17 of the best Kate Bush songs to test your hi-fi system

A black and white photo of Kate Bush singing in concert
(Image credit: Getty Images, Jean-Louis URLI)

The broad story of Kate Bush – the child prodigy who caught the ear of David Gilmour, who was signed to EMI while still in her mid-teens, and who became the first female artist to have a UK Number One single with her own composition – is pretty well-known. Kate Bush achieved ‘national treasure’ status some time ago, after all.

What’s perhaps less well-known, but is pertinent for those of us who would like to find out what our audio system is made of, is the level of control over the recording and production of her music she exercises. ‘Complete’ might be the best way to describe it: she writes and produces everything herself, and records in a home studio. There are no demos; the first her record company knows about her music is when it’s delivered. 

Which, presumably, is a big part of what makes listening to a Kate Bush recording such a singular experience. 

She's also, aptly, this year's Record Store Day ambassador, telling the BBC that it is "a great privilege" to be part of RSD, and noting that the music industry "had decided to leave vinyl far behind, but it would seem that not everyone agrees! I love that!"

Indeed, we heartily recommend listening to her albums on vinyl if you can. But whatever your chosen source, here are 17 of her more overt system-pleasers…

Rubberband Girl (The Red Shoes, 1993) 

Perhaps one of Bush's more straightforward pop songs, the lead-off single from 1993's The Red Shoes has a shimmering quality that follows the more or less one-chord tune built around a suitably funky bassline and pounding, slightly gated drums. Although she's swapped her usual, often ethereal style for bouncing pop melodies, Bush's vulnerability still shines through in her lyrics and their delivery, as she sings about wanting to be able to 'bounce back' from set-backs. 

As always her off-kilter vocal patterns and overdubs should be clear and easy to track through the broad spread of instruments backing her. If your system is a master of the midrange, this track will sound gloriously fun, while a good grip of the low end will track that bouncy bass. Overall, you should really get that sense of elasticity that the band is trying to convey.

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Cloudbusting (Hounds Of Love, 1985)

The sumptuous strings that provide the rhythmic drive of the track as well as its glorious hook should lift you out of any rainy day blues. "I just know that something good is going to happen, just saying it could even make it happen," spells out the relentless sense of positivity here, in a song whose theme is of an otherwise heartbreaking perspective of a child being unable to prevent the loss of their father to arrest and imprisonment. Bush based this on the real memoirs of the son of fascinating, controversial psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich – a story that's well worth exploring. 

Two drummers compete with a military cadence and pounding timpani-like beat to drive the track's building momentum, while the mantric backing vocals harmonise beautifully with one of Bush's more affected vocal performances. With production as lush as this, you'll need your system to be detailed yet warm enough to invite you into the middle of this richly-told story, while prickling the hairs on the back of the neck every time.

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Wow (Lionheart, 1978)

Kate Bush's vocal range – rising and falling here through the registers – should in itself be quite the test of your system's integration. Bush said at the time that the track is about showbusiness (quite uncynically, her amazement at it all), and that she had initially set out to write it as Pink Floyd-esque (unsurprisingly, since David Gilmour had been her her mentor and champion at the outset). And you can hear some Floyd-style spaciness in the arrangement, which almost seems to map her career to that date, beginning with just Kate's vocal and piano and rising to a crescendo that reflects that genuine amazement with cymbal hits and tom breaks punctuating the disparate but equally beautiful instrumental lines. 

You'll want your system to be able to organise this into a cohesive whole while still allowing you to pick out and appreciate the individual strands. Wow, indeed.

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The Sensual World

The word 'sensual' really is apt. Listened to through a detailed but cohesive hi-fi set-up, this is a real treat for the senses. From the church bells that open the track, through the exotic, swirling Uileaan pipes melody, thudding bass, programmed percussion, a swishing fishing rod (!), and of course Bush's central vocal performance, it's utterly rich with musical detail. And it's also sensual in that way; Bush's delivery here is almost indecent, with her compellingly seductive and sultry rhythmic reciting of lyrics inspired by the sexier parts of James Joyce's Ulysses

So, of course, her vocal performance is the star again, even as the rest of the track's instrumentation is both luscious, grooving and dramatic. You'll appreciate it best through a system is particularly well integrated while keeping the midrange focus on her vocals, but with plenty of scope to pick out those alluring pipes and percussion that make it such a musical feast.

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Hounds Of Love

The insistent rhythmic drive of this track is a great test of timing for your system, as well as its low-end as it pounds through those lower registers mimicking both the drama of a chase and a heart's exacerbated pounding. As the track builds to include cello and insistent, sustained keys, Bush's spacey vocal performance somehow manages to feel otherworldly while also conveying real human emotion.

