Kate Bush’s ‘Hounds of Love’: The Dismemberment Plan, Röyksopp, and More Talk Their Top Tracks
In honor of the art-pop classic's 30th anniversary, we asked musicians about their favorite 'Hounds' songs
With her famously elusive nature, propensity for literary lyrics, enchanting — often unearthly — vocals, and overall air of theatricality, Kate Bush pushed the boundaries of ’80s pop music, influencing countless would-be contemporaries (Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, and Marina and the Diamonds). Those qualities initially won the U.K. singer-songwriter notice via her 1978 breakthrough single “Wuthering Heights” and acclaimed 1982 album The Kick Inside, but coalesced most exquisitely and her outstanding fifth full-length, 1985’s Hounds of Love.
The 12-track LP runs a sometimes accessible yet undeniably bizarre spectrum, with its first six songs showcasing epic, radio-ready moments like the pleading “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” (Bush’s biggest chart success in the U.S.) and the string-accented title track, which was one of the album’s three U.K. top-20 hits. The record’s flip side, meanwhile, unleashed Bush’s edgier sonic interests: There are spoken-word segments and Irish jigs (“Jig of Life”), metal-lite growls (“Waking the Witch”), and haunting Georgian chorale (“Hello Earth”).
Though Bush continues to remain a public enigma (she rarely tours or speaks to the press), her impact — and that of Hounds, specifically — still resonates a generation later. In honor of the iconoclastic LP, which turns 30 this week, on September 16, SPIN surveyed a handful of artists — including Jenny Hval, Hop Along, the Dismemberment Plan’s Travis Morrison, Wild Beasts, Angel Deradoorian, Tacocat, and Röyksopp — about some of their favorite songs on Hounds of Love.
“Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)”
Svein Berge, Röyksopp: “Running Up That Hill” is one of those songs that I first heard on the radio as a kid, and it’s been stuck in my head ever since. I didn’t try to articulate “why” I liked this song. I guess it has to do with my penchant for music with a hint of — for lack of a better word — “drama.” This “drama” is indeed present in Kate Bush’s music, but it’s always balanced and never too much.
Emily Nokes, Tacocat: I wish I could start with a deeper cut, but “Running Up That Hill” is undeniably catchy. So urgent! So theatrical! Galloping ’80s drums and that “wroaoww ow wow” sea-lion/synth sound. Wonderful.
I always thought the lyrics were about switching places with, say, someone who is dying or having a hard time, but I later read that she meant it to be about men and women trading places to better understand the opposite sex. Maybe everyone already knew that, but it definitely gives the song more of that wonky Kate Bush energy.
“Hounds of Love”
Cody Blanchard, Shannon & the Clams: “Hounds of Love” is the track that most vibrates my little primate heart. It wouldn’t be so striking on its own, but positioned directly after “Running Up that Hill,” it is a cry of simultaneous fear, hope, and desperation.
Travis Morrison, the Dismemberment Plan: If I ever taught a class in songwriting, we’d dissect this song. The use of poetic symbols is Yeats-level, but she never presents it as mere metaphor or allegory. It’s urgent and personal and in the service of honest (and even funny) self-analysis. That’s a feat when Jesus and the Lady of the Lake are two of the referents. And it’s unified: Check the way she bounces between a pack of hounds and a baby fox, staying within the canine imagery, but you don’t even notice that or feel like someone’s pushing poetry schematics on you. It’s rock’n’roll.
“The Big Sky”
Lorely Rodriguez, Empress Of: The background vocals are so quirky and perfect. I’d know her eyes are just as big as the sky she’s singing about even if I didn’t know what she looked like — just by her voice.
“Mother Stands for Comfort”
Emily Nokes, Tacocat: Shout-out to “Mother Stands For Comfort” for using the “breaking glass” keyboard effect as a rhythm instrument.
Monika: Isn’t it a magical emotion when a song makes you feel like you’re waking up in the middle of a dream? With a kick and a snare, in that mysterious minimal music background, Kate’s voice is calling for justice like in a fairy tale, in the most crystal, gentle way.
Frances Quinlan, Hop Along: I’ve only just seen the video, in which Kate Bush plays the song’s central figure: a young Peter Reich as he helplessly witnesses the abduction of his father Wilhelm (played by Donald Sutherland) by the government. It’s such an arresting story, partly because it’s based on our deceptively quiet (though nonetheless terrifying) reality: People are mostly guided by fear.
