In 1982 Kate Bush released the album The Dreaming. An album that’s either heavily praised or heartily hated, with the same reason: the album is eccentric, extreme, experimental and provocative. Any way you look at it, The Dreaming is a unique and underrated piece of art by the English genius.
The first Kate Bush story on this blog was about the beautiful Aerial dating from 2005. That story details Kate Bush’s career, so please read that in the article Kate Bush makes her comeback with the beautiful Aerial.
In 1979 the first version of the Fairlight CMI was available on the market. In England Peter Gabriel was the first one that started using the digital synthesizer and sampler. The first album he used it on was his third solo album (known as Melt) released in 1980, which featured Kate Bush’s background vocals on Games Without Frontiers. Gabriel also experimented with the so-called ‘gated reverb’, which resulted in a huge drum sound. That sound would also feature on songs like Phil Collins’ In The Air Tonight and turn into a key element of much of the 1980’s productions. Kate Bush was inspired by both elements. On September 7, 1980, she released her third album Never For Ever, introducing the Fairlight CMI in her music. And she produced the album, with the assistance of John Kelly.
In a short period of time Kate Bush was introduced to the Fairlight CMI, ‘gated reverb’ and self-production. Those introductions were pivotal and directional for her development as an artist and her music.
When Kate Bush witnessed Stevie Wonder play live at Wembley Arena by the end of September 1980, she got to work on an existing tune and reshaped it into Sat In Your Lap, which was released as a single on June 21, 1981. Sat In Your Lap sounds different to anything else Kate Bush had released up to that point: all new influences immediately started melting together. The song’s sound announced the album that would eventually be created: rhythm and voice are the decisive instruments. Bush uses her voice in a new way: maniacal, whispering, darker to a background of a relentlessly pounding beat. The Fairlight CMI is given ample room here, the drums sound grand indeed and the song was produced by Bush. Despite the deviating and alien sound the song was a hit in England.
On September 13, 1982, over a year after the Sat In Your Lap single, Kate bush finally releases her fourth album: The Dreaming. The album comes as a shock to many. Gone is the Kate Bush of singles like Wuthering Heights, The Man With The Child In His Eyes, Babooshka and Army Dreamers, which sounded like Kate Bush, but never before did she sound this experimental, free and fearless.
The opening song, Sat In Your Lap, was already familiar, and fits very well within the context of the album and is indicative of the general mood. In There Goes A Tenner Bush tells the tale of a planned robbery that goes awry, musically supported by a waltz, alternated with the grand ‘gated reverb’ drums. An impressive song.
Pull Out The Pin is the direct result of watching a documentary about the Vietnam war.
The Americans were these big, fat, pink, smelly things who the Vietnamese could smell coming for miles because of the tobacco and cologne. It was devastating, because you got the impression that the Americans were so heavy and awkward, and the Vietnamese were so beautiful and all getting wiped out. They wore a little silver Buddha on a chain around their neck and when they went into action they’d pop it into their mouth, so if they died they’d have Buddha on their lips. I wanted to write a song that could somehow convey the whole thing, so we set it in the jungle and had helicopters, crickets and little Balinese frogs.
Kate Bush, ZigZag, 1982
Bush’s plan is executed to perfection, in fact so well that American reviewers in particular were offended by this song, because of its simplism. Nonsense of course, the phrase I Love Life!! that’s being yelled/screamed was as much Vietnamese as it was American. Too painful to realize probably, but true nonetheless. An extremely impressive song, where war, the will to live and seeing things through another person’s eyes come together in one of the many highlights on this album.
Next up another highlight: Suspended In Gaffa. The will to finally see God mixed with the reality that will never ever come true. No Fairlight this time, but with the recognizable vocal acrobatics. Beautiful.
Leave It Open is best illustrated by the end of the song, where Bush repeats the phrase “We let the weirdness in”. Bush learned to sing the text backwards, record it that way and play it backwards, making the original text recognizable. The alienating effect works like a charm and provides the song with another experimental element.
David Lynch would use the effect of the reversed text in his masterpiece, the television series Twin Peaks, that started broadcasting 8 years after The Dreaming. Kate Bush was miles and miles ahead of her time.