It's fair to say that Bush's auteur-like control over her music really had a hand in making the Hounds Of Love album a masterpiece of considered production. Everything from the Fairlight synths, trad Irish instrumentation and strings to the sample underpinning the start of the title track (taken from 1957 horror film Night Of The Demon, dontcha know) feels thoughtfully and perfectly placed, making it a joy to listen to through a system that's sufficiently rhythmically talented to follow the thrill of the chase. 

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The Man with the Child in His Eyes (The Kick Inside, 1978)

Though only 18 years old at this point and still a complete novice where the music industry was concerned, Kate Bush wrote The Man with the Child in His Eyes more than five years prior to recording it for her debut album – not quite a prodigy in the Mozart sense, sure, but pretty impressive nevertheless. And doubly so when you consider just what a mature, musicianly and complete composition it is. Unlike a lot of her early recordings (before she had taken control of the entire process), the arrangement here is quite understated and supportive of the song, rather than attempting to tart it up. 

So your system will obviously need to focus on the midrange where the voice and much of the piano sits, but also has to demonstrate good powers of soundstaging as well as well-controlled dynamic variation.

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Wuthering Heights (The Kick Inside, 1978)

This, of course, is The One. Seemingly from nowhere, the teenage Kate Bush arrived in the public consciousness fully formed, fully in possession of her own talent, and with a song the arrangement and delivery of which was strongly at odds with anything else 1978 had to offer. A rabidly committed retelling of – hey! – Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, it proved almost perversely catchy and established a witchy, wide-eyed persona she was only too happy to live up to (for now, at least). 

What’s your system’s midrange fidelity like? Can it cope with the slightly hard-edged soprano of the vocal? And what about rhythmic expression? The song is mostly in 4/4, but strays into 3/4 and 2/4 in the chorus… For your system as for your ears, this is far from the easiest listening.

Buy the The Kick Inside on Amazon

Don’t Push Your Foot on the Heartbrake (Lionheart, 1978)

A lot of artists struggle when it comes to ‘second album time’, but Kate Bush, of course, had been writing songs for half of her life by the time of Lionheart. What she hadn’t been able to break free of just yet, though, is her record company’s notion that they knew better than her what her records ought to sound like. 

Consequently, Don't Push Your Foot on the Heartbrake is overblown and bombastic for no apparent reason, but it does at least give your system a chance to show what it’s got where dynamics and straightforward attack are concerned. The wedding-cake arrangement needs careful handling, too – unless your set-up can unpick it, it will sound less like a performance and more like a collision.

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Army Dreamers (Never for Ever, 1980)

In case anyone was in any doubt as to the single-minded and non-conformist nature of Kate Bush where writing and recording were concerned, surely Army Dreamers was all the confirmation they needed. It’s a spare, wide-open and foreboding recording of unusual, spindly instrumentation, percussion derived from rifle bolt-handles, backing vocals partly composed of parade-ground shouting, and heartbreakingly direct lyrics (“what could he do? Should have been a father – but he never even made it to his twenties”). 

Not every system is capable of giving the spaces and silences in this recording the weight and emphasis they require – and if yours can’t do so, the atmosphere of the song will be badly compromised.  

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Get Out of My House (The Dreaming, 1982)

For her fourth album, Kate Bush persuaded EMI – a relatively conservative record label at the best of times – to allow her to produce herself. She wouldn’t look back, but, as she recalls, when it first heard The Dreaming, EMI assumed “she’s gone mad”. At 40-odd years’ remove, it’s an absolute – but the lack of an obvious single, and the performer’s inexorable (and not, to EMI, welcome) journey from ‘ingenue’ to ‘artist’, raised many an alarm. 

Get Out of My House is the album in microcosm: broadly impenetrable, groaning under the weight of ideas (French accents? An impression of a donkey?) and thoroughly, unarguably individual. Your system needs to be able to make sense of the maximalist overload where focus and separation are concerned – and it needs to be able to make a woman trying to sound like a mule sound like a mule.

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Running Up that Hill (a Deal with God) (Hounds of Love, 1985)

As an object lesson in how to cook without any discernible heat, Running Up that Hill (a Deal with God) is the most effective thing this side of a microwave oven. Those who were there at the time will know this was never a typical mid-80s sound, and by the time Stranger Things had introduced the tune to a younger audience it sounded even more peculiar. Your system will need to deal with attack and decay of the stentorian drum pattern with complete authority, have the wherewithal to keep the remarkably abstract backing vocals distinct, and express a rolling-yet-lurching rhythm naturalistically. 

And, of course, be able to communicate the lead vocal (as well as the midrange in general) with confidence and positivity.