In “Cloudbusting,” Bush both celebrates and laments the dangerous imagination, in sound and vision. Moreover, she does it with fearlessly artful execution. The strings provide a lush yet urgent backdrop as Bush unabashedly takes the voice of the vulnerable child hurtling through a traumatic loss. What made it special made it dangerous.
Jenny Hval: I saw the video for “Cloudbusting” on TV as a child, and I remember crying almost every time it came on. I think what moved me was her ability to take on a child’s perspective (a boy’s perspective!) with such ease, and at such an emotional moment in this boy’s life.
Wes Miles, Ra Ra Riot: She obviously took a lot of inspiration from books, and this song inspired me to try to emulate that from very early on. Ideas for [Ra Ra Riot’s] “Each Year” and “The Orchard” came from books, as well as several others on Beta Love. I don’t know what I’d have done without her music.
“And Dream of Sheep”
Victoria Hesketh, Little Boots: The minute I heard “And Dream Of Sheep” I knew it was the song wanted played at my funeral. (Even though I didn’t really understand it at the time, and am probably not much wiser now.) It’s so heartbreakingly beautiful and peaceful.
Angel Deradoorian: I love the darkness and mysteriousness this song contains, like an incantation in the frozen night, a chant, a prayer, a wish. The drone and repetition enveloping your ears and mind for just a short glimpse at only 2:22 minutes.
“Waking the Witch”
Jenny Hval: This song seems to come out of the energy of sampled voices in both the most aggressive and the most hushed states, creating a true frenzy. A voice, a song, is awakened — or summoned — from within the noise of other voices. And when the witch does wake and a beat and a song pushes the voices away, that witch sings something ravishing, clear, and sane within insanity. The pitched-down voices are like knives through the main vocal track, over an arrangement that is the darkest possible distortion of Jan Hammer’s [original] Miami Vice theme.
Angel Deradoorian: This beat is so badass. It carries so much anticipation. You have to hold on for the ride. The vocals are beyond, with the short, tremolo’d delay and the monster voice, creating chaotic and inescapable imagery.
Emily Nokes, Tacocat: “Waking the Witch” is the freakiest — the dreamy intro into shrieking glitches, devil/monster voice, and bells… I wouldn’t pop it on to dance to or anything, but I love that she threw that on the album like, “Yes, I’m a pop genius, but also an unapologetic nut bar.”
“Watching You Without Me”
Sarah Versprille, Pure Bathing Culture: I love this song because it’s an amazing melding of beautiful chanting groove music, and a visceral expression of one of the most potent feelings of leaving a relationship behind.
Lydia Lund, Chastity Belt: I love how Kate Bush relates to ghosts and spirits in her songs, and I think this one really captures the feeling of being aware of some kind of supernatural presence. Plus, it’s a real groover.
“Jig of Life”
Laura Welsh: The drums are so intense and sound incredible with her ethereal vocal. It’s uplifting and haunting in a way that Kate Bush only knows. I am drawn to the slight restraint in the vocal, which, put against the drums and fiddles, really allow the lyrics to cut through with added emotion. I love her brother John coming in at the end with the short but heavy narration to really make the point.
Laura Welsh: You’re pulled straight into that world only Kate Bush can create. You can’t help but be moved by the raw fragile emotive vocal delivery from the opening line, which is gentle but so impactful. The layered vocals and harmonies are otherworldy and haunting. The more she pushes, the more intrigued you are. The arrangement is fearless and really unique. From a songwriting perspective, the arrangement is mind-blowing. There are no rules; she’s totally in control, building this universe that’s completely her own.
“The Morning Fog”
Lorely Rodriguez, Empress Of: I love how this record ends with the optimism of a new day.” I am falling like a stone, like a storm, being born again in into the sweet morning fog.”
Hayden Thorpe, Wild Beasts: For me, “The Morning Fog” is no longer just the name of a Kate Bush song. It has become a byword that I use when describing a phenomena that occurs when a song captures an emotion so perfectly, that from then on the emotion can only be felt by listening to the song. Like the umami taste, you cannot clearly define what it is, and you didn’t know it was there until you tasted it, but you cannot fully taste again without it.
“The Morning Fog” appears to be a fluke; it’s seemingly made up of quite innocuous and random parts, yet I suspect it is the result of meticulous, celestial design. It’s a masterpiece within a masterpiece.