eyelights: Kate Bush. Cloudbusting. Running Up That Hill.
eyesores: the quality of many of the videos.
In 1986, high from the growing popularity of Kate Bush, her record label decided to package some of her singles into a compilation album. Called ‘The Whole Story’, it was a massive hit in the UK, going to number one and eventually being certified four times Platinum.
A video album was concurrently released, consisting of the videos for each single in the same sequence as on the audio album. For some reason, an extra single, “The Big Sky”, was added at the tail end of the video album but was not included on its companion piece.
I honestly have no idea exactly when and where I picked up this videotape, but I’ve had it for ages – well before I became a (minor) Kate Bush fan. It’s quite likely that I picked it up precisely with the intention of exploring her oeuvre, knowing that she was a visual artist as well.
I had given her a try many years prior, in 1994, at the time of the release of ‘The Red Shoes’. I had picked up a CD single for the title track, and was very fond of it due to its inclusion of “Cloudbusting”. But, when I finally bought the album itself, I was underwhelmed, even bored to tears.
That stopped me dead in my tracks.
It didn’t prevent me from purchasing the luscious poster for her album ‘The Sensual World’, which adorns my wall to this day, but it wasn’t until I listened to it and then to ‘The Hounds of Love’, both fabulous albums, that my interest was reignited. Kate Bush has been on my radar since.
Ironically, Bush ended up taking a twelve-year hiatus and wouldn’t release a new album until ‘Aerial’ in 2007, so there wasn’t anything new to whet my appetite, let alone sate it. But I did have this 56-minute video, which served as a sort of primer into her career prior to ‘The Sensual World’.
(Nota bene: I subjectively rated the songs and videos separately, in the following format: song/video)
1. Wuthering Heights: Although the audio version features a new vocal track by Kate Bush, the video version retains the original 1978 one. I’m no great fan: her voice is far too high-pitched for my taste; it sounds too unnatural. I love the keyboards but, otherwise, the song is nothing memorable to me – even though it was a number one hit for Bush.
The accompanying video (which is the UK version, not the US one) is a product of its time: super low-budget, it reminded me of a ’70s disco clip. It’s on a black set with some coloured lights, and a smoke machine. Kate is alone, dancing in swooping motions, dressed in a white dress. There are lots of superimposed images/doubles of her. Meh. 5.0/5.0
2. Cloudbusting: I was first pulled to Kate Bush by this track, as it was featured on the “The Red Shoes” CD single (in this exact mix, which is different from the album one), and it probably remains my favourite song of hers. I love the sumptuous cello backing on it, the hooky harmonies, and the choir that drives the latter part. The lyrics are based on Peter Reich’s memoirs, in which he talks about his father’s experiments with a cloudbuster.
The video, which was conceived by Bush and Terry Gilliam, reflects the lyrics: it features Kate as Peter and Donald Sutherland as Wilhelm Reich, pushing a cloudbuster up a hill, and using it to disperse clouds. The father lets his son play with the device while he goes back to his lab to look at some papers. Then government officials come and take him away in their car. Seeing his father being driven away, Peter uses the machine to make it rain. For some reason, both Reichs treat this like a massive victory – even though the father is still being taken away. The storytelling isn’t exactly entirely coherent, but it works anyway. 8.5/7.0
3. The Man with the Child in His Eyes: This was the second single from Bush’s debut album ‘The Kick Inside’, and it was a moderate success. Personally, I find the song OK, no more (despite David Gilmour’s involvement). Her vocals are nothing special, but at least they’re not high-pitched.
The video is equally forgettable: Bush, who is wearing a sparkly, flesh-coloured body suit and a belt, is sitting on a lighted cloud-like surface, singing to the screen – all the while moving her arms and torso in what amounts to a performance piece. Well, it was the ’70s, after all. 6.0/5.0
4. Breathing: This song is written from the perspective of a foetus, who is worried about the effect of nuclear fallout and its mother’s smoking (Thank you, Cold War, for the inspiration!). The song is also interesting from a musical standpoint, in particular the bass and the instrumental passage. Also, at the tail end of the track, there is a riff that is very reminiscent of Pink Floyd. Was Gilmour (who helped her start her career) still an influence at this point?
In the video, Bush is cocooned in a transparent bubble, wearing a transparent plastic costume. As she performs, she gently rocks the bubble, which is nestled in orange-red surroundings. Clearly, this is a representation of the song’s lyrics, with Bush as its protagonist. It’s a cool video until the end, which involves men and women dressed in white jumpsuits wandering in a lake. I’m not sure what that’s about, but I like the first part. 7.0/7.0
5. Wow: Wow.. wow… I have very little to say about this track. It’s okay. I enjoyed the opening keyboard tinkles and I like the sound of the bass. That’s about it.
Bush disliked the original video for this song, so she had an alternate one produced for this compilation. It’s pretty rudimentary, consisting of footage from various live performances edited together in a ramshackle fashion. It doesn’t work with the music at all but it’s interesting to see how theatrical her 1979 shows were. 5.0/6.5
6. Hounds of Love: It’s strange… as much as I like this song, it feels incomplete to me somehow. I really love the rhythm: it’s heavy and an echo-y. I love the strings that kick in during the chorus. And I even enjoy the main and background vocals. But it feels to me like it’s building up to something but never getting there, as though a second half is missing.
