FEATURE: Forty Years of The Kick Inside: The Birth of an Icon



Forty Years of The Kick Inside


ALL PHOTOS/IMAGES (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images

The Birth of an Icon


THIS is not the first time...


PHOTO CREDIT: Gered Mankowitz (1978)

I have spoken about Kate Bush’s debut album, The Kick Inside. It is, however, the most important piece regarding the album: the record is forty today and, as such, has been receiving thoughts and praise from around the world. Before I come to my thoughts; I asked songwriter/festival organiser, G LaRoche to send me some words about the album. I will put his words on to the page, verbatim:

When I play acoustic cover sets (usually in quaint little country pubs or spit n sawdust venues) one of my favourite perks of the set is seeing the look on people’s faces as a man with a Mohican haircut and torn punk trousers starts to play Kate Bush’s 1978 anthem Wuthering Heights with gleeful manic overacting. After all the song is sung from the perspective of a desperate soul hell-bent on reconciling with her lover…my take on Cathy’s character is more, what 20th-century folks call, a ‘bunny boiler’!


 My first full-on experience of ‘The Kick Inside’ was at about the age of 12 when I would spend most of my weekends with massively oversized 80s headphones on, going through my parent’s vinyl collection, absolutely absorbed in music. Through doing this I discovered tons of aged music that my school contemporaries were unaware of…and probably still couldn’t give a toss about! I was a uniquely uncool kid. While classmates were discussing Oasis, Blur or Radiohead I’d be discovering Supertramp, Jethro Tull, Peter Gabriel (plus his Genesis) as well as a wealth of 60s, 70s and 80s classics.

If I liked a song I’d copy it to a mixtape (for the kids out there: tapes were bought over in the Viking longships and were notoriously unreliable until Abraham Lincoln invented the Biro). If I liked the whole album it’d go on a tape in its entirety…although sometimes with the track order changed for no specific reason! This way I could listen to that music over and over on my Walkman or on my bedroom ghetto blaster. I even made some extremely embarrassing radio mixtapes with me pretending to be retro DJ Alan Freeman in between my favourite songs.


PHOTO CREDIT: Chris Walter - WireImage/Getty Images  

The Kick Inside got the full album treatment (I think it was on side A with The Cars self-titled album on side B). Why did Kate Bush get the prestige of a whole side of valuable 90-minute tape??? Well, firstly that voice…somewhere between a siren and a banshee it pierced, intrigued and infested my young mind. Since this album, I’ve had a love for kooky, octave shifting, female vocals like Lene Lovich, Poly Styrene from X-Ray Specs and Alice Glass from Crystal Castles. 

The sound of the album straddles that point between the prog. rock of the early 70s, which to many can sound dated but I kinda enjoy in a cheesy, guilty pleasure sort of way, and the soft rock and pop of the 80s yet with a more mature sound than either of the above.  

The haunting quality of ‘Moving’ allows Kate to use an extraordinary vocal range; the sombre yarn of ‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes’ making good use of minor to major shift to emote the tale and a personal favourite with ‘Them Heavy People’ being a pseudo-reggae track. Of course, we all know Wuthering Heights as the albums commercial high point, but this ain’t no ‘All The Small Things’ or ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. It’s an exceptionally clever bit of composing and Kate does a great job expressing empathy for Cathy’s character. I could go on!


IN THIS IMAGE: The Yugoslavian vinyl cover for The Kick Inside

My parents did have a couple of other Kate Bush albums, but me being of that certain age I was more interested in the album covers…if ya catch my drift! My loss probably, but The Kick Inside remains a classic in my eyes, an album that shaped a lot of my musical taste during my teens and a staple on my current MP3 Walkman…even if the biro is now redundant, the nostalgia is not!

Those are impassioned words from someone who took a lot from Kate Bush’s debut cut. It is hard to believe the record is fort-years-old today! I remember discovering the record when I was about six or seven and hearing those incredible tones come from the speaker. I guess, like many, it was the sight of Kate Bush twirling in a white dress for the Wuthering Heights video that sticks in the mind!

I think it was her The Whole Story V.H.S. that was out around that time. It drew together her singles/videos and, as a boy; the sheer wonder and dizzying beauty of Bush’s music got to me. I listened to albums like The Red Shoes, Hounds of Love and The Dreaming when I was growing up: none made the same impression as The Kick Inside! The effect and magic of the album have only grown stronger over the years. I have lyrics tattooed on my arm – lyrics from Moving on my left; I am getting some from The Kick Inside on my right in a few weeks – and take huge wisdom from Kate Bush. Songs (on The Kick Inside) deal with love and realisation: they do it in a very different and exotic manner. Her phrasing, delivery and intonations elevate the words and provide them with an almost-spiritual mystique. There is nobody who performs and sings the same way as Kate Bush! She takes music and makes it her own; bending words and capturing feelings few of us can comprehend. Every song gets into my head and, each time I hear them, it provides something different. It is strange to think Kate Bush is almost sixty! I listen to The Kick Inside and hear this nineteen-year-old fly, explore and seduce: forty years later; the effect and impact the album has on the mind has not faded!


IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush performing on the Late Late Show in 1978/PHOTO CREDIT: Eve Holmes

Critics were not exactly universal in their praise of The Kick Inside. In 1978, when there was nobody out there like Kate Bush; people did not really know what to make of Bush! She was this unique soul in a music world that, even back then, preferred the conventional and commercial. The Punk movement was over – or changing, at least – and bands such as Blondie were riding on the crest of a wave. Some saw the young Kate Bush as a strange and unusual figure – how do we deal with someone so odd and unusual?! Maybe they thought she was a novelty singer; someone whose ‘charms’ would take years to win and gain popularity. Those who saw the potential, a lot of retrospective reviews were better-minded, knew the world was witnessing a future-legend take her first steps. One only needs to look at interviews from 1978/1979 (see below) to realise why Bush was adored and appreciated. She spoke as she sung: articulate, detailed and story-like; beautiful, cute yet strong. It was the steeliness and determination of Kate Bush that amazed many. She was a teenager at the time and many assumed she would not be around long - or else would have the record label dictating her every whim. The Kick Inside’s follow-up, Lionheart, was released in 1978 and was not as lauded as her debut – that need to get another album out sharpish meant Bush was rushed and had to work in a different style.

She gained more control, and got critics back on track, by 1982’s The Dreaming – that realisation she needed to have a say of her music means she has endured this long (Hounds of Love in 1985 was, actually, the first time Kate Bush fully took the reins!). If many claim Hounds of Love is her peak achievement: the reason I love The Kick Inside is because it was the debut. The album was penned and honed by the time Bush got into the studio. The teenager was writing songs at the family home and seeing her creations come to life on the piano. She would work with producers and other musicians on The Kick Inside but, unusually, there were no other writers! There are greater solo songwriters in today’s scene but, often, we feel Pop artists are happy enough to let others pen their songs and step aside. Kate Bush was never going to be someone passive and overly-collaborative. A bold, independent and free spirit – her music was an extension of that personality and expression of her spirit. Moving feature whale song; there are lines about motherhood, nature and meditation: not themes many artists were covering at the time! There is philosophy and truth throughout; gorgeous confessions of love and incredible maturity. It is hard to believe a song like The Man with the Child In His Eyes was written by someone as young as thirteen – it might have been twelve when the songwriter completed that song.


Wuthering Heights remains Bush’s most-famous and notable tracks. It is so unusual and rare: nothing else in music even comes close to equalling the sensuousness and allure of the track. Rather than deal in tropes and clichés: The Kick Inside looks at art and the natural world; literature and womanhood. Maybe that is a result of Bush’s teachings and family background – growing up around artistic parents; where subjects like feminism and literature were part of her upbringing. The Kick Inside is an album that, consciously or not, has compelled generations of songwriters – not only females in the industry! Whether it is the erotic, daring tones of Feel It and L'Amour Looks Something Like You; the flowing, freeing movements of Kite; the rush of James and the Cold Gun – there are so many different sides and personalities. I hear a lot of modern artist name-check Kate Bush and take guidance from her songwriting. She was, back in 1978, unconcerned with what was expected and warranted. She was never going to write simple songs and let anyone label her – perhaps that was part of the problem. The fact so many critics missed out back then has come back to bite them now: the legions of artists that source from The Kick Inside is staggering! Big names like PJ Harvey, Florence Welch and Madonna have, in some way, assimilated aspects of Kate Bush into their own music.

It was never only about the music with her, either. The looks and style; the documentation of the world and deeper issues; the iconography and incredible personality; the strength and fortitude from someone so young – all of this inspired artists and drove them to be different. The Kick Inside is my favourite album for a number of different reasons. It provides comfort and safety at moments when I need it most. I always learn from the record and, as I unearth fresh revelation; I become better-informed, wiser and more rounded. I feel I understand feminism more and open my mind to music that does not rigidly hang to rules – that which goes beyond and tackles the boring. The instrumentation and varied compositions (of The Kick Inside) get into the mind and provoke images. The songwriting is uniformly stunning and the visions, huge! I hear interviews of Kate Bush from 2011, when she is asked about her debut album and its creation – and whether she ever looks back on the songs at all. It is weird her talk about her music – she does not really listen to her music a lot – and realise it is the same young woman of 1978! Forty years is a long time in any case: in musical terms, there are few albums that remain that long and continue to inspire. I was going to make this piece a lot longer but, rather than bring in the facts and figures: a more personal and direct feature was in order. I will be listening to the album all day – and do quite a lot, obviously – but wanted to lay down some words and, hopefully, bring The Kick Inside the new audiences. We all wonder whether Kate Bush will release more material and perform again – she is that never-ending enigma and source of speculation! Whilst we ponder and look at her future: pick up a record that turned heads in 1978 and, forty years down the tracks; it remains a fountain of inspiration, the majestic and profound for some of music’s…


MOST imaginative minds.