52 Albums, Week 29: Hounds of Love (Kate Bush)
Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love: A Deeper Understanding
(Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1150912)
She’s a flower of the mountain. I see only see her face, framed by hair the color of chestnuts. Full red lips blossom into a smile, eyes full of stars. We do not touch, but warmth fills my heart to the point of tears as I breathe the perfume of recognition. When she approaches me, I wake myself. I remember who I am: a man with nine kids and married to someone else. I remember who she is: Kate Bush, the neo-romantic British pop singer who attained great popularity in the eighties. This is the fifth time I’ve dreamt she is my wife.
Later that morning, as I fill my travel mug with coffee and wrap my almond butter wheat toast in paper towel, I tell my wife about the dream. “I dreamt I was married to Kate Bush again. Isn’t that funny?” She utters a sound somewhere between “indignant scoff” and “incredulous pshaw.”
“Nothing happens,” I explain. “I’m just married to her. I think she’s supposed to be you.”
Indignant scoff. “So do I. Why isn’t she?”
“I mean she represents you. Like a cipher. Something to give me objectivity.”
“What time are you coming home, Mister Objectivity?”
I know when to stop.
I grab my mug, my toast, and my book bag. I hug her and kiss her lightly on the lips. She’s under ice.
“Cut it out,” I say. “Nothing happened.” Then I add, “She reminds me of you.” Which is true (one of my kids even thought a video of Kate singing “Hounds of Love” with David Gilmour was his mom), but it is not necessarily the right thing to say at the moment.
I am not going to win.
I first encountered the music of Kate Bush in 1985. I was twenty-three, a struggling songwriter and guitar player given to idealism, when I heard the end of her “Running up that Hill” on the radio. Intrigued, I went out the next day and bought a cassette copy of Hounds of Love, the album on which it appears. I didn’t play it right away. I saved it.
That night, a rainy Thursday in November, I decellophaned the cassette alongside my friend and bandmate (and very recently my brother-in-law) Jason as we sat in a party store’s parking lot inside my grey Chrysler TC3, trying to drink enough of our Cokes so we could top them off with a little Grand Macnish. The TC3, while it was not the slickest ride on the strip, did have a fine Pioneer sound system. Our beverages in order, I popped the tape into the deck: Track A:1, “Running up that Hill (A Deal with God).” As the opening C minor chord on the Fairlight swelled and then bled into a martial yet profoundly emotional drum cadence, we sat enthralled. In the song’s passionate bridge, when Kate sings, “Let’s exchange the experience,” a drum fill climaxing in thunder, Jason turned to me and yelled over the soundtrack, “I’m going to marry her!” We are both guilty. So guilty.
Years after Jason and I were blown into the ethers by the English girl from Kent, my wife and I were awaiting the arrival of our fifth child. The due date was July 25th. July 25th came and went and no baby. On July 29th, on a trip to the grocery store, I heard a disc jockey on public radio, one of those pretentious bastards who peppers his between song banter with words like “oeuvre” and “zeitgeist,” introduce a set of Kate’s songs in honor of her impending birthday on July 30th (coincidentally, also Emily Bronte’s birthday). Once home, I told my wife what I’d heard. Stupidly, I asked, “Wouldn’t it be great if the baby came tomorrow?”
“Just great,” she said. But she didn’t sound like she meant it.
The baby, a girl we named Zelie, was born at home on July 30th at around 11:30 pm, just squeaking in under the deadline, as it were. Now almost fourteen, Zelie loves to sing and dance, write poetry, and play the piano. A coincidence? I think not.
Hounds of Love is one of about four CDs I have in rotation (the others are The Waterboys’ This is the Sea, Derek and the Domino’s Layla and other Love Songs, and Fairport Convention’s Liege & Lief). Okay, so I’m kind of stuck…but the record has only gotten better with age The imaginative scope of the album is astounding—from the heartache of the opening track, the Romantic stoicism of the title track, the optimism of “The Big Sky” and the memorial to Wilhelm Reich in “Cloudbusting” on side one (I still think in terms of album sides) to the Ninth Wave sequence on side two, particularly the exhilarating “Jig of Life” and the haunting “Hello Earth,” the album is a masterpiece from start to finish. And, even though the sound of the Fairlight permeates the songs, they don’t sound dated. No doubt, this is all due to Kate’s lyrical imagination which is lent clarity by the pure splendor of her voice, uncompromised as it is by the sordid need to sell product so characteristic of the music of our current moment.