The second side of the LP starts off with the sixth song, the album’s namesake, The Dreaming. Bush uses her voice in several ways, to a background of didgeridoo, exorcising drums, goat sounds and bemoaning the fate of the Aboriginals, the original occupants of Australia. An impressive feat and a challenging production, that Bush effortlessly brings to a successful conclusion.
From Australia to Ireland: Night Of The Swallow. Irish folk instruments, grand drums and a beautiful, emotional interpretation by Bush, who assumes the role of the man and the woman in the story. The man is a smuggler and the woman doesn’t want him to go away, only enhancing the man’s desire to go. The next All The Love aligns with the preceding song, especially atmospherically speaking. The song is about loneliness and the consequences of deep sorrow. It ends with a musical coda and voices of various people leaving ‘goodbye’, ‘see ya’ or another form of message on Kate Bush’s answering machine (at that time a novelty). Fits the mood of the song.
Houdini details a part of the Houdini story, from the perspective of Bess Houdini, magician Harry Houdini’s wife. The cover of the album depicts the couple, showing Kate Bush with a key in her mouth as she is about to pass it on with a kiss. Prior to his death they had agreed on a code, to enable Bess to contact her husband after his death by organizing séances. In the song, the code is spoken by Bush’s partner Del Palmer: Rosabel, believe!. For the first 10 years following the untimely death of Houdini, Bess actually held séances on Halloween, to communicate with her husband, using the code to prove it was really him.
The album is closed with Get Out Of My House, which was inspired by the Stephen King novel The Shining. The song is genuinely frightening. Kate Bush gives her all vocally, leading up to playing a role as a donkey, yelling/screaming “Hee-haw!” as the ultimate attempt of expelling the evil that has entered her house. Over the course of the song Bush sounds scared, assured and furious. An amazing journey in 5 minutes and 25 seconds. Essential listening!
The reactions in the press were mixed. Kate Bush wasn’t just ahead of her time by years, but by decades. Many simply didn’t know how to handle all those new noises, the production, the voices and the rhythms. Reactions varied from “very weird. She’s obviously trying to become less commercial” to “initially it is bewildering and not a little preposterous, but try to hang on through the twisted overkill and the historic fits and there’s much reward” and from “the revelation is the dense, demanding music” to “Quaint, admirable, unclassified, Kate Bush goes her own sweet way… production hard to fault… ranges from the ethereal to the frankly unlistenable”.
Kate Bush on The Dreaming
So, what did Kate Bush herself have to say about her album?
In fact, as soon as the songs began to be written, I knew that the album was going to be quite different.
Kate Bush, Poppix (UK), summer 1982
I think [The Dreaming] is about trying to cope… to get through all the shit. I think it was positive: showing how certain people approach all these negative things – war, crime, etc. I don’t think I’m actually an aggressive person, but I can be. But I release that energy in work. I think it’s wrong to get angry. If people get angry, it kind of freaks everybody out and they can’t concentrate on what they’re doing.
Kate Bush, NME, 1983
My first production. A really difficult album to make. People thought I’d gone mad, the album wasn’t warmly received by critics. People told me it was a commercial disaster but it reached number three so that’s their problem.
Kate Bush, Tracks, November 1989
I look back at that record and it seems mad. I heard it about three years ago and couldn’t believe it. There’s a lot of anger in it. There’s a lot of ‘I’m an artist, right!’ (Stuart Maconie, ‘Booze, Fags, Blokes And Me’.
Kate Bush, Q, December 1993
The Dreaming is met with either praise or loathing. This album seems to hold no middle ground. Also, it’s oftentimes named as the reason why people either love or hate Kate Bush and her music in general. The sheer number of different styles, the busy arrangements and the vocals going in all directions is intense and requires a lot from the listener.
I full heartedly belong to the first camp, I love this album, ever since my eldest sister (and Bush fan) bought the album at the time. The music was so different, strange and free. It’s an intimate album as well, as Bush sounds like she’s being her own self and is unabashed in her ideas and fantasies. I’m convinced that the freedom she experienced must have felt liberating. Realizing that Kate Bush was only 23 years old at the time, is almost incomprehensible. If anyone can be that musical and original at such an age, it can only mean they belong to the greatest of the greatest.
Many state that the successor Hounds Of Love wouldn’t have existed without The Dreaming, devaluing The Dreaming to nothing more than a finger exercise for that other masterpiece. The Dreaming is seriously sold short by this statement. It’s a full-fledged album by a freed artist who eventually does everything she wants and can, which is a lot, a staggering lot.
