Madness as music is The Dreaming by Kate Bush. Later, she’d talk about the record in terms of the audience reaction, telling an interviewer that people regarded it as her ‘she’s gone mad’ album. Kate Bush is everything to so many people, but all we really know of her, the actual artist, is the stories she tells through her songs, and the interviews she gives that give very little away. Somewhere, in certain collective fan brains, she’s forever that interpretive dancer singing songs about Heathcliff and Cathy, the weird witch of British pop. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. But the idea of Kate Bush as a strange British eccentric artist also blunts what should be a reputation as a cutting edge creator, someone who told stories in ways that had never been done in music beforehand. Her power, her abilities, and vision all came together in what I’ll always regard as her best album. Is it her most important album? Possibly. It occupies a position in the context of Kate’s career that can’t ever be understated.
Simply put, The Dreaming walked so Hounds of Love could run.
I’d always known about Kate Bush. My sisters were ravers and they turned our living room into weekend raves so loud the social workers were called in to check it out. One of the songs they played on loop was Something Good by Utah Saints. Kate’s voice, warped into the beat, immediately got my notice. It was compulsively catchy and though I had no idea what she was singing, I copied anyway, humming along without a care. The sample came from Cloudbusting, one of the highlights of Hounds of Love. I didn’t know that, at first. I think The Chart Show probably told me. All I needed was that start, and I worked from there, looking for ways to get more Kate Bush into my CD player. The library was the easiest, cheapest way of making that happen. They had Kate Bush’s greatest hits collection, but the CD itself was so scratched, it was almost impossible to enjoy.
Eventually, with one of my first pay packets, I bought a double album box set from HMV. The Kick Inside and Lionheart, packaged together, gave me more Kate Bush songs than I’d ever had before, and I threw myself at them. Oh God, I listened to those songs for months. My attention span barely allowed albums to last more than a few days before I was onto the next cool thing. Kate Bush never had that problem for me. For me, Lionheart was the better album of the two. The way she melded whimsy and horror, especially in Hammer Horror and Coffee Homeground, immediately made me fall in love forever.
Then came The Dreaming.
I bought it for a fiver in the sale, choosing it over other CDs because the cover caught my eye – that and I only had a fiver to spend. The photograph showed Kate leaning forward to kiss someone (later I’d learn it was Houdini) with a key on her tongue. I love cover artwork that has a story to tell. Later that night, I listened in the dark, hoping to have an experience. Oh, I did. But not quite what I expected. This album was…
Well, it was fucking weird.
What the hell? I thought. Not only was the album full of character-based songwriting, but the delivery…the actual vocal was in character too. Each song had a different voice, including Kate’s diabolic attempt at Cockney for There Goes A Tenner, a single that probably did more to undermine sales of The Dreaming than any of the others. Retelling the story of a flop bank heist, it ends in a jaunty singalong about the police won’t let the robber see her solicitor.
Effect laden performances made every track a disorienting experience for a first-time listener. The drums sounded like thunder in a glass jar, each lick an echoing, powerful burst. My ears went into overload. Entire worlds were created in my head, built by Kate’s music. Suspended In Gaffa is a beautiful, pensive pop song about something you can never have again after you’ve experienced it once. I think. Honestly, some of the writing is so oblique that you could probably superimpose your own meaning. Houdini, the second last track on the album, has an origin in real life. Houdini’s wife apparently tried to contact him after he died, but when she reached him, she came to realise it was a trick. The cover art ties in with the themes in the song. Apparently, Houdini would have his wife pass the key during their pre-show kiss. That way, he’d escape and no-one would know how he managed it.
This always worked – until it didn’t and he drowned.
The towering moment of The Dreaming, the song that most connected to me, was Get Out Of My House. Over the years I’ve read stories that the song was inspired by The Shining. I can understand that. After all, the song talks of an evil house, which speaks in a demonic voice. The Shining has an evil hotel that places Jack Torrance under a baleful influence. But there’s also something deeply personal about the song. A stuttering voice singing about keeping the house clean, refusing to let anyone in…could also be taken as a comment about sexual assault. Rosie Boycott suggested that the house in the song is ‘a human as a house’, which also makes sense. It has to be the most quietly disturbing song I’ve ever heard. Later, when I’d listened to Waking The Witch on Hounds of Love, it occurred to me that Kate couldn’t have made that without Get Out Of My House. Somehow, it feels like a sonic prototype. The song finishes with the protagonist morphing into a donkey to escape the feeling of being trapped/the abuser/the house/something else. Kate literally brays like a donkey. She’s very convincing.
That is how The Dreaming ends. Braying, shrieking, and demonic stuttering stay caught in your tympanic membrane even as the song fades out. Deeply odd stuff. I vowed never to listen to it again.
Thankfully, I changed my mind.
Each listen brings new life to the songs. I’m always finding bits to love more than I did the first time. Get Out Of My House is now my favourite song on The Dreaming, which is one of my essential must have albums. Kate Bush made it possible for me to appreciate the avant in pop. Nothing in music can phase me anymore, because nothing will ever be as immediately confounding as a woman morphing into a donkey mid-song on an album brimming with voices, each of them belonging to the same brilliant artist.