Reflections on Kate Bush: “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)”

“Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” is my favorite song.  Thanks to its inclusion during Season Four of Stranger Things, this international hit from 37 years ago that only went to No. 30 in 1985 is now in the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100, in addition to reaching higher peaks around the world.

These last two weeks have felt like watching a well-kept secret suddenly become common knowledge, and it’s been amazing.  I’ve never been one of those music fans who takes any pleasure in being “in the know.” When I think something is good, I don’t feel like it’s been taken away from me when it goes mainstream, crosses over, or whatever other popularity label is being used as a pejorative.  I’m thrilled that Kane Brown sells out arenas. I did backflips of joy when Jason Isbell won his Grammys. I’d love to see Tami Neilson top the country airplay chart.  And I’m overjoyed that people are discovering Kate Bush in general, and this song in particular.

Pop music is too often spoken in deficit terms, a misrepresentation used most often by fans of genres like country, rock, and hip-hop.  Pop music is an artform in its own right, harder to master than those three genres, but equally – no, exceedingly – worthy of celebration when it’s done really well.

“Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” is as brilliant as pop music gets.  The relentless percussion mimics a heartbeat, while the lyric fantasizes about what Bush considers to be nirvana: fully empathizing with your partner and being able to understand things from their point of view: “If I only could, I’d make a deal with God, and I’d get Him to swap our places.”

Bush pairs the mechanical, programmed sound of her Fairlight with a humane and vulnerably exposed vocal, so that the coldness of the distance between the two partners is contrasted with the intimate warmth of her heartfelt plea: “Is there so much hate for the ones we love? Tell me we both matter, don’t we?”

I stumbled upon Bush by accident. I was watching another BBC music documentary on YouTube, and the one on Kate Bush autoplayed afterward. I’ve never been so grateful for how easy it is to lose the Roku remote in a blanket.  By the time I located it, I’d seen the opening to the astonishingly weird “Wuthering Heights” music video from 1978 that was shown 15 seconds in, and I was mesmerized. I ended up watching the whole documentary:

This was in January 2019, and I’m not going to pose and pretend that I got her right away.  The next morning at work, I showed some of the clips to my co-workers and we laughed at how strange they were.  “Running Up That Hill” was barely on my radar at that point.  It was “Wuthering Heights,” “Them Heavy People,” “Babooshka,” and “Wow” that I showed them, and we laughed at this weird lady from across the pond.

About a week later, her name came up again, and we all sheepishly asked and then admitted we’d been listening to her ever since, and it was no longer a joke.  Next thing I knew, I’d ordered both of her box sets and owned her entire catalog.  Slowly over time, it became “Running Up That Hill” and its parent album, Hounds of Love, that became my obsession.   By late 2021, “Running Up That Hill” was my most played song by any artist.

I’ve read some things online about her hardcore fans being annoyed that all these people are into Kate Bush now, or at least into this particular song.  For me, it feels miraculous, something I never would’ve predicted could possibly happen.  But I understand to an extent how the democratization of the internet and streaming have eliminated a certain thing that used to be really cool about being a music expert: having cool, unknown things in your collection that you get to share with friends and family. (And readers, in my case.)  That’s all but disappeared these days, and I can understand how it makes some people feel a little less special.

I don’t want to be special. I want everyone to discover how awesome Kate Bush is, I want “Running Up That Hill” to keep running up the charts, and I’ve got my fingers crossed that this revival will get Bush her long overdue induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  She’s been nominated three times, including each of the last two years.  This should put her over the top.

So yeah, fam.  Go all in on Kate Bush.  She’s not country at all.  She might seem to subversive to be mainstream pop.  But the lady’s a genius.  I’ve put together a playlist of some of her best tracks below.  Just be aware that Hounds of Love‘s Side B, The Ninth Wave, must be listened to as a whole piece, so I haven’t included it.

And in the comments, share some of your own hidden gems – past or present, country or not – that you’d love to see more music fans discover.

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