FEATURE: Symphony in Blue: Why Radio Stations Need to Look Past Kate Bush’s Hits and Dig Deeper



Symphony in Blue

IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush/PHOTO CREDIT: Gerard Mankowitz 

Why Radio Stations Need to Look Past Kate Bush’s Hits and Dig Deeper


THIS feature applies to other artists…

 PHOTO CREDIT: Chris Walter - WireImage/Getty Images

but it is especially true of Kate Bush! One does her music on the radio from time to time and, whilst it is really nice when a song of hers is played, you do tend to find the same ones feature. I listen to BBC Radio 6 Music most of the time and, when they play a Kate Bush track, it is usually from Hounds of Love. There is no problem with that! The album turns thirty-four on 16th September and it is the critical darling. The songs the station play tend to be the bigger hits from the first side – Hounds of Love, Cloudbusting and Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God). They are well-known songs, and all defined by a certain energy. They are successful and recognisable, but I wonder why tracks such as The Big Sky (on the first side) and tracks from The Ninth Wave (the conceptual, second side of the album) are not played more. Maybe getting away from the album altogether is a better idea because, like many stations, there is a reliance on it. Stations are pretty broad regarding legends such as David Bowie, The Beatles and Joni Mitchell but, when it comes to Kate Bush, there is a certain fear. Sure, Wuthering Heights and The Man with the Child in His Eyes (The Kick Inside); you’ll hear Wow (Lionheart) now and then; maybe Babooshka and Army Dreamers (Never for Ever); perhaps This Woman’s Work (The Sensual World) will come up. Bush has released ten studio albums – her last/most-recent, 50 Words for Snow, in 2011 – and there is plenty of great material on each record!

I do think every iconic and inspirational artist deserves having as many of their songs played on radio as possible. Whilst it not possible to play every single track from Kate Bush – not all her tracks will go down a storm -, I do wonder why radio stations tend to focus their energies on particular albums/songs. Even from The Kick Inside (her 1978 debut), there are songs that do not get aired often – including Moving and Room for the Life. Lionheart opens with the majestic Symphony in Blue and contains the stunning Kashka from Baghdad. Delius (Song of Summer), The Wedding List and The Infant Kiss from Never for Ever do not get a showing. The Dreaming is a divisive album but, unlike most artists, the tracks are at least interesting and original! It seems radio gravitates towards hits and so, in the case of The Dreaming, we never hear Leave It Open, Night of the Swallow or Houdini played – a song, I contest, that is one of her very best! Though Hounds of Love is well represented – a little too much so in the case of some stations! -, the second side does not get the same love as the hits-packed first half. Life post-Hounds of Love is not exactly fruitful in terms of airplay! The Sensual World turns thirty on 16th October and it seems like the perfect excuse for stations to dust off the record and play some of its tracks - one doubts whether that will happen!

Even though albums like The Sensual World and 1993’s The Red Shoes divide people, both contain some incredible songs – I especially think The Sensual World is underrated and gets some unfair stick. Moments of Pleasure and Rubberband Girl are great tracks we should hear more of and, when you cast forward to 2005’s Aerial and 2011’s 50 Words for Snow, between them, there are tracks that have not been played on the radio…but they definitely have legs! Kate Bush is that classic albums artist that, like The Beatles and other acts who cannot be reduced to singles, sees only a selection of her songs played. She will not be too bothered herself. She has said in interviews how she does not listen to her old stuff and rarely hears her music on the radio. So many of us consume music through streaming and that creates its own issues. Those unfamiliar with Kate Bush’s catalogue will play the most-played tracks from Spotify – including Hounds of Love and Wuthering Heights – and might not necessarily delve any further. So many of us are guided by radio and, if they only play a small selection of her tracks, how many of us are going to spend some time with her albums as a whole?! There are articles like this that rank her songs and order her singles but, again, there are notable omissions when it comes to radio playlists!

I am not the only one who has noticed a ‘preference’ when it comes to Kate Bush’s songs: when I post (online) why stations focus heavily on certain tracks, it does garner reaction. Bush’s albums are so rich with variation, emotion and story; so many tracks that buckle the knees are, sadly, reserved for those who know where to look or have her albums. Any Kate Bush airtime is wonderful – one must not grumble! – but, by playing the same tracks, it suggests they are the only ones worth hearing. It is something I have noticed across the big BBC stations and so many of the big players. Maybe independent stations are more adventurous and wide-ranging, but they are an exception. In fact, even when we think of huge artists like The Beatles and Bob Dylan, are their albums opened up and played? I understand radio stations are in a hard position: they need to play what is popular (i.e., a hit) and they might not necessary be au fait with an artist to make suggestions that deviate from the well-trodden path. Maybe there is a wider issue where stations are a little skeptical about playing album tracks, in case people turn their noses. Sure, if we hear a song like Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God), it resonates and makes us feel happier, but there is something a little depressing hearing the same songs played over and over.   

As the world awaits an eleventh studio album from Bush – there are no plans; but let’s hope something comes next year, perhaps -, it would be a welcomed treat hearing more of Bush’s music featured on the radio (in terms of variation and breaking from the norm). I was hooked on Bush’s music very young and explored her albums from then on but, as I said, as so many of us are using streaming services rather than buying music; do we just skim through albums or play songs we are more familiar with? Kate Bush’s lyrics are so revered and extraordinary; her voice and music are unique…so many great songs are not seeing the light of day. I keep saying how something is better than nothing; it would be worse if no Kate Bush music was played (rather than just singles and bigger hits) and, in fact, stations like BBC Radio 6 plays Kate Bush pretty regularly. Every year, we celebrate her album anniversaries and laud a songwriting genius. Only a small percentage of her tracks get played on the radio, and I do hope that changes soon. There is no real expert knowledge needed: Bush is a surprisingly engaging artist and there are few of her songs that lack appeal – maybe some of the longer numbers from 50 Words for Snow would be naturally excluded. I will end things here but, going forward, I would make a plea to radio stations to be bolder when it comes to Kate Bush. Sure, play the hits but also consider tracks such as Houdini, Symphony in Blue and Mrs. Bartolozzi (from Aerial); maybe a blast of The Big Sky or Get Out of My House (The Dreaming). When you do immerse yourself into Kate Bush’s vivid and eclectic world, you’ll find that waiting for you are some truly…

FANTASTIC revelations.