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Mother Stands for Comfort (Hounds of Love, 1985)

Not for the first time and not for the last, Kate Bush makes found sounds (and they are almost always crashes, collisions or shatterings) an integral part of a recording. Here they are more apparent than ever, thanks to the quiet, open nature of the song and its arrangement. The sentiment is obvious, but the colours and textures used to illustrate what is a universal story of maternal give and take are unusual in the extreme. 

Which means your system will have to cope with queasy fretless bass, absolutely desert-dry drums and a keyboard sound that is halfway between pan pipes and a swanee whistle – as well as some exquisite piano that sounds as though it was recorded by mics mere nanometres above the instrument’s strings. Plus, of course, the spaces and silences need observing too.

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Hello Earth (Hounds of Love, 1985)

In which Kate Bush crams more ideas, more tones and textures, more mystery and more emotion into 6m 13s than most artists can muster through the course of an entire album. Because it was released in 1985, Hounds of Love was divided into ‘side one’ and ‘side two’ – and ‘side two’ was a concept/song-cycle affair entitled The Ninth Wave, of which Hello Earth comprised the climax. 

There isn’t really enough space here to go into just what a test of tonal fidelity, frequency response, soundstaging, midrange reproduction and rhythm management this recording is – and besides, it’s just a thrillingly ambitious piece of music no matter what your system is like. But if your set-up can’t cope with its scope, a stack of its atmosphere and impact will be lost – which would be a shame. 

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Rocket’s Tail (The Sensual World, 1989)

‘Rock’ songs are at a premium in the Kate Bush catalogue – and it’s no surprise whatsoever that a Kate Bush ‘rock’ song, despite being complete with great big drums and extended Dave Gilmour guitar solo, is about as far from the mainstream idea of a ‘rock’ song as it’s possible to get. Rocket’s Tail combines a kind of steampunk superhero aesthetic (“...dressed as a rocket on Waterloo Bridge… size 5 lightning boots too…”) with an obtuse tribute to a cat called – guess what? – Rocket. 

It’s an absolutely fearsome test of your system’s midrange fidelity, given that the first, pre-’rock’, portion of the song features Bush plus the massed voices of Trio Bulgarka, and its tonality will also be examined closely by the none-more-Pink Floyd guitar sound.

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Top of the City (The Red Shoes, 1993)

You make your own mind up, of course, but while the original 1993 version of Top of the City suffers somewhat from the Big Drum Sound that was so fashionable at the time, its intensity and dynamic impetus is, I think, preferable to the relatively neutered reimagined version that featured on 2011’s Director’s Cut. So, as long as your system doesn’t let the percussive bombast get entirely out of hand, this recording is a great test of dynamic headroom, management of rhythm and tempo, and – but of course – midrange fidelity thanks to the ‘close-mic’d-even-by-her-standards’ vocal performance (as well as the Nigel Kennedy-derived violin and viola interjections).

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An Architect’s Dream (Aerial, 2005)

It may have been a dozen years between albums, sure, but as far as her music, its development and production were concerned, not much changed in Kate Bush-land. Her voice may have dropped an octave, but otherwise it was high-quality business as usual – and she remained beholden to no one but herself. 

‘Comeback’ album Aerial was a big, sun-dappled and lazy afternoon of a record, warmly organic and basically masterful in its execution. ‘Good taste’ is often a hi-fi euphemism for ‘tedious’, but in the case of An Architect’s Dream there’s no equivocation – this recording is in exquisite good taste, and only a system with sweet tonal fidelity, an assured way with rhythmic expression and significant powers of soundstaging will be able to bring this painstaking, high-gloss recording properly to life.

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Wild Man (50 Words for Snow, 2011)

At seven songs and over 65 minutes, 2011’s 50 Words for Snow takes its sweet time – but the languorous nature of the record suits the richer tonality of the Bush singing voice. Wild Man is the most direct and immediate song on the album, and it’s weirdly moving in its use of the Yeti (or ‘wild man’) as a metaphor for mankind’s treatment of animals and the planet in general – her “run away, run away!” extortion is poignant in the extreme. 

As far as your set-up is concerned, there’s the staccato insistence of the instrumentation that requires careful management, the customarily conspiratorial, intimate vocal performance to be described, and a wide, tall canvas of a soundstage to be organised properly if the scope of the recording is going to be properly explained.

Buy 50 Words for Snow on Amazon


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Simon Lucas is a freelance technology journalist and consultant, with particular emphasis on the audio/video aspects of home entertainment. Before embracing the carefree life of the freelancer, he was editor of What Hi-Fi? – since then, he's written for titles such as GQ, Metro, The Guardian and Stuff, among many others. 

With contributions from