This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #48: Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush.
Emily Bronte lived a short, difficult life in the early 1800s in England. One of many siblings, Emily Bronte lived most of her thirty years in her family home; attempts at going out into the world to attend school and such, were not to her liking. Raised in a home-schooled environment, the Bronte siblings were encouraged to follow their inner muse and, as such, they created whole worlds for themselves using tin soldiers that belonged to the only male sibling, Branwell. It was not long before their imaginative play evolved into storytelling and poetry. Charlotte Bronte was the first to have a story published. It was entitled, “Jane Eyre” and became quite a famous book. Several editions of poetry were released; all under the pseudonym of the Bell Sisters, of which, Emily was known as “Ellis Bell”. Eventually, Emily, as Ellis Bell, agreed to allow a story she had written to be published. That story was called, “Wuthering Heights”. However, unlike “Jane Eyre”, “Wuthering Heights” was met with mixed reviews. Many readers assumed that “Ellis Bell” was a man because the passions expressed through the characters in the book were so primal and base. It wasn’t until well after her death that the world came to know that “Ellis Bell” was actually a reclusive young woman named Emily Bronte. Emily Bronte died in 1848 from complications brought on by tuberculosis, which she contracted from drinking contaminated well water. As she lay on her deathbed, she refused to accept “potions and poisons” from her doctor which, in all likelihood, would have saved her. She died surrounded by her surviving family members. “Wuthering Heights” was her only published novel.
Approximately 130 years later, the BBC released a dramatic adaptation of “Wuthering Heights” on television. One of the many viewers of this dramatic special was a teenage girl named Katherine Bush. As it turned out, young Kathy, as she was known then, shared many striking similarities with the long, departed Emily Bronte. For starters, both Kate Bush and Emily Bronte shared the same birth date of July 30th. As a young girl, Kate Bush also led a life immersed in the Arts and, as a result, all throughout her teens, she wrote many songs, poems and stories, which she collected in notebooks and binders. Finally, like Emily Bronte, Kate Bush knew at an early age that she viewed her world differently from many other teenage girls. She did not have dreams of having a boyfriend or of following the latest teen sensations. Instead, Kate Bush focussed inward; dreaming of wild stories and evocative dances contained within. So, when that young Katherine Bush watched Emily Bronte’s life unfold on screen before her eyes, she was immediately attracted to her story because, in it, she saw herself.
According to Bush, she sat down at age 18 and wrote the song, “Wuthering Heights” in one night. The song, itself, is a fairly faithful interpretation of the original storyline from Bronte’s book. It involves the character named Catherine who pines away for a man named Heathcliff. She hates how much she loves him and how that love controls her. The more Heathcliff ignores and dismisses her, the more the character of Catherine longs and yearns for him. All in all, pretty heady stuff for such a young person to write. But, write the song she did. All in one night.
While all of this was going on, Kate Bush had already come to the attention of the famous British musician, David Gilmour of Pink Floyd fame. A few years prior, GIlmour had been given a sample of Bush’s earlier songs and had been impressed with her imagination, her intelligent lyrics and the unique sound of her voice. So, Gilmour had begun to act as a mentor and benefactor. Using his influence in the music industry, Gilmour was able to obtain “lessons” for Bush that involved polishing her musical skills, her dance choreography, as well as, preparing her for a life in Show business (dealing with contracts, securing publishing rights, and so on). So, while most teenage girls were worrying about what to wear to school the next day, Kate Bush would be writing and dancing and singing and learning how to manage her own business, all under the direction of David Gilmour.
Eventually, Bush was deemed “ready” and was signed to a professional recording contract. Her debut album was entitled, “The Kick Inside”. “Wuthering Heights” was the debut single from that album. It is said that when Kate Bush entered the recording studio to record “Wuthering Heights” that she did the song in one take and that there was no need for overdubbing, which is common practice for most artists. Kate Bush was keenly concerned with all aspects of the production process and spent the rest of her studio time in the control booth, learning how the sound engineers did their thing, offering suggestions along the way. Those who were there all say that they were incredibly impressed with the depth and breadth of her creative vision for her songs and how mature she seemed for someone so young.
As I wrote in a previous post for her song, “Running Up That Hill” *(which you can read here), I was 18 years old when I first came to know of Kate Bush and her song, “Wuthering Heights”. I was in the entertainment section of a large department store in Toronto in 1982. The store had a wall of televisions, all tuned to a local show called “The New Music Magazine” on City-TV. As I watched, they were profiling a new singer named Kate Bush who sounded unlike any singer I had ever heard before. They played one of the two videos she made for this song and, suddenly, the entire wall of that department store turned a bright shade of red as she danced and sang about those “wily, windy moors”, while standing on those very moors, herself. I was transfixed. I still am today.
From that moment onward, I have been an admirer of Kate Bush in all regards. I really like and respect how she has maintained her creative vision all throughout the years. Music and Dance and Literature have always been the foundation of all that she has stood for and, as a result, her body of work stands as eclectic and rich and interesting as any by any other performer the world over. Her private life has remained just that….private. She has existed without scandal and controversy. She made music when the muse struck but, at the same time, took many years off to be a mother, once she had children of her own. Can you imagine having a mom like Kate Bush?! I am sure that those children were raised in a literature-rich, artistic environment, for sure. In any case, creative imagination and artistic vision and personal integrity are all characteristics I admire in Kate Bush who, in turn, admired those same characteristics in a young Emily Bronte, who lived over a century prior. The world is lucky to have known them, both.
It would be folly to suggest that I am the only one who finds the music of Kate Bush to be irresistible. Each July 30th, all across Europe and, specifically, in the UK, there are gatherings of fans who recreate the famous “red dress dance sequence” from “Wuthering Heights”, flash mob-style. Admittedly, I have never worn a red dress in my life but, if I ever were to do so, it would be for something fun like this. 🙂
So, without further delay, here is my favourite female singer of all-time, with her biggest hit single of all-time, “Wuthering Heights”. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the song, “Wuthering Heights” by Kate Bush, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Kate Bush, can be found here.
Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for supporting artists with vision and creativity; who often think “outside of the box”. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.