But, then, it may be that I can no longer tell the difference between biography and aesthetics.
Kate Bush impersonating my wife:
Jig of Life:
—In addition to teaching philosophy and English at Marygrove College in Detroit, Michael Martin is a biodynamic farmer living with his wife and most of his nine children in Waterloo Township, Michigan.
What a great review, Michael. Other than the wife comparison your story sounds a lot like me originally coming across Hounds of Love, buying it (I think I also initially owned it on cassette, now I have a CD) and falling in love with not only her voice and the songs, but also with her. Every time I listen to it (and I have recently) it just seems to sound better and better. The rest of her catalog is okay, but Hounds of Love is outstanding!
Posted by: Stu | 07/20/2017 at 09:31 AM
I think there are a lot of men of a certain age who fell in love with her in their teens or twenties. :-) I was not one of them but I get it.
I was already 40 or so when I first heard her, but I had heard about her before that. In the late '80s I was on the Internet precursor to the web (text-only discussion groups). It was mostly young or fairly young techies and there was a group devoted to Kate worship.
As with Jane Siberry and The Cure (previous 52 Album posts), I was introduced to Kate's music by a co-worker ca 1989. He lent me a CD of The Whole Story, a sort of best-of at that point in her career. I liked it a lot (and made a cassette copy!) but years went by before I heard any more of her work. Then it was also a cassette, even though it was probably the early 2000s by then--a cutout of Hounds of Love. I saw it and thought "I always meant to investigate more of her work." Then of course I was knocked out when I listened to it. I don't think I like it quite as much as y'all do, but it is really, really good. Still haven't heard all her other stuff. I like the more recent Aerial a lot though it's not nearly as striking as Hounds.
Posted by: Mac | 07/20/2017 at 10:39 AM
Sometime in the mid-80s right after this album came out me and a friend were driving home from college. I had Hounds of Love in the cassette deck. Vince had drifted off in the passenger seat and there's the one song where Kate whispers "Wake up" and he sort of jerked awake thinking that I had been the one to say that. :)
Posted by: Stu | 07/20/2017 at 11:00 AM
In the early nineties I made a five hour bus trip from Plymouth to London to commit a student to a looney bin in his home town near his parents. He thought Miss Bush was trying to get in touch with him, about marriage
Posted by: Grumpy | 07/20/2017 at 01:22 PM
If only someone could have had Kate Bush call you afterwards, and ask for that student by name...
Posted by: Stu | 07/20/2017 at 01:37 PM
Poor guy. Love does make people crazy but usually not that crazy.
Posted by: Mac | 07/20/2017 at 02:31 PM
I think her voice is off-putting.
Posted by: Robert Gotcher | 07/21/2017 at 05:06 PM
I think it's great. But even if one doesn't like it, it certainly has remarkable range and variety.
Posted by: Mac | 07/21/2017 at 07:31 PM
Not much to add here. I think it's one of the best albums of the 80's and probably on my top 20 or 25 list of all time favorites.
Posted by: Rob G | 07/22/2017 at 09:29 AM
I'm posting the link below with some trepidation. If Michael (or somebody) not written about Hounds of Love, I was going to recycle this post of mine from 2006. That was in the early days of the blog, and I was doing a Music of the Week post. For a few months I was playing reviewer of the AMG or Rolling Stone sort and giving each album a letter grade. I stopped doing it for reasons explained at the end of this post. I am really tempted to edit out the grade now, because it's embarrassing, but that seems a bit dishonest.
I actually haven't heard Hounds of Love since I wrote that. I was going to listen to it again before re-posting this review.
Posted by: Mac | 07/22/2017 at 07:14 PM
I'm finding a number of these old reviews that I'd forgotten about. Here's what I said about Sgt. Pepper ten years ago:
Posted by: Mac | 07/22/2017 at 07:15 PM
If I were forced to pick Kate Bush's best album I would have to pick Hounds of Love. It's not her most consistent (that would be The Dreaming - which I would rate higher if it weren't so creepy). It doesn't have my favorite songs (that would be Never Forever - Babooshka, Delius, and Blow Away, if anyone cares :)). But it does have what I would say are her best songs (Cloudbusting, Jig of Life, and Hello Earth).
It does have one real clunker - Mother Stands for Comfort. And Watching You Without Me is pretty bland.
