On the day I graduated from high school in June 1985, if you had asked me who Kate Bush was, I wouldn’t have had any friggin’ idea. Thankfully, that all changed a few months later when I heard “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” (from her brilliant 1985 album, HOUNDS OF LOVE).
By 1985, England’s Kate Bush had been releasing music since 1978, when, at the age of 19, her first album, THE KICK INSIDE, went Platinum and her first single, “Wuthering Heights,” spent four weeks at No. 1 in the U.K. (Kate was the first female recording artist to reach No. 1 on the U.K. singles chart with a self-written song).
“Wuthering Heights” was based on the last 10 minutes of the 1967 BBC miniseries, which was based on the 1847 novel by Emily Brontë (who Kate Bush shares a birthday with – July 30th). Kate was discovered by Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour in the mid-70s, when she was just 16, and helped her record her demo tapes (and paid for them). EMI Records suggested Kate wait until she was 19 to release her first album, and the wait proved to be a smart move. Though not a success here in America (she sadly never really was), THE KICK INSIDE and “Wuthering Heights” were both huge global hits. Even Pat Benatar covered “Wuthering Heights” on her second album, 1980’s CRIMES OF PASSION.
Fast forward to September 1985, and 27-year-old Kate Bush had released her fifth album, the masterpiece HOUNDS OF LOVE. The acclaim for the album was almost universal, and here in the U.S., it became her highest-charting album, reaching No. 30 on BILLBOARD’s album chart. The original ROLLING STONE review for HOUNDS OF LOVE wasn’t impressive (“There’s no arguing that Bush is extraordinarily talented, but as with Jonathan Richman, rock’s other eternal kid, her vision will seem silly to those who believe children should be seen and not heard.” Ouch on both accounts; both Kate and Jonathan are awesome!!). However, THE ROLLING STONE ALBUM GUIDE later reversed that review, giving HOUNDS OF LOVE four out of five stars.
The first single from HOUNDS OF LOVE, “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God),” was released in early August 1985, more than a month before the album was released. EMI was reluctant to release a single with the use of “God” in the title, and wanted to release another song from the album, “Cloudbusting,” as the first single.
EMI (and others along the way) misinterpreted the lyrics to the song, and why Kate named it the way she did. As she explained in a 1992 interview, “I was trying to say that, really, a man and a woman can’t understand each other because we are a man and a woman. And if we could actually swap each other’s roles, if we could actually be in each other’s place for a while, I think we’d both be very surprised! [she laughs]
“And I think it would lead to a greater understanding. And really the only way I could think it could be done was either… you know, I thought a deal with the devil, you know. And I thought, ‘well, no, why not a deal with God!’ You know, because in a way it’s so much more powerful the whole idea of asking God to make a deal with you. You see, for me it is still called ‘Deal With God,’ that was its title. But we were told that if we kept this title that it would not be played in any of the religious countries, Italy wouldn’t play it, France wouldn’t play it, and Australia wouldn’t play it! Ireland wouldn’t play it, and that generally we might get it blacked purely because it had God in the title.”
But, Kate was persistent and persuaded the suits at EMI to release “Running Up That Hill” as the first single, since it was the first song written for the album. So, there was a compromise – on HOUNDS OF LOVE, the song’s title is listed in full as “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God),” and the single is just listed as “Running Up That Hill.”
The response in Kate’s U.K. homeland for “Running Up That Hill” was positive and immediate, and it debuted all the way up at No. 9 on the U.K. singles chart, on its way to a No. 3 peak, her second-highest charting U.K. hit, and her biggest U.K. hit released during the 80s.
“Running Up That Hill” was a global success as well, reaching the Top 10 in Australia, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Ireland and Switzerland, the Top 20 in Canada, and the Top 30 in Austria, France and New Zealand.
Over here in the U.S., “Running Up That Hill” debuted on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 in early September 1985 at No. 95, and on this date in 1985 (10.19), it was still climbing the Hot 100. It reached the Top 40 two months after its Hot 100 debut, on its way to a No. 30 peak (like parent album, HOUNDS OF LOVE) in late November 1985, and