The Dreaming brought an entirely new world to every music lover. Even after all these years, the album still sounds modern and ahead of its time.
And, please follow the tip on the album: “This album was made to be played loud”!
The album spawned no less than 5 singles:
- Sat In Your Lap
(released on June 21, 1981)
- The Dreaming
(released on July 26, 1982)
- There Goes A Tenner
(released on November 2, 1982, in the UK and Ireland)
- Suspended In Gaffa
(released on November 2, 1982, in Europe and Australia)
- Night Of The Swallow
(released on November 21, 1983, in Ireland)
All songs written by Kate Bush.
- Sat In Your Lap
- There Goes A Tenner
- Pull Out The Pin
- Suspended In Gaffa
- Leave It Open
- The Dreaming
- Night Of The Swallow
- All The Love
- Get Out Of My House
All arrangements by Kate Bush, except the pipe and string arrangements on Night Of The Swallow by Bill Whelan and the string arrangements on Houdini by Dave Lawson and Andrew Powell. Production by Kate Bush.
- Kate Bush – vocals, piano, Fairlight CMI synthesizer (on Sat In Your Lap, There Goes A Tenner, Leave It Open, The Dreaming, Night Of The Swallow, All The Love, Houdini, Get Out Of My House), Yamaha CS-80 (on There Goes A Tenner), strings (on Suspended In Gaffa)
- Paddy Bush – bamboo sticks (on Sat In Your Lap), mandolins and strings (on Suspended In Gaffa), bullroarer (on The Dreaming)
- Geoff Downes – Fairlight CMI trumpet section (on Sat In Your Lap)
- Jimmy Bain – bass (on Sat In Your Lap, Leave It Open, Get Out Of My House)
- Del Palmer – bass (on There Goes A Tenner, Suspended In Gaffa, All The Love), fretless and 8 string bass (on Night Of The Swallow)
- Preston Heyman – drums (on Sat In Your Lap, Pull Out The Pin, Leave It Open, Get Out Of My House), bamboo sticks (on Sat In Your Lap)
- Stuart Elliott – drums (on There Goes A Tenner, Suspended In Gaffa, The Dreaming, Night Of The Swallow, All The Love, Houdini), bamboo sticks (on Suspended In Gaffa), percussion (on All The Love)
- Dave Lawson – Synclavier (on There Goes A Tenner, Suspended In Gaffa)
- Brian Bath – electric guitar (on Pull Out The Pin)
- Danny Thompson – string bass (on Pull Out The Pin)
- Ian Bairnson – acoustic guitar (on Leave It Open)
- Alan Murphy – electric guitar (on Leave It Open, Get Out Of My House)
- Rolf Harris – didgeridoo (on The Dreaming)
- Liam O’Flynn – penny whistle and uilleann pipes (on Night Of The Swallow)
- Seán Keane – violin (on Night Of The Swallow)
- Dónal Lunny – bouzouki (on Night Of The Swallow)
- Eberhard Weber – double bass (on Houdini)
- Paddy Bush – background vocals (on Sat In Your Lap, The Dreaming, Get Out Of My House)
- Ian Bairnson, Stewart Arnold en Gary Hurst – background vocals (on Sat In Your Lap)
- David Gilmour – background vocals (on Pull Out The Pin)
- Percy Edwards – animals (on The Dreaming)
- Gosfield Goers – crowd (on The Dreaming)
- Richard Thornton – choirboy (on All The Love)
- Gordon Farrell – “Houdini” (on Houdini)
- Del Palmer – “Rosabel Believe” (on Houdini)
- Paul Hardiman – “Eeyore” (on Get Out Of My House)
- Esmail Sheikh – drum talk (on Get Out Of My House)
Nowadays, The Dreaming is generally regarded as the masterpiece that is truly is, but more importantly, it’s hailed as one of the favorite albums of all time by many musicians, like Björk, Big Boi and Steven Wilson.
Following the release of The Dreaming Kate Bush moved to the country side and built her own studio and started recording sessions for her new album, which would be released in 1985. EMI still wasn’t sure if Bush should produce her next album, but Bush would never relinquish that control ever again.
What’s your take on The Dreaming? Let me know!
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: Kate Bush demanded total freedom and releases The Dreaming. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.