The video, which was directed by Bush herself, is apparently inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The 39 Steps’: it starts with a guy breaking into an office and taking Kate by the hand, running off with her through some woods. Some sinister men catch up with them at a party, and Bush takes their leader for a dance. That’s it. It’s a nice-looking video, even if it doesn’t make much sense. 7.5/7.0
7. Running Up That Hill: This is one of Bush’s most recognizable tracks, and it was her biggest hit of the ’80s. It begins with a super-catchy keyboard hook that repeats throughout the song. The percussions are also a driving force; they’re artificial-sounding, but nonetheless primal. Similarly, Bush’s vocals are processed, but it comes out terrific; they get under your skin, as do the background vocals.
In the video, Bush is dancing with a man on a gray, windowed set. Both are wearing gray hakamas. Most of the video consists of their dance number, which is a contemporary piece. It’s very pleasing to the eye, as is she. The dancing is interrupted at one point by the couple running on a road through a deserted landscape, and at one point by images of many people walking down a neon-lit corridor. Not sure. But I really dig the dance routine in this one; they had some skills. 8.0/8.0
8. Army Dreamers: Driven by what sounds vaguely like harpsichord, “Army Dreamers” has a groovy, waltz-like vibe. It sounds soft enough that it could lull you to sleep, like a strange lullaby – despite its more sober subject matter.
The video starts with a close up of Bush in military garb. The camera pulls back to find her in the woods, with a pre-teen boy, and is soon joined by soldiers. They are attacked, there are explosions, smoke, and bodies flying. It’s an intriguing-looking video, but it’s discrepant musically – it really doesn’t fit. 6.5/7.0
9. Sat in Your Lap: This song, the first single from ‘The Dreaming’, sounds fairly dated, but it has an interesting, unique quality to it: there’s this weird synth/laser sound and the instruments take on an unusual rhythm. The vocals are bombastic, creating quite an effect.
The video, is as unusual, in a WTF sort of way, with unusual dances, costumes, animation, and special effects. I couldn’t keep up with everything going on. Yep, it’s artsy-fartsy pop-rock. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it just leave you with your mouth agape. 6.5/6.5
10. Experiment IV: This was an unreleased track at the time that ‘The Whole Story’ was compiled. It sounds full and well-constructed, but it does very little for me. I like the chorus a little bit, especially when Bush’s vocals come to the forefront. Aside from being lyrically interesting, it’s rather forgettable.
The video, which was directed by Bush, starts with an old man going into a government facility and into his lab. He is shown the plans for Experiment IV and immediately opposes it – but he is forced by the military to go along with it. Much of the video consists of all sorts of test subjects and what is done to them. The army is pleased with the results, even though everyone in the facility is dead or dying. 5.0/7.5
11. The Dreaming: The lead single and title track to her fourth studio album, “The Dreaming” has a world beat flavour to it, with her vocals affecting an Irish quality and the drums going all primal – and heavy, for the time. It’s not catchy (it never climbed the charts), but it’s certainly intriguing.
The video is shot on a post-apocalyptic set. Bush is leading a choreography with three men (mutants?), who are dressed in grey jumpsuits, while she’s in a white one. The choreography is unusual. no doubt because of the song’s percussive quality. She does these sexy shifts with her torso, which I rather liked. Otherwise, it’s merely a modern dance piece like many others. 7.0/7.0
12. Babooshka: A pretty big hit in the UK, and even more so in Australia and France, “Babooshka” starts with an understated piano and bass backing, before really kicking it in for the chorus, which is super catchy, groovy. I hate the title, though.
For the video, Bush is wearing a black bodysuit and veil and dances while holding a double bass. At the chorus, she transforms into a sexy fantasy female warrior. Then back again. This is one of those videos where they were like: What do we have? A bass and two costumes? Ah, fuck it: let’s make the video anyway. 7.25/6.0
13. The Big Sky: This fourth and final single to ‘The Hounds of Love’ is included on the video compilation, but not on the album – likely due to time constraints on the LP. Personally, I think it’s a decent track, but the only thing that really pulls me is in the background; I’m otherwise not that keen on the song.
The video, which was directed by Bush, starts with shadowy people waving goodbye (amusing coincidence, given it’s the last of the set), masked by smoke. Then we find Bush in a silver jumpsuit, on top of a skyscraper, looking at the sky with huge binoculars. Her costume changes a few times, then she jumps down to join a dozen musicians, soldiers, and astronauts, before doing a choreographed number on a stage with army-themed dancers and musicians. Not sure what it’s about, but it looks cool. 6.0/7.0
What I found the most interesting, in watching this collection, is just how much I prefer the tracks in their proper context, on their respective albums. Uprooted as they are here, they made me think of the highlights of a family album, shuffled out of order – the images are terrific in their own way, but they lose their meaning.
This collection also goes to show that some artists just don’t write pop singles. And, in some cases, they put together albums, not collections of songs. I don’t know that Kate Bush has always done that, but it’s quite apparent in most of the works that I heard thus far – the only exception being ‘The Red Shoes’ (which I’ve relistened to since).
It doesn’t mean that the songs or their accompanying short films are not worth the time, but they aren’t as gripping as I would want them to be. Obviously, true Kate Bush fans (I’m merely a moderate) would likely dispute this notion, but it remains that, at best, this collection is merely a decent intro; there’s far more to Kate Bush than this.
This is hardly “The Whole Story”.
Post scriptum: I hope that this collection will one day be re-released on DVD/BD and updated to include all the post-1986 videos, the original version of “Wow” and even her short film ‘The Line, the Cross and the Curve’. A comprehensive collection would be lovely to have and explore.
Date of viewing: June 7, 2014