Retrospective Review of "The Kick Inside" by Kate Bush
Convergence of Mind, Emotion, and Body
Forty years ago this week, Kate Bush released the album that would make her the first woman in UK history to chart with a song she herself had written. But what made this hugely influential album so different than the standard pop fare of the day?
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The Kick Inside
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Convergence of Mind, Emotion, and Body
A retrospective review of Kate Bush's "The Kick Inside"
This is a transcript of Ep. 20 of the What's This Album About? podcast
Welcome to What’s This Album About?—the podcast that dives deep into lyrics. I’m Bobby Waller, and this episode is our second experiment in covering a classic album. Normally, we cover new albums on this show. But back in December, we discovered it was the fiftieth anniversary of the debut album of one of the music industry’s most celebrated lyrical geniuses, Leonard Cohen. And so we just had to commemorate it. This time around, we’re commemorating a 40th anniversary by analyzing the lyrics of another of groundbreaking debut album—Kate Bush’s The Kick Inside.
Like Lorde, whose album Melodrama we reviewed just a few months ago, Kate Bush was a teenager whose debut album seemed to come from nowhere and wowed the world with its incredibly precocious songwriting. Bush was nineteen when The Kick Inside was released—thirteen when its earliest songs were written--and critics were stunned that such a young songwriter could pen such breathtakingly original work.
The song we’re hearing right now is “Them Heavy People,” and I’m playing it because it’s the song that gave me the hook I needed to talk about the lyrics of this album. The “heavy people” referred to in the song’s title are not physically heavy people; they’re people with heavy thoughts. More specifically, they’re the authors and other teachers whose ideas have influenced Bush’s own thinking. Here’s the one line in particular that caught my attention.
♪ They open doorways that I thought were shut for good
They read me Gurdjieff and Jesu
The Gurdjieff she refers to in this line is George Gurdjieff, early twentieth century writer and spiritual teacher who advocated the development of full human potential through the harmonious integration of mind, emotion, and body. Interestingly, Bush mentions all three of these components of human being in this song. There’s mind in this line:
♪ They arrived at an inconvenient time
I was hiding in a room in my mind
She says she was hiding in a room in her mind when “them heavy people” arrived and helped her achieve a mental breakthrough. And then there’s body and emotion in this line:
♪ They build up my body, break me emotionally
It's nearly killing me, but what a lovely feeling!”
It occurred to me, as I revisited “Them Heavy People,” that the integration of mind, emotion, and body is a theme that runs not only through this song but also through the entire album and arguably throughout Bush’s entire career.
So let’s look at these three components of human being—mind, emotion, and body—as they appear on The Kick Inside, beginning with mind.
The Kick Inside stands out as the product of an inquisitive mind. It’s full of the kind of cultural and literary references that are generally considered too cerebral for pop music but Bush refuses to back away from. This is album’s title track. It’s called “The Kick Inside” because it’s sung from the perspective of a young woman who has become pregnant with her brother’s child and can now feel the baby kicking inside her womb. The premise for the song came from an English murder ballad that appeared in an anthology of late nineteenth century English and Scottish folk songs collected by Harvard English professor, Francis James Child. Think of it! In 1978, when this album was released, the most audible female voices in the recording industry were singing lyrics like this…
♪ Get down, boogie oogie oogie
♪ Dancin’ to the beat, feel the heat, I’m movin’ my feet
…songs written by men about inane dancing experiences. By contrast, Kate Bush was writing her own songs based on the works of great intellects like Georges Gurdjieff, Francis James Child, and, most notably, Emily Bronte.
This is “Wuthering Heights.” It’s based on mid-nineteenth-century author Emily Bronte’s novel of the same name and focuses on a moment when the main character, Heathcliff, looks through a window into the darkness of night and sees his wife’s ghost who entices him to join her. This idea of a portal between life and death was so captivating to Bush’s mind that she insisted on “Wuthering Heights” being the album’s lead single. And her instinct paid off because “Wuthering Heights,” despite its heady origins, reached the #3 position on the British pop charts, making Bush the first woman in English history to chart with a song she herself had written.
