Snowflake on Brighton beach watching the waves glisten through the sunlight. It brought tears to my eyes at a time I think I needed a little cry. At the time I didn’t know that it was Kate’s son Bertie that had sung all the higher register parts of the song. It’s a song of purity, innocence, and inner reflection.

“The intertwining cross between her voice and her son’s only adds to that sense of you’re not in a normal reality. Bertie’s gorgeous high notes and then the slightly pitchy lower register voice only add to that slight feeling of Alice In Wonderland: ‘Am I in the right place, and who is this? Where am I? This is not a place I know.’ Simply stunning.” 

Among Angels (50 Words For Snow, 2011)

Stephen W Tayler: “I heard it for the first time when I was mixing the album 50 Words For Snow with Kate. The mood, simplicity, intimacy and emotion hit me right there and then. It’s such a profound and evocative song and such a stunning performance.

“When I was invited by Kate to become the ‘Kate Vocal Navigator’ for the Before The Dawn live shows, we spent months with the crew and the band rehearsing and preparing. Every day at lunchtime, when the rehearsal stage was empty, Kate would come and practise a few songs at the piano with just me in the room, controlling her sound. One song she rehearsed every day was Among Angels. I was almost in tears every time she performed it. I was controlling her vocal live which was nerve-racking as it became a real struggle to concentrate. I was overwhelmed with emotion every time. You could hear a pin drop in the theatre.

“I’ve heard Among Angels too many times to count, yet still feel the same emotions whenever I hear it, as if for the very first time.” 

This article originally appeared in Prog 133.

David West

After starting his writing career covering the unforgiving world of MMA, David moved into music journalism at Rhythm magazine, interviewing legends of the drum kit including Ginger Baker and Neil Peart. A regular contributor to Prog, he’s written for Metal Hammer, The Blues, Country Music Magazine and more. The author of Chasing Dragons: An Introduction To The Martial Arts Film, David shares his thoughts on kung fu movies in essays and videos for 88 Films, Arrow Films, and Eureka Entertainment. He firmly believes Steely Dan’s Reelin’ In The Years is the tuniest tune ever tuned.