Imagine the record company conversation.
Kate Bush: “Hello, I’m Kate Bush and I’m very young but I’d like to be taken seriously because I’ve written a song inspired by one of English Literature’s finest works.”
Record company executive: “Oh, you mean like The Reflections did in 1964 with (Just Like) Romeo & Juliet. Very catchy that one but didn’t mean a light in the UK.”
Kate Bush: “Not really.”
Executive: “More like Lionel Bart’s 1960 musical Oliver! then? I loved that one about “food, glorious food” – and all those Cockney kids looked so cute.”
Kate Bush: “No, it’s Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and it’s a single not a musical. And there are no kids involved. That’s later in the book.”
Executive: “Can you dance to it? Does it have a happy ending? Will it catch on like Mull of Kintyre by Wings – the biggest-selling single in UK history up to this point despite being as dull as a peat digger’s spade? Sing me the opening lines……”
Kate Bush: “Out on the wiley, windy moors, we’d roll and fall in green. You had a temper, like my jealousy. Too hot, too greedy. How could you leave me when I needed to possess you? I hated you, I loved you too.”
“Oh and I do this dance to it that makes Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks look like a cart horse.”
Executive: “Thanks. Excuse me, I’ve got to take this call from Brian and Michael who want to make a song about the artist LS Lowry called Matchstick Men and Matchstick Cats and Dogs. A certain chart topper that one. I’ll be in touch……….. honestly.”
First female to achieve No 1 with a self written song
Kate Bush released Wuthering Heights as her debut single in January 1978. It appears on her debut album The Kick Inside and, after a slow start it stayed at number one on the UK singles chart for four weeks, and remains her most successful single.
It also marked her out as the first female artist to achieve a UK number one with a self-written song.
Catherine Bush CBE was born on July 30, 1958, and started writing songs aged 11. She was raised as a Roman Catholic in the family farmhouse in East Wickham and benefited from growing up in with an artistic background. Her mother was an amateur traditional Irish dancer, her doctor father was an amateur pianist, brother Paddy worked as a musical instrument maker, and sibling John was a poet and photographer. Both brothers were involved in the local folk music scene.
Her family’s musical influence inspired Bush to teach herself the piano at the age of 11. She also played the organ in a barn behind her parents’ house and studied the violin. Songs soon followed.
She was signed to EMI Records as a child prodigy after Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour heard her work and helped produce a demo tape.
She wrote Wuthering Heights aged 18, within a few hours late at night in March 1977, having been inspired by the BBC adaptation of the 1847 novel starring Ian McShane and Angela Scoular. She then read the book and discovered that she shared her birthday with its author.
For the uninitiated, Wuthering Heights is sung from the perspective of the novel’s tragic heroine Catherine Earnshaw, pleading at the brooding Heathcliff’s window to be allowed in – or as the oft repeated chorus puts it, “Heathcliff, it’s me, Cathy, I’ve come home, I’m so cold, let me in in-a-your-window.”
Critic Simon Reynolds described it as “Gothic romance distilled into four-and-a-half minutes of gaseous rhapsody.” Not your typical Top of the Pops fodder then?
Bush recorded her distinctively high pitched vocal in a single take. The guitar solo is played by Ian Bairnson. Engineer Jon Kelly said he regretted not placing the solo louder in the mix. The production team, with Bush staking her claim at independence, began mixing at midnight and stayed until “five or six in the morning.” EMI originally chose another track, James and the Cold Gun, as the lead single, but Bush was determined to use Wuthering Heights.
The single was initially scheduled for November 4, 1977, but she was unhappy with the cover and insisted it be replaced. Some copies of the single had already been sent out to radio stations, but EMI relented and put back the single’s launch until the New Year. Good job too as the earlier release date would have had to compete with the aforementioned Mull of Kintyre.
Wuthering Heights was finally released on January 20, 1978, entering the Capital Radio chart at 39 on January 27. It crept into the national Top 50 in the week ending February 11 at 42.The following week it rose to 27, and Bush made her first appearance on Top of the Pops. The song was finally added to Radio One’s playlist the following week and became one of the most played records on radio
Two music videos were created to accompany the song’s promotion. In one version, Bush performs in a dark room filled with white mist while wearing a white dress; in the other, the singer dances in an outdoor environment while wearing a red dress.
Success wasn’t limited to the UK. The song also hit number one in Ireland and, for some reason, Italy. It reached the top ten in Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland, as well as the top twenty in Austria and West Germany. It was also successful in New Zealand, where it spent five weeks at number one and achieved platinum status, and Australia, where it stayed at the top of the charts for three consecutive weeks and achieved a gold status. It proved to be one of the biggest hits of 1978 in Denmark.
It was knocked off the UK top spot by Brian and Michael. As for the line “Cathy come home,” surely that’s another story (or song)?