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You know you’ve transcended to “legend” status when critics use your name as an adjective. These days, “Kate Bush-ian” is a shortcut descriptor (usually a lazy one — and one I’ve overused myself) thrown at any authoritative female singer-songwriter (Natasha Khan, Florence Welch) whose music harnesses an ethereal grandeur. And nobody deserves to be an adjective more than Kate Bush. This is an artist who never knew how to be anything but herself, and never bothered to try.

Raised in an idyllic English farmhouse, Bush grew up absorbing classic literature, along with her brothers’ folk and prog-rock records. It’s that combination of romance and bombast that fueled her early teenage songwriting, much of which wound up on her debut album, 1978′s The Kick Inside. Released in the immediate wake of punk’s brutal cultural assault, the album (and Bush’s career) seemed destined for a quick and painless death. This was the exact opposite of fashionable — an album that opened with 20 seconds of whale-song, an album laced with erotic fairy-tales and lushly orchestrated art-rock. But it worked — massively, in spite of the seemingly improbable odds.

“Wuthering Heights” was a ripe “fuck you” to everything deemed cool in popular music — and also a number one hit in the U.K. That subversion, ironically, makes it as punk as humanly possible. Thirty-five years later, it’s still a head-trip — an overly theatrical swoon built on Bush’s galloping, operatic alto, a galactic guitar solo, and frilly Emily Brontë references.

But Bush was more than an oddball novelty act, and she drove home that point by surrounding herself with the highest caliber of musicians. Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour was her early mentor, executive producing some of her songs and appearing on several subsequent albums. The credits on a Kate Bush LP often read like a “who’s who” in session players (folks like John Giblin, Steve Gadd, Larry Fast, and Morris Pert). One fact that’s often lost in the Kate Bush mythology is that she’s one hell of a piano player with an inventive approach to her instrument and an unparalleled feel. In many ways, Bush is the Great Little Sister of Prog-Rock, and it’s a title she wears proudly.

One of her most iconic vocals is on a song she didn’t even write: “Don’t Give Up,” an empowering gospel triumph from Peter Gabriel’s 1986 breakthrough, So. Bush plays the part of the angelic siren — pleading with Gabriel’s distraught protagonist to keep his head above water, her halo of a voice gliding over the groove. In the (cheesy and marvelous) music video for that track, Bush and Gabriel cradle each other against a static backdrop, trading vocal lines in consolation. Years later, the two have followed a stunningly similar career trajectory: producing their own work, recording at a snail’s pace, following their elusive artistic impulses.

Both seem to make music in a bubble — and in many ways, Bush has done exactly that. After 1993′s lukewarm The Red Shoes, she vanished from the public eye for over a decade. When she emerged again, with the 2005 double-LP Aerial, there were no startling interview revelations, no publicist-friendly narratives of isolation and redemption. She’d simply released new music — because she felt like it. Ultimately, nobody’s more “Kate Bush-ian” than Kate Bush.

It isn’t easy ranking Bush’s catalogue — a ten-album behemoth with a gradual, logical evolution. From prog to synth-pop to new-age, there’s very little she hasn’t attempted, though not a single second has felt forced or contrived. Inevitably, though, Bush’s best albums are the ones that challenge as well as transport, balancing the immediate with the abstract. Check out our list, then share your Director’s Cut in the comments section.

Start the Countdown here.

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Comments (63)
  1. No way! ‘The Dreaming’ is one of my all time favorites and ‘The Kick Inside’ is her best.

  2. No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No,No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No,No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No,No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No,No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No,No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No, No,

  3. This list is really terrible.

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  5. Putting The Sensual World above The Dreaming is a really roundabout way of saying that you’re boring.

    • For real “It’s a dark, heady, and decisively unromantic approach, layering Bush’s bizarre shrieks and moans over stark synth pads and drowned-out rhythms” HOW IS THIS A BAD THING

  6. The Dreaming is probably her best work, the most adventurous to say the least. This list is very, very, very strange indeed.

  7. What a screwed up list! Lionheart is probably my favorite. True, Sensual World is better than Red Shoes, but Aerial is probably better than both. In truth, all the early albums should come before Sensual World. I don’t care much what order you put them in, but first nonetheless.

  8. what the actual fuck???

  9. This is how Kate Bush works. Everybody has a different number one. The Sensual World is a wonderful album full of incredible moments. For me, although, it ranks only 5th in her catalogue. Just in fron of the Kick Inside, but short of Aerial, 50 Words For Snow, Hounds of Love and, undoubtedly the best, The Dreaming. The latter for experimental approach and innovations. This is the same as with Radiohead. Almost everybody says it is OK Computer, but, in fact, In Rainbows is the breakthrough one.
    And finally, I need to stress it strongly, I do not mind if anybody see Kate Bush ranks other way round. It is just her. The Queen.

  10. There is so much wrong with this list. I cannot even process the fact that The Red Shoes is higher than The Dreaming

  11. I think The Dreaming is La Bush’s best LP and one that bridges Pink Floyd/Japan studio slickness with a sound like The Flowers of Romance/Return of the Giant Slits….

