Mystery Train host John Kelly writes for Culture about the Albums That Will Save Your Life...
When Kate Bush first appeared in 1978 I reacted just as I reacted to most things extraordinary in those days. I muttered something under my breath about her being "mad" and feigned disinterest.
I might perhaps plead that I was only thirteen years old at the time, and about as mature as rock, but ignorance is no defence when it comes to Kate Bush. When she was thirteen she had already written her first songs. By the time she was fifteen, a demo of fifty of those songs had made its way to Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd. And the rest, as they say...
Hounds of Love, recorded in Kent and mixed at Windmill Lane and Abbey Road, was released in 1985. It was her fifth album. Her first The Kick Inside had sold over a million copies but by this stage, seven years later, chances of that same level of commercial success seemed to have evaporated. Not that Bush seemed overly concerned. She was no pop star after all. She was an artist. What’s more she now had a Fairlight CMI digital synth/sampler and she was damn sure going to use it.
And it’s this machine that is perhaps the key to this self-produced work of genius. Using her royalties from previous hits, she had upgraded a studio operating from her parents’ barn. Now, with 48 tracks now at her disposal, and the mighty Fairlight, she could set to work like a latter-day Brian Wilson. It would be her album. Anything that happened within its grooves would be her decision. She could go anywhere she wanted, without any of the time and money pressures normally associated with recording studios. In such ideal circumstances, her creativity could flourish. And technically it would be spectacular.
A bit like The Joshua Tree, Hounds of Love is an album where not everybody, even someone who loves the record, is entirely sure what’s on Side B. The big hitters are all on the A-Side – many of her finest moments too – Running Up That Hill, Hounds of Love, Cloudbusting. Flip the record over and you land in a slightly more peculiar world. It’s a kind of mini-concept album all of it’s own and it’s full of sonic surprises. It’s all happening. In a nod to her Irish roots in Waterford, no less than Donal Lunny, Liam O’Flynn and John Sheahan all make an appearance.
Hounds of Love went to number one in Britain, and supplied four Top 40 hits. It was also a hit in the US. All of which might well suggest that people are more open to smart, imaginative, lyrically challenging, ambitious music than the business, or pop radio, might have us believe. At least we were in 1985. And if you want to know who exactly was listening very closely in those days, you’ll easily hear the influence of Kate Bush, and this album in particular, on records by many of your current faves. And, contrary to obvious and lazy listings, it’s not just the women.
John Kelly's Mystery Train is on lyric fm, Sunday-Thursday @7pm.