So that was mind. Now let’s look at emotion.
Emotion is ubiquitous on The Kick Inside. I actually took the time to count and discovered that nine of its thirteen tracks include the word “feel” or “feeling” in the lyrics. What’s more, every track is overtly passionate to the core.
Take this song, for example. This is the album’s second single, “The Man With the Child in His Eyes.” In it, Bush sings about her affection for her lover, a man whose innocence remains unravished by the usual cynicism of adulthood. Just for fun. Let’s compare it to 1978’s highest charting song sung by a woman about her affection for a man.
This is Debbie Boone’s “You Light Up My Life,” which is #3 on Billboard’s list of Hot 100 Singles of 1978. It was written by a man, songwriter Joseph Brooks, in the voice of a woman who waited a long time for a man to come into her life and imbue it with meaning. That set-up alone is bound to place restrictions on how genuine the emotion of this song can feel, but listen to sound itself.
The pace is slow, but the beat is extremely steady—more deliberate than felt. Boone’s singing is in lock step with the pulse of the instruments, and her enunciation is extremely precise—almost mechanical. For contrast, let’s re-listen to “The Man With the Child In His Eyes.”
Compared to Debbie Boone, Kate Bush sounds like an opera singer. Her range is broader, and the overall feel is more theatrical. Rather than hitting the beats with mechanical precision, she moves her voice around the beats, according to the feeling of the moment. The result is an album that is full of emotional urgency from start to finish.
Okay, so, where are we? We’ve been looking at the three components of human being according to George Gurdjieff, an author who strongly influenced Kate Bush. We covered mind and emotion and now, last but not least, is body.
The concerns of the body are all over The Kick Inside. Bush was remarkably unashamed of physicality, as we can hear in this song, “Feel It,” which is a joyous exaltation of sex.
♪ Here comes one and one makes one
The glorious union. Well, it could be love,
Or it could be just lust, but it will be fun
It will be wonderful
Bush’s lyrics are overtly sexual here, but they’re very different than the overtly sexual lyrics we hear in “Boogie Oogie Oogie.” They’re her own words—not words written by a man—and so they come across as more frank than licentious.
There’s also the song “Room For The Life” and it’s a song about women’s reproductive capabilities. In it, Bush urges women to be unbothered by the way men sometimes belittle women and to take heart in the fact that women are the well from which all of human life springs.
♪ There’s room for a life in your womb, woman
Inside of you can be two, woman
There’s room for a life in your womb, woman
For Bush, women’s physicality is not merely for the pleasure of men; it’s a necessity for all humanity. There’s a message of women’s empowerment here that was not often found in pop music of its day and which, happily or sadly, is just as politically poignant in 2018 as it was in 1978.
Finally, I’d like to round off this look at the physicality of The Kick Inside with this song.
This is a song called “Moving,” and it’s an homage to Bush’s dance instructor, the legendary Lindsey Kemp, who also taught David Bowie. The word moving is being used here as a double entendre. On the one hand, Bush is alluding drawing our attention to the fact that Kemp taught her how to move her body. On the other hand, she is saying that she finds him emotionally moving as well.
And that, I think, is the implicit point that underpins the entire album. The mental, the emotional and the physical are not supposed to be separate. They’re supposed to be intertwined. “Them Heavy People” is about intellectual predecessors, but it’s also about feelings of gratitude. “Feel It” is about both the physical and the emotional feelings associated with sex. Because for George Gurdjieff, and for his fan, Kate Bush, cultivating all three of these aspects of human being is what makes us the most complete versions of ourselves that we can be.
That’s it for this episode of What’s This Album About? If you like what we do, take a moment to review us on iTunes. It’ll help people like you find podcasts like ours. Join us next time when we review Brandi Carlisle’s brand new album, By the Way, I Forgive You.
Until then, I’m Bobby Waller, reminding you to stay balanced—and to keep your ears open because the more you listen, the more you love.