The Kick Inside
43:13 min • EMI • February 17th, 1978
Kate Bush was signed to EMI records at the age of sixteen on the advice of Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour. She was given three years and a considerable advance to develop her talents. The result was the groundbreaking debut album The Kick Inside, released in February 1978.
The Kick Inside is a lyrically and musically raw debut and it is powered by talent and innocence. It opens with whale song that progresses to piano and vocals, and is then followed by the band. The album is about the experience of becoming a woman written by a teenager who is going through the process of discovering exactly what that means to her. It is liberated and liberating because it is approached with a wide-innocence that equates to maturity. The singer has not begun to see through a glass darkly, in other words, and so provides instruction on what age can learn from youth. The result is not restrained by convention.
The opening track, ‘Moving’, propels the listener straight into this strange, brave new world. And it is a strange world for the medium of pop that recalls the early sonic adventures of Bowie. It is no wonder that Kate Bush was interpreted as ‘kooky’ in the British press. EMI’s marketing department, unsure of how to sell this unconventional package, decided to push her as a sex symbol. No-one knew what to do with her. An unconventional man is far easier to handle than an unconventional woman.
‘Moving’ is a song about inspiration and love that glides into ‘Saxophone song’, which is about how music can inspire and encapsulate what it means to be in love. This is followed by two tracks about menstruation, which are also about being part of the universe. ‘Kite’ provides the inspiration for the album artwork: “There’s a hole in the sky with a big eyeball calling me.” I am not going to pretend to understand what this means. It’s either the all-seeing eye that puts her period pains into an eternal perspective, or she is off her head as a result of the pain or the medication. Imagine what the British tabloid press, not known for its intellectual credentials, made of this. “‘Ere, she’s barkin’ this one.”
‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes’, the second single, was written when Kate was thirteen, and is very much about coming of age physically and emotionally. Its sparse piano and string based composition (with the odd flute thrown in) lifts it out of time and place. This is followed by the song that started it all, the first single, ‘Wuthering Heights’.
When ‘Wuthering Heights’ reached number one in the UK charts it was the first time that a track written and performed by a woman had reached number one. There is, I would wager, no other moment in pop quite like Kate repeating “Wuthering, Wuthering, Wuthering”. And if you’ve seen the video it is almost impossible to stop yourself from circling one arm around your head thrice, as if in some kind of magical incantation. If you’ve not seen the video go watch it on YouTube: [watch]. With ‘Wuthering Heights’, one of the high points of English literature meets one of the high points in English pop.
It was the more conventional first track on the second side, ‘James and the Cold Gun’, that the record label wanted to release as the first single. (This is an interesting mark of a long-gone era in which albums were conceived in a two-sided format. Interestingly this division is what Kate aimed to recreate with the two-disc 2005 album Aerial.) It was Kate who insisted that ‘Wuthering Heights’ was the right choice. It was only by chance that an EMI executive joined the meeting in which she laid this out and congratulated her on the album. He went to on to suggest ‘Wuthering Heights’ as the first single.
The Kick Inside was released near the end of a decade that had seen the Women’s Liberation movement undergo significant changes and advances. The expression of sexual desire was a battleground within feminism. The anti-pornography brigade talked about sexual desire as if it belonged to a man’s world, sometimes implicitly and sometimes, no pun intended, explicitly. It would not be until the 1980s that the ‘sex-positive’ feminists, at least among the academic circles, would emerge. An artist like Kate Bush was however far ahead of them.
The songs ‘Feel It’, ‘Oh To Be In Love,’ ‘L’Amour Looks Something Like You’, ‘Room For The Life’ and ‘The Kick Inside’ are decidedly sexual in their content. There are a few ‘ewggh’ moments, such as the lyrics “with that feeling of sticky love inside” from ‘L’Amour Looks Something Like You.’ ‘The Kick Inside’ is about an incestuous pregnancy. Yikes! What must brothers Paddy and John have thought? The songs do not hold back and Kate grabs onto what sexual desire and sexual fulfilment mean to her as a woman.
The sound on The Kick Inside is that of a live band, which fits the emotionally raw lyrical content, and it is unlike her later experimentation with the influential Fairlight CMI on The Dreaming and Hounds of Love. It was followed later that same year by Lionheart in a case of a studio pushing a successful artist into producing a fast follow-up. This pushed Kate to take control of the publishing of her music, which allowed her to follow her own unconventional path and embark on a remarkable career. She is in the world of pop music a true sui generis. And this remarkable album is where it all began.