A Rough Guide To Kate Bush Collaborations
Zohra Atash and I pull out all the pins
At the risk of sounding like a covid check-in email from your favorite brand, there’s not a lot to find joy in these days. So the angels can be forgiven for hurling hosannas from the sky at the news of the rapper Big Boi even hinting at a Kate Bush collaboration. Big Boi (the member of Outkast that dressed more like he was in Helmet as opposed to his partner Andre 3000’s sartorial preference for The Spiders From Mars) has always been vocal in his appreciation of the Faerie Queen of Art Rock, going so far as citing The Dreaming as his favorite record. (I know “Faerie Queen” is an exceptionally lazy descriptor of Bush. More on that later.) But even with the buildup of two decades of Big Boi name checking her in interviews, the news of a potential team up was the best Kate Bush News the world has received since Bush clarified that, despite having a kind word for Theresa May and literally living in a castle, she is not, in fact, a Tory.
A collaboration between Big Boi and Kate Bush is counterintuitive only to those who have the most facile/reductionist view of either artist. Outkast, in the 14 years that they were a going concern, were a duo making some of the most left field and visionary music to reach the pop charts and Kate Bush, despite her ethereal reputation, has always been a downright gritty (in both the elemental and earthy sense) lyricist. Bush and Big Boi share pop sensibilities informed by avant inclinations and fearless ambition. It’s only our knowledge of how genres are ghettoized by industry and fans alike, and our deep feelings and expectations for life’s potential disappointments and missed opportunities, that keep us from casually saying “it was just a matter of time.”
As the collaboration has yet to be released, I won’t bother theorizing what may be. Instead, I’ll let my joy in the possibilities of what may come inspire an appreciation of past Kate Bush collaborations. My partner Zohra Atash has been a Kate Bush devotee since she was a child. And she approaches her listening to all music with forensic delight. Growing up first-generation Afghan in the south, with record collecting and mix tape making two the few parentally sanctioned pleasures allowed, Zohra came up under a mosaic of sounds, with little patience or knowledge of music industry/social dynamic mandated genre borders. So when Stankonia came out in 2000, she immediately heard the Kate Bush influence. Even when her peers acted like her observation was like seeing Jesus on a piece of toast. She therefore shares my delight at this glimmer of much needed good news and has agreed to help me with this week’s Abundant Living; a rough guide to notable Kate Bush team-ups. For those curious about the division of labor; all the basic info and musical/historical insights are Zohra. All the jerky asides and digressions are yours truly. Thanks to Z for co-writing this with me and thank YOU for reading. Let’s begin the begin!
Kate Bush’s duets with Peter Gabriel are justifiably adored. The (almost) oppressively gorgeous “Don’t Give Up” (on 1986’s So) is, despite originally written with Dolly Parton in mind, the sound of two best friends, at their respective artistic peaks, feeling out the transcendental limits of secular music. It sounds real nice at the end of high school mix tapes as well.
On Peter Gabriel’s third solo album (titled Peter Gabriel. Or “Melt” to fans and streaming services), Kate Bush sings on two songs; “No Self Control” and “Games Without Frontiers.” Amidst the album’s long marimba lines, Phil Collins’ first use of gated drums, and the ever present choogling, swooning Fairlight, a casual listener might mistake her contributions to “just” backing vocals. In reality, Bush’s single note backing on “No Self Control” is as important to the rhythm as Collins’ transition from murmured heartbeat, in the first half of the song, to its Bonham-In-Sun-Studios reverberating cacophony at the songs end. Throughout, Bush’s voice works as both streaming ley line and punctuating stone-henge. Her echoing of “no self control” makes the song, as much as Gabriel’s nasal self-denunciations. On “Games Without Frontiers,” Gabriel wanted a French children’s choir but, as with “Don’t Give Up,” his second choice was the correct one. She sings “Jeux sans frontières” (not “she’s so popular”) as cryptically angelic as anything from the Old Testament. While a children’s chorus would have undoubtedly been lovely, it’s a song that calls for dread more than unknowing innocence.