  12. You know if you haven’t heard The Dreaming you can just say. Nobody will think less of you. Well nobody will think less of you than they do right now.

  13. The Dreaming at #1 for me. Maybe Hounds of Love, depending on how I’m feeling when I made the list. I wouldn’t count Director’s Cut because it’s technically not new material, although I LOVE the new version of This Woman’s Work. The Red Shoes is my least favorite album of hers.

  14. Saw that this list was posted and immediately thought, “as long as The Dreaming is at the top we’re all good.”
    So I guess I’m saying…what the hell is this???

  15. The dreaming should be higher, although not at number 1.

    Both aerial and 50 words should be higher, they’re both massively underappreciated and some of the best work she’s done.

  16. Feel that The Dreaming is way too low on this. Also Aerial is infuckingcredible and should be at least one spot higher. Also have to agree with the comments and say that it’s a hard sell to say that The Sensual World is better than Hounds of Love.

  17. Kate Bush is an all time great! My list is different, but I’m glad they made a list for her albums.

    Haven’t listened to: Aerial, 50 words for Snow, The Directors Cut
    Least Favorite to Most:
    7. Never For Ever (just don’t care for it much)
    Tie 5. The Red Shoes (Same as Sensual World, half good songs, half indifferent about. Check out the demo of “Why Should I love you” on youtube, one of her best songs.)
    Tie 5. The Sensual World (Like half the songs, the others indifferent about)
    4. The Kick Inside (a solid album)
    3. Lionheart (light, whimsical sounding but well written songs)
    2. The Dreaming (Most creative, not as focused as HOL, but a great album)
    1. Hounds of Love (all time classic, Top 10 personal favorite album)

  18. this is actually one of the worst best ofs i’ve seen on stereogum, in my opinion. i’d do this (coming from a lifelong kate fan):

    4- sensual world
    3- aerial
    2- 50 words for snow
    1- hounds of love

    also, in my opinion again of course, disc 2 of aerial is vastly superior.

  19. I know I’m like “calm down guys” when people freak out over other lists. But WTF? Is this a joke? The Dreaming second to last?

  20. yeah, this is certainly a queer list. and not in a good way.

    Hounds of Love at #2?!

    Director’s Cut and The Red Shoes over The Dreaming?!

    the shitty American Kick Inside album art instead of the glorious original art?

    seriously, I usually love reading these lists for a different perspective on a discography, but now it’s time for you to listen to The Dreaming again.

    YA BLEW IT

  21. Let’s get to that Iron Maiden list so the tantrums can really start. Stereogum will experience the most traffic it’s had in five years.

    • Pretty sure they’re holding that one in the queue as a doomsday scenario.

      • Tom “Alright, so everyone hated our Drake coverage and we’re hemorrhaging readers to Consequence of Sound, Noisey, and the Kinko’s online store, what do we do people? WHAT DO WE DO?”

        “A career retrospective of Oingo Boingo?” said Ryan.

        “Get Rich or Die Tryin’s ten year anniversary?” said an unamed Pelly.

        “10,000 words on why Sarah Mclaughlin was actually pretty good?” suggested Chris.

        Michael Nelson wordlessly walks over to a glass encased box labeled DO NOT BREAK UNLESS CREDIBILITY UNDERMINED. “May God have mercy on our souls,” he whispers and smashes the glass. The shrieking of a thousand winged beasts, the roar of the worst fiends of the pit, the howl of the wolf, the squeek of the marmoset, all coalesce into a maelstrom of sound and noise, and then quickly vanish, sucked back into the unholy abyss from whence it came.

        Michael reaches into the box, pulls out a thumbdrive, and drops it on the table before walking out of the room. The other Gummers gather around the still smoking drive. “Iron Maiden Albums From Worst To Best”.

        Tom puts his head in his hands and weeps. “What have we done oh lord?” he asks sobbingly. “WHAT. HAVE. WE. DONE.”

  22. Haven’t had time to read the list yet but here’s mine:

    1) Razorblade Suitcase
    2) Sixteen Stone
    3) Golden State
    4) The Science of Things
    5) The Sea of Memories

    Glad Stereogum finally did a Bush list!

    • woah woah who the fuck is Kate? #readingcomprehension #stayinschool #everythingzen

      • 1. woah

        incorrect spelling of whoa

        a: woah.
        b: you got the letters mixed up.
        c: yeah, forget sounding shit out.

        • Being a big fan of Mya’s “My Love is Like Whoa,” I know how to spell whoa. But as it was the second part of a two-part joke post (high concept, I know), I threw things like “woah” and unnecessary hashtags in the mix to really hammer it home. It’s very possible this wasn’t at all funny (you can’t be on 100% of the time, right?), but still, I didn’t really need your sage advice on spelling whoa.

        • Sarcastically, just doing my part to make the world a better place through proper spelling. Honestly, it’s just a major pet peeve. Like definately, which is incorrect – spell check even says so – but people insist on using it all the time. The English language is jacked up enough without bad spellers making it worse.

  23. I agree 1000% with all the posts favoring The Dreaming as her best work. “Leave It Open” is one of her best tracks ever.

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  25. Chris DeVille, between that Afghan Whigs piece and this Ryan Reed guy, things are really looking up for you all of a sudden.

