Since she appeared to burst onto the scene from nowhere in 1978, Catherine “Kate” Bush has been one of those rarest of performers, a genuine gargantuan talent completely unswayed by the trappings of fame, and a sorceress who has woven a world of pure innovation within her own impermeable bubble; the world outside studies furiously her genius and does all it can to imitate.
Kate is not your everyday popstar, she does everything on her own terms, which included a disappearing act between ‘The Red Shoes’ in 1993 and ‘Aerial’ in 2005 to bring up her child. Most artists would be forgotten in that time, but with Kate the heart only grew fonder.
Bands put records out and go on tour to promote them, Kate Bush deals only in life-changing and life-enhancing events. And so it always was… even the release of her first classic single ‘Wuthering Heights’ – her signature song in many ways – was an event. Despite an illustrious career, she’s never quite topped this incredible song, but then you have to ask, what possibly could?
Here are 20 facts about the song that you may not have known until now:
1. ‘Wuthering Heights’, her mind-boggling debut single, was written when she was just 18 (the teenage Kate Bush had written over 100 songs when she was discovered by David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, who recommended her to EMI).
2. ‘Wuthering Heights’ itself was likely written in one sitting at the piano on March 5 1977, memorable because there was a full moon that night.
3. EMI’s Bob Mercer actually wanted to release ‘James and the Cold Gun’ first, but Kate fought tooth and nail to ensure ‘Wuthering Heights’ was released as her debut. Kate once said, “I’m the shyest megalomaniac you’re ever likely to meet.”
4. EMI spent two years preparing her for the limelight, and in that time paid for her to have dance lessons with Lindsay Kemp, who also famously mentored Bowie in mime (and, it was said, became his lover). Those famous moves that helped launch Kate to superstardom had also partly inspired Ziggy Stardust.
5. Kate Bush and Emily Brontë not only both wrote ‘Wuthering Heights’ (the song and the book that inspired the song), but they also share the same birthday. Kate is 57 now, and Emily would be 197 if she was alive today. Spooky huh?
6. The single surpassed all expectations; charting in 1978, it rose to no.1 within three weeks and stayed on the top spot for four, becoming the first UK no.1 written and performed by a female artist.
7. It also reached the top spot in Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Italy, and was a smash right across the world (except the US).
8. Maybe because of its complexity or because it’s considered something of a sacred cow, ‘Wuthering Heights’ has rarely been covered, though Röyksopp have performed it live and American rocker Pat Benatar also recorded a 1980 version that many Americans know as the definitive version, the poor suckers.
9. Kate got the idea for ‘Wuthering Heights’ when she caught the last 10 minutes of a BBC adaptation on television before she’d even reached her teens. The mini-series inspired her to read the book in order to get the atmosphere right. She has famously called upon literary classics throughout her career, including the conclusion of James Joyce’s Ulysses for ‘The Sensual World’.
10. For ‘The Whole Story’ – a 1986 best of – Kate inexplicably re-recorded the ‘Wuthering Heights’ vocal over the original music. Purists weren’t best pleased, but then Kate moves in mysterious ways.
11. John Lydon is a massive Kate Bush fan, and was captivated from the very first time he heard the chart-busting single, much to the dismay of some of his priggish punk pals. Mr Rotten once said she “supplies me with all the clues and it’s up to me to put the answers together – well that’s the Qu’ran of music – and that’s surely what we’re looking for; no easy answers or anything.”
12. Annie Clark aka St Vincent revealed in a BBC documentary that ‘Wuthering Heights’ is her karaoke tune, perhaps the one and only time you’d actually want to sit through someone singing karaoke.
13. Bush isn’t the only popstar to have been inspired by Emily Brontë’s only novel. Cliff Richard brought Heathcliff (The Musical) to the stage for a run at the Hammersmith Apollo in the mid-90’s. Cliff clearly identified with the dark and shadowy anti-hero even if it was a bit of a stretch for the rest of us.
14. With Kate’s wild and unusual mime-style on Top of the Pops unlike anything viewers had seen before, she was ripe for ridicule; the song and her performance were so left field that many sent Bush up, and the added publicity from “hilarious” mainstream comics like Faith Brown certainly didn’t harm record sales. Even Noel Fielding did her for Comic Relief a few years back, though it was Pamela Stephenson’s ‘England, My Leotard’ for 1980’s Not The 9 O’Clock News that was probably the most lovingly observed and accurate portrayal of la Bush.
15. The guitar solo that fades away with the track in the outro was recorded by Edinburgh musician Ian Bairnson, a session guitarist who co-wrote Buck Fizz’s ‘Run For Your Life’ and played with two former Bay City Rollers in pop band Pilot during the 70’s.
16. Steve Coogan performed ‘Wuthering Heights’ as part of a medley sung by Alan Partridge for his stage show (he did it again for Comic Relief in 1999). The normally hermitic Kate popped out for the evening and caught the final performance of Coogan’s run and told him after the show that “it was nice to hear those songs again.”
17. Engineer Jon Kelly – who went on to work with Paul McCartney, Tori Amos, the Beautiful South and plenty of others – was a rookie when he did that first session for album ‘The Kick Inside’ (including ‘Wuthering Heights’). “Looking back, she was incredible and such an inspiration,” he said, “even though when she first walked in I probably thought she was just another new artist. Her openness, her enthusiasm, her obvious talent – I remember finishing that first day… and thinking ‘My God, that’s it. I’ve peaked!'”
18. Producer Andrew Powell said the vocal performance was done in one take, “a complete performance” with no overdubs. “There was no compiling,” engineer Kelly said. “We started the mix at around midnight and Kate was there the whole time, encouraging us… we got on with the job and finished at about five or six that morning.”
19. A slowed down version of the song clocking in at 36 minutes was posted to YouTube in 2011 recently and became an unlikely viral sensation when picked up and posted by Dangerous Minds. It’s really quite something to behold; listen for yourself…
20. In 2013 300 Kates gathered in a park in Brighton to break the record for most lookalikes in one place at one time. The song they performed? What do you reckon, silly?