Kate brought about 120 songs to Powell’s attention; there just seemed to be an endless supply of them which needed to be filtered through a selection process. The song chosen to start off The Kick Inside is Moving, a beautiful tribute to the expressive, releasing power of dancing. The “moving stranger” in the song is a reference to Lindsay Kemp, Bush’s early dance teacher who also taught David Bowie. The line “you crush the lily in my soul” may sound negative, but is meant to illustrate how teaching her to dance has empowered her. Kate once stated in an interview that Moving was one of her personal favourites from her debut with the other being the title track. The Saxophone Song and The Man With the Child in His Eyes are both recordings from her 1975 demo, also produced by Powell, and both remain fan favourites today. The Saxophone Song is told from the perspective of a woman in a bar who is seduced as she watches a performer being taken over by his instrument and the feelings this performance stir in her. The Man With the Child in his Eyes is generally thought to be a song written about her young sweetheart, Steve Blacknell, who in an interview said he’s still got the handwritten lyrics dedicated to him.
Moving and The Man With the Child In his Eyes are not the only songs that relate to going-ons in Kate’s life. Feel It clearly seems to be a song about sex; “feel your warm hand walking around, I won’t pull away” and may relate to a young girl’s awakening sexuality. Strange Phenomena, although lyrically somewhat cryptic, is supposedly about menstruation. Them Heavy People is an ode to the people who have expanded her horizons, her brothers likely among them; “they open doorways that I thought were shut for good, they read me Gurdjieff and Jesu“. George Ivanovich Gurdjieff was an Armenic mystic whose teachings seem to have been important to Kate and her friends in this period.
Still, some songs very clearly come from external sources of inspiration. One of the most beautiful songs on the album, the title track The Kick Inside, is about the ending of an incestuous love relationship between two siblings; a suicide note from the pregnant sister to her brother moments before she kills herself.
“This kicking here inside makes me leave you behind
No more under the quilt to keep you warm
Your sister I was born – You must lose me like an arrow
Shot into the killer storm”
“This kicking here inside” refers to the pregnancy while “no more under the quilt to keep you warm” likely refers to the sexual nature of their relationship. As previously stated, Kate herself has claimed The Kick Inside to be one of her favourite songs from her debut. Despite it’s controversial lyrics, the song was also one of Powell’s favourites. In an interview, he said “as I’m mixing it the lyric just hit home to me. It got to me, it was so powerful. I found it quite an emotional song to listen to and to work on”.
The star of the record, at least commercially speaking, is undoubtedly Wuthering Heights. Kate Bush’s most famous song was not inspired by Emily Bronte’s classic book by the same name, but a televised drama version which she caught the last ten minutes of. The song does an excellent job at showcasing Kate’s extraordinairy voice and, with the supernatural theme of love pulling someone back from the grave to come back to haunt their beloved, it all becomes a powerful mixture. The song, along with the video where Kate pretends to be Cathy’s ghost, arms outstretched and reaching for her lover Heathcliffe, became tremendously famous and Kate became the first female artist to have a #1 UK pop single. Kate later had to read the book just to make sure her research was right!
Kate had a lot of good help on this record from many prog rock veterans brought in by Powell. Although she has affection for the album, she has also expressed some dissatisfaction with the lack of control over the record, feeling that the final product is not just an expression of her vision, but also part that of her producer (a “problem” she will later fix). However, the album is entirely remarkable. I personally think Powell did a perfect job; the album is clearly about Kate, her piano, her remarkable voice and the stories she tells with her songs. On beautiful pieces like L’Amour Looks Something Like You or The Man With the Child in his Eyes, Kate is clearly the center of attention. The other musicians in the mix mainly serve to give the songs a little extra depth and lift it just a little, but they do not overpower it, just as it should be. Kate’s songs are catchy enough to instantly connect, but varied enough for lasting appeal. Although her songs may lack a little punch, they have a lot of soothing, comfortable beauty and the details are marvellous, for example the backing vocals she does on Kite or the outro guitar solo on Wuthering Heights. To me, listening to it is a thoroughly delicious experience and medicine for the soul.
Bush has also criticized her debut for being “airy fairy”, but why shouldn’t it be? Truth is she probably was a bit airy fairy at the time these songs were written and part of the beauty of the album is that it captures some of the essence of Kate at that time in her life when she was, despite some sexual themes, a more innocent person. Related to this and somewhat refreshing is also her attitude towards men. They are clearly subjects of interest to her and she does not have the sometimes clichèd (if justified) cynical attitude towards them. Instead, they are objects of desire (The Saxophone Song, The Man With the Child in his Eyes, Feel It). The lyrics are smart, well written and often touching, and the way she expresses them through her voice is occasionally breathtaking. Compared to later albums, her voice here is a little lighter and, in my opinion, more appealing. Kate was a smoker for much of her career which may not have been a good musical influence.
Finally, it is not just the imaginations of a young girl beautifully recorded in sound, but so very Kate Bush. She is entirely unique. If you gave a 17 year old girl a record deal and a chance to record her own songs, if she could approach the quality of The Kick Inside, that itself would be remarkable. But we will never see another Kate Bush and Kate herself was only as innocent and pure on this one record. For this reason, and on the strength of the songs of which there is not a single filler, it is my favourite debut record ever recorded. In my opinion, it is also the perfect place to start for anyone who have not yet checked out her discography. Pure brilliance. Check it out!