  26. “Fans” crack me up.

  27. if I only could make a deal with God, I’d get him to swap Hounds Of Love’s and Sensual World’s places.

    • 1 – Hounds Of Love
      2 – The Dreaming
      3 – The Kick Inside
      4 – 50 Words For Snow
      5- The Sensual World
      6- Aerial
      7- Director’s Cut
      8- Never For Ever
      9- The Red Shoes
      10 – Lionheart

      Now seriously guys, can you please, please do one for Prince?

  28. I really love this website.
    But this list is horrible.
    The Dreaming is one of the best things I have ever heard.
    :(
    :( :( :(

  29. I guess everyone will have a different top ten, but there is simply no way you can have The Dreaming that low. Night of the Swallow alone would put that record in the top three. Also please use the correct album art for The Kick Inside!

    The only way you can have The Dreaming that low is if you don’t have ears.

  30. The Dreaming belongs up there at the Top 3, if not #1

    1. The Dreaming
    2. The Kick Inside
    3. Hounds Of Love

    4. Never For Ever
    5. Aerial
    6. Lionheart
    7. 50 Words For Snow

    8. The Sensual World
    9. Director’s Cut
    10. The Red Shoes

  31. I wish I had the ability to block certain material from this site. This is the most ridiculous list I have seen in my life. Way to go, you just shat on one of the best discographies.

  32. The Dreaming is definitely number One. Hounds of Love second. For the rest I don’t care what you do. Those two albums changed the world of music forever. At least from a musicians point of view. She broke and changed a whole set of rules there. I don’t think there is another female artist that dared to follow up on her.

  33. That list is so terrible, I don’t even know where to start….
    So I just wont.

  34. Director’s Cut should be left off this ranking.
    The Red Shoes should be placed 9th and last.

    For the rest, there’s plenty of arguments to put every one of the other eight albums on top of the list.
    So, I don’t think your list is that wrong ..

  35. Prettty much everyone in their right mind considers hounds of love, the dreaming, and the kick inside to be the three most quintessential Kate Bush albums.

  36. Every rational person agrees that Kate Bush is a musical genius — and such a good force in the world — so thanks for bringing that much more attention to all of her work, Stereogum!

    That being said, take a look at these comments from all of us die-hard Kate Bush fanatics and one thing is glaringly clear: The Dreaming should not be ranked as the second to last as a “worst” album!! The Dreaming is sheer and unadulterated genius! One of the greatest albums every recorded. (You guys almost need to print a public apology and a correction for missing this ;-) )

  37. I’d personally go with
    1. Hounds of Love, 2. The Dreaming, 3. The Sensual World, 4. Aerial, 5. The Kick Inside, 6. Never For Ever, 7. 50 Words For Snow, 8. Lionheart, 9. Red Shoes

  38. Guys

    Lists are subjective

    Calm your shit

  39. terrible list! seriously! how come the sensual world is #1 and hounds of love isn’t…or aerial or the dreaming…

  40. What a joke, The Sensual World clearly is not her best album. These lists are usually pretty well thought out reflecting many different opinions and I often struggle to find fault with them, but this seems as if the list was selected at random. Bizarre. Oh, and in case anyone’s asking (which you aren’t)…
    1 – hounds of love, 2 – the kick inside, 3 – the dreaming, 4 – lion heart, 5 – the sensual world, 6 – never for ever, 7 – the red shoes, 8 – aerial, 9 – 50 words for snow, 10 – directors cut

  41. Either one could be first place:

    1a) Hounds of Love
    1b) The Dreaming

    3) Never for Ever (Such an odd and catchy album. The cover is the best of hers also.)
    4) Lionheart (I’ve always found this album to be more capturing than The Kick Inside and it has better singles like “Wow” and “Hammer Horror”.)
    5) The Sensual World (“This Woman’s Work” is my favourite Kate Bush song.)
    6) 50 Words for Snow (It’s like I’m listening to a winter story book.)
    7) The Kick Inside (I only ever really play “Wuthering Heights”.)

    8) Aerial (Could have been one album worth of material. “The Coral Room” is one of her best songs though.)
    9) The Red Shoes (Her only album that sounds dated and that track with Prince makes me cringe.)

  42. Excellent list. Really the only change I would make is swapping Lionheart and Kick Inside. Even if you prefer Lionheart, you must give KI another chance!

    Now Stereogum’s list, that is a travesty…

  43. Kate Bush is one of the VERY FEW individuals I would call an artist. (A horribly over used word these days.) I feel that every one of her albums has something worthy of that tittle – even Aerial, which I have to admit is my least favourite. The Hounds of Love is her masterpiece. But I honestly believe to have created it she had to produce The Dreaming first. They are flip sides of the same coin. My vote, therefore, for her best album, then, would have to be a tie: The Dreaming / The Hounds of Love. As for her other albums… depends on the day. Now about those remasters we keep hearing about…..

  44. How much crack has this writer smoked!!?? The Dreaming is BY FAR her best album, Hounds of Love and Never For Ever coming after. The Sensual World and Red Shoes? You can’t possibly be serious.

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