One song that is better than a few on the album is the B-side to Running Up That Hill - Under the Ivy (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aApspl6na0E)
Mac, I'm not sure why you're embarrassed by the rating - the idea of a grade might be a bit simplistic, but it's pretty common, and I think you're grade is sopt on :).
Posted by: Don | 07/23/2017 at 08:01 PM
Spot on, dammit!
Posted by: Don | 07/23/2017 at 08:03 PM
I sorta like "sopt". :-)
I'm embarrassed because it seems so presumptuous and sort of petty. Star ratings don't seem so much that way.
I only recently heard The Dreaming for the first time, and was distracted. Definitely interesting.
Posted by: Mac | 07/23/2017 at 10:10 PM
Hounds of Love is number 37 in a list of "The 150 greatest albums made by women" published by NPR yesterday.
Posted by: Don | 07/26/2017 at 06:48 PM
I thought "Should be higher, but 37 is not so bad." Then I saw some of the stuff that places higher. Sheesh.
Posted by: Mac | 07/26/2017 at 10:52 PM
Apparently "Running Up That Hill" is enjoying renewed popularity due to some Netflix show I have never seen. Great for people to hear Kate Bush, no matter the medium! I bought the Hounds of Love cassette when it was released, back when I was in college.
Posted by: Stu | 06/07/2022 at 08:38 AM
Yeah, I saw a story about that. It mentioned that she's very selective about licensing her music, which I'm glad to hear. I still haven't fully recovered from the Nick Drake Volkswagen commercial. The show, by the way, is called Stranger Things. This is the fourth season. The first season was great, but it went somewhat downhill after that, and my expectations for this one are fairly low. But I'm sure I'll watch it anyway.
Some time back we were discussing the BBC having some kind of "diversity" quota system for actors and characters. You can really see that now. In current things there's nearly always at least one gay character, usually a fairly major one. I suspect something like that is operative in U.S. studios as well. The third season of ST included a teenage lesbian. Her lesbian-ness didn't matter to the plot. I won't be surprised if there's more check-the-diversity-box in season 4.
Posted by: Mac | 06/07/2022 at 12:10 PM
LOL all of that stuff drives me crazy, Mac! And I am a liberal for goodness sake. Hollywood has pretty much decided that they cannot show a white couple (male/female), it must be a white person with someone of a different race. And of course you are correct about inserting gay characters at random as well, if not someone who is "transitioning" in some way. But really the most egregious thing is their having completely given in to the #oscarsowhite controversy of a few years ago. I believe that around 13% of the US population is African-American but that percentage is much larger on TV and in the movies.
Posted by: Stu | 06/07/2022 at 12:47 PM
In reference to Stranger Things perhaps I will watch Season 1 and leave it at that. I'm not very good with these shows and tend to get real tired of characters and storylines after one season even if I like it. I still have not watched Season 4 of The Crown, and that show had a pretty high quality in all of the first three seasons....I just get bored and need to move on to something else.
Posted by: Stu | 06/07/2022 at 12:49 PM
It's funny on youtube reading all these comments by people who just discovered Kate Bush via Stranger Things, but are already experts on her music.
One guy was claiming that she played all the instruments on Hounds of Love; another, that she did her first album when she was 13. It's kind of fun watching all the old KB fans set things straight.
I've only watched ST through Season 2. I agree that it was something of a letdown from the 1st season. I remember reading something to the effect that if the number of gays and lesbians in actual society matched the portrayals on TV and in movies, the percentage in society would be over 25%.
Posted by: Rob G | 06/07/2022 at 12:51 PM
Unrealistic percentages of gays and lesbians, and of those unrealistic percentages are ss-married.
My viewing of tv commercials during football season leads me to conclude that most married couples in America are either interracial or entirely "diverse." :-) And extraordinarily affluent, like the couple who bought each other SUVs that must have cost $60,000 at least--without telling the other. Happens all the time, I'm sure.
One slightly ludicrous effect of the racial diversity quota on the BBC (if it exists) is the insertion of non-white characters where they probably would be very rare at least--in past times, or in the villages of Midsomer Murders. I will say though that for the most part the actors are capable, so you don't get that "only because of affirmative action" lowered expectations effect.
I suspect it's dangerous to challenge long-time Kate Bush fans.
Stu, Season 1 of ST is definitely worth it. The rest are optional at best.