As he would on his fourth (also self-titled) album, Peter Gabriel would simultaneously release a version of Melt with every song sung in German. Bush’s vocals remained in English. But, again, she’s not a Tory!
In the current popular imagination, Kate Bush is often seen as an archetypal Good Witch. It’s never meant as a diminishment but still the perception does just that. Rather than taking Bush as a hardworking if brilliant songwriter in the tradition of Peter Gabriel and Pink Floyd, her genius is sometimes written as though she’s an otherworldly sprite, born in a half-shell and channelling spirits. As though record charts simply allowed for the occasional seance in those wild 1980s. Fact is, Kate Bush was (at least in the UK) a pop star and industry mainstay. This misconception isn’t entirely gendered, people often forget that Marc Bolan at one point had a pretty cheesy variety show, but, well, it’s not exactly not gendered either.
(It shall be noted here that, while she was a superstar in the UK, it was the English press/industry that also contributed the lion’s share to the dehumanizing and skewed perception of Bush. At the start of her career, a regretted photoshoot of her in a leotard, nipples apparent, was plastered on the side of busses. It was the American alternative press that appreciated The Dreaming and it was the English press, with its infamous tendency towards arbitrary backlash, that ran her down in the ‘90s. While Bush isn't blameless, it was the English press that, through the lens of their own faulty memories, perpetuated the whole New Age and burning sage narrative. Not to mention the idea that she was born of immaculate conception, entirely divorced from a larger musical lineage. Again, even if meant as praise, to act as though she wasn’t influenced by Bowie or that “Running Up That Hill” wasn’t directly influenced by Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” takes away from Bush’s craft and, yeah, humanity. In its current wreckage, it’s easy to forget how incredibly toxic the UK music press used to be.)
(Also. Lest anyone think Zohra and I are Anglophobes, the surviving UK press is considerably better now. At least the independent press is. Donate to The Quietus!)
Anyway. *clears throat* Moving on.
The first Comic Relief, the now long standing charity comedy show (initially formed to benefit Ethiopians during the famine of ‘83-85 that also inspired Live Aid), aired on BBC on April 4, 1986. Performers included Stephen Fry (who would later provide spoken word on 2011’s 50 Words For Snow), a number of presumably famous English people I’ve never heard of, and a duet between our supposedly otherworldly and druidic heroine and… Mr. Bean.
On “Do Bears…,” Rowan Atkinson, pre-Bean but in the midst of Black Adder superstardom, plays the part of a fading, sleazy American lounge singer, bedazzled dinner jacket and all. Bush, in decade-appropriate shoulder pads, enters the stage to thunderous applause. She joins Atkinson in a romantic ballad that’s humor hinges on Atkinson’s character’s delusions, Bush’s character as a put-upon gold digger, and a number of swears that are almost uttered by the beloved English personages. Bush gives a comic performance that can best be described as “sporting.” The Kate Bush Encyclopedia calls the skit “amusing.” The Kate Bush Encyclopedia ain’t wrong!
David Gilmour, the most famous ex-member of Pink Floyd who hasn’t been either institutionalized or developed a morally astute but nonetheless somewhat-suspect-because-he’s-English-and-those-motherfuckers-are-weird fixation on Israel, produced the first Kate Bush demo and played on a couple official releases (from backing vocals on The Dreaming’s “Pull Out the Pin” to some extremely late-era Floyd guitar on The Sensual World’s “Love and Anger”). His live 1987 performance with Bush of “Running Up That Hill” has been widely shared and for good reason. It’s a particularly scorching performance of what is already arguably Bush at her most epic/heavy. (There’s a reason Placebo covered it!) (And Big Boi called it “good to pedal to”!) But in our household, where Kate Bush live clips are the subject of rich debate, we’re equally fond of Kate Bush’s live guest appearance on one of Pink Floyd’s best known songs; her taking on the Roger Waters vocals on “Comfortably Numb.” It’s a sentimental choice, the performance in 2002 would be Bush’s last for over a decade, but also an aesthetic one. The recording is bootleg quality. Bush reigns in her normally acrobatic delivery in favor of a subtle, albeit ominous, Leonard Cohen-esque Sprechgesang. She’s the tension. Gilmour is the release. Her performance breaks through both the sound quality and the listener’s perhaps over-familiarity with the classic rock radio staple.
Gilmour and Bush also collaborated with English folk musician Roy Harper on his 1980 solo album, The Unknown Soldier. “You,” the track all three appear on, is bombastic bordering on hard rock. I think it’s fucking grand but you, again depending on your threshhold for late era Floyd, may disagree.
(At the risk of jumping all over the place, Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush did a beautiful version of Roy Harper’s “Another Day” on a 1979 Christmas special. Like we keep telling you: part of a deep musical community, not averse to performing on Christmas specials, not a literal elf.)
Musical collaboration doesn’t have to be just between musicians. Kate Bush has written a number of songs specifically for film and we can count her taking a director’s vision into her process for this essay. This ain’t a MOJO listicle. We can do what we want! “This Woman’s Work” is a highlight of The Sensual World, but it first appeared a year before that album, on the soundtrack to the 1988 John Hughes movie She’s Having a Baby. The film spelled the end of Hughes’ financial and critical hot streak but the Bush song is a classic. Maxwell would cover it in 2001. His version is great, but not so great that it wouldn’t be improved by it being the soundtrack to Alec Baldwin nonsensically playing the less attractive best friend.
Kate Bush’s collaboration with composer Michael Kamen, a rendition of Ary Barroso's 1939 song “Aquarela Do Brasil,” was recorded for Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. It wasn’t included in the movie and was only added to the soundtrack on represses. Still, our overview shouldn’t suffer because of the poor judgement of producers of ‘80s dystopian art-house films.
Bush wrote a song for the 2000 Disney flick Dinosaur. The producers asked her to change it. She refused. The movie grossed $350,000,000 and there’s not a soul on earth that gives a shit about a single moment of it. I don’t know if this counts as collaboration as I literally looked up the movie’s director thirty seconds ago and already forgot their name and I’m not reopening the tab. Kate Bush’s unreleased song for the movie, “Out of The Storm,” is perfectly solid.
The song is so perfectly solid in fact that, seven years later, she would tack “Out of The Storm” on to the beginning of “Lyra,” the theme song to the otherwise generally sucktastic movie version of Phillip Pullman’s The Golden Compass. Sometimes collaboration is composed of unequal parts. (I originally had a joke about using dinosaur bones as fuel but I looked it up and apparently that’s not where fossil fuel comes from. Oh well.)
Elton John sang on “Snowed In On Wheeler Street,” off of 50 Words For Snow. It rules. John sounds better than he had in years. As with the familiarity of “Comfortably Numb,” it can be easy to take icons like Elton John for granted so it’s nice to be reminded of the wicked charisma he can command when engaging with strong material. Dude even does a Temple of The Doggy howl at the end!
Kate Bush also does a cover of “Rocket Man.” It’s good, though the lite reggae guitar lick is a tad wacky.
As a side note, Kate Bush’s collaboration with Larry Adler on Gershwin’s “The Man I Love” is Bush’s most “American” vocal performance besides her version of Elton John doing his English version of American vocals. The “Special Relationship” between the UK and The Colonies never stops paying dividends in layers.
It’s not controversial to point out that 1993’s The Red Shoes is Kate Bush’s least loved album. It’s an overtly commercial move. It’s got decidedly unhip guests (Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck) (admittedly along with the return of the extremely hip Trio Bulgarka). It was recorded digitally, which Bush herself came to regret. I like it OK in theory as I’m partial to glossy failures (See: Bad Religion’s Into the Unknown) but I can’t say I’ve ever given it more than a cursory sit-down. Listening to it again for this essay, I can say that my opinion of Eric Clapton is *cough* unchanged.
That being said… PRINCE! He contributed “Why Should I Love You.” Rather than a seamless mix of these two geniuses, it sounds like a pretty good Prince song with Kate Bush singing. Which makes it better than 93% of humanity’s recorded output. The snare hit/keyboard swell at the 1:47 mark screams “PRINCE!” Which is neat. But the song is still pretty comparatively minor for the two artists. (Bush is rumored to be less than enamored with the version of “Why Should I Love You” that appeared on the album. A demo of her original appeared online a few years back.)
Far more interesting, even if only in part for how thrillingly dated it is, is Kate Bush’s contribution to “The Artist Formerly Known As Prince”’s 1996 album, emancipation. “My Computer,” the 9th track ON THE ALBUM’S THIRD DISC, starts and ends with an AOL sample announcing “you’ve got mail.” Bush only provides backing vocals and she, on account of her fear of flying, recorded them at her own UK studio. But she sounds fully integrated. Like Prince and Bush’s previous collaboration, it’s a pretty slight track. But the two combined voices mixed into all the song’s infectiously silly burbles make it a fun keeper. Also extremely fun is taking the song in the context of Bush’s other examination of online life, “Deeper Understanding” (her first btw foray with Trio Bulgarka). With consideration of the Why Should I Love You’s novel samples and the My Computer’s vocoded computer persona, it’s difficult not to love how Kate Bush seems to see computers as though she were a character in a HG Wells novel. We can only mourn the fact that she has no songs about flying cars.
Paul McCartney w/Boy George, Keren Woodward, Nick Kamen, Paul King, Mark King (Level 42), Jaki Graham, Taffy, Mark Knopfler, Andy Bell, Pepsi & Shirlie, Mel & Kim, Gary Moore, Kim Wilde, Nik Kershaw, Edwin Starr, Ben Volpierre-Pierrot (Curiosity Killed The Cat), Ruby Turner
A single of “Let It Be” was recorded in 1987 as a benefit for families of deceased and survivors of the Zeebrugge Ferry Disaster. A veritable Who’s(?) Who(????) of England’s pop infrastructure was gathered for a saccharine rendition of the Beatles standard. While not as bad as the recent all-star mangling of “Imagine,” and despite the good cause, this still stinks. The video is of some historical interest solely for Boy George committing braid-touching micro-aggressions upon the singer standing in front of him.
To keep things posi, it will be noted that Kate Bush’s solo version of “Long and Winding Road” is perfectly lovely.
Finally, we would be anti-love and anti-family to omit Kate Bush’s various duets with her son, Albert “Bertie” McIntosh. A wee (uncredited) Bertie can be heard, on 2005’s Aerial, adorably murmuring “mommy, daddy, the day is full of birds, sounds like they’re saying words…” on “Prelude” and “goodnight, mum” at the end of “Somewhere In Between.” In the 2018 reissue of that album, an adult McIntosh (the son of Bush and guitarist Danny McIntosh) reportedly redid the spoken word parts of Rolf Harris (who, in 2014, was convicted of sexually assaulting four underage girls). In between, Bush’s boy played the part of a snowflake in the song of the same name on 50 Words for Snow. McIntosh also performed in Bush’s 2014 comeback performances, Before the Dawn, and the subsequent live album. It’s all extremely sweet. Except the Rolf Harris part. Obviously.
Is there a common thread running through Kate Bush’s collaborations? Yeah. They were her friends, families, and peers. Her equals, her social and celebrity-level milieu. People whose souls she admired and/but not unreasonably so. Also, synths. We make so much of art that sometimes I think we want to kill it just so it can be preserved in amber and discovered by some other race of jerks who can’t stand to touch it.
Finally, FINALLY: not strictly speaking a collaboration by any stretch, but the poet Louise Gluck has a poem from 2001 called “The Sensual World.” In its conjuring of memories of mothers and grandmothers (“I was not prepared: I stood in my grandmother’s kitchen, holding out my glass. Stewed plums, stewed apricots– the juice poured off into the glass of ice. And the water added, patiently, in small increments”), it presages the lyrics to Bush’s “A Coral Room” (“My mother and her little brown jug/It held her milk/ And now it holds our memories”). Perhaps/certainly entirely unrelated. But in an essay about Kate Bush, even after long passages kicking against misapprehensions of her gossamer persona, it seems wrong to deny the possibility of some external, connective magic.