Posted by: Mac | 06/07/2022 at 01:29 PM
I agree about Stranger Things. Season 1 was really good and it has gone steadily downhill since then (I made liberal use of the skip 10 seconds button on seasons 3 and 4). I don't like how they use Running Up That Hill in the show. Hey kids, there's a whole album, with some way beter songs. But that would cost more.
But, it did inspire me to listen to a few favorites from Never for Ever and Lionheart (not my favorite albums but there are a few great songs).
I saw an interesting (well, to me) interview with Geoff Downes (The Buggles/Yes/Asia) on YouTube. He talked a little about working with Kate (apparently he played keyoards on "Sat in Your Lap" from The Dreaming).
Posted by: Don | 06/07/2022 at 05:31 PM
I sampled that interview and am having trouble understanding him.
I only recently (within the past year or so) gave The Dreaming a serious listen. Some very peculiar stuff on there. Well, she's obviously a peculiar person. One of the few people in pop music who make me think of the word "genius."
Posted by: Mac | 06/07/2022 at 06:41 PM
In general I'm not crazy about this guy's presentations, but this capsule history of Kate Bush and 'Hounds of Love' is actually pretty good. And he's not just riding the bandwagon either, as he did a profile of her a couple years ago describing her as an "art pop genius," so at least his respect for her is legit.
In the course of the post he mentions several covers of the song. The only one I was previously familiar with was the one by Chromatics, and after listening to the others it remains the only one of the bunch that I actually like. I like the arrangement of the Placebo cover, but I'm not a fan of the guy's voice.
Posted by: Rob G | 06/15/2022 at 06:15 AM
Very interesting. He's certainly right with "art pop genius." Aside from the main point of the video, it reminds me of how much of Kate's music I haven't heard. I will eventually remedy that. For many years a best-of compilation was all I knew. I was slightly surprised to see that The Dreaming preceded Hounds of Love--somehow I had the idea that it was the other way around.
I haven't heard any of those covers. The one he samples, by...I've already lost the name...didn't strike me as anything special. A while back I posted a cover that I really like a lot, by Laki Mera/Laura Donnely. It's a very low-key interpretation:
Posted by: Mac | 06/15/2022 at 01:07 PM
Oh, and about Stranger Things: I watched episode 1 of season 4 and didn't like it much, but of course once started I have to find out what happens.. The appearance of Running is brief, just someone listening to it on a Walkman, and I wondered if that was enough to get people so into it. Apparently not. I'm told by someone else who didn't care for the first episode that it gets better. We'll see.
Posted by: Mac | 06/15/2022 at 01:11 PM
I remember that Laura Donnelly cover; it's a good one.
It's going to be awhile before I get to ST 4. Haven't even watched season 3 yet and there are other things I'm more interested in catching up on.
Posted by: Rob G | 06/16/2022 at 06:22 AM
I just saw the ST episode which features "Running Up That Hill," and I see why it caused such a surge of interest. It's not just background or incidental music. That scene I mentioned above would not have done it. You would really only notice it there if you already knew the song. But later it's an integral part of a very important and powerful scene.
Posted by: Mac | 06/16/2022 at 09:52 PM
Interesting. Must be quite the experience for people who've never heard the song before.
Posted by: Rob G | 06/17/2022 at 05:53 AM
Notwithstanding what I said above, I'm still a little surprised that it's gotten the attention it has. I don't think you hear more than a minute of it, and it's not all that loud in comparison to other sounds going on at the same time. But it must really grab people. A nice little bonus is that the end titles of the episode include some very pretty orchestral music using motifs from the song.
Posted by: Mac | 06/17/2022 at 02:36 PM
Rick Beato did a mini What Makes This Song Great on "Running Up That Hill". I don't know what he's talking about most of the time, but I always enjoy his enthusiasm.
Posted by: Don | 07/07/2022 at 06:05 PM
That's fascinating. Thanks. I can't follow all the technical stuff but I found myself thinking of the rock musician I know who once said "all songs can be played with three chords." Ha. I think he really knows better, and I suppose he was including the minors in there, but still, Kate certainly makes those songs look pretty crude.
Posted by: Mac | 07/07/2022 at 07:10 PM
Beato has a way of making almost any song interesting. His 'What Makes This Song Great' on Gordon Lightfoot's "If You Could Read My Mind" is a real eye-opener, for instance.
Posted by: Rob G | 07/08/2022 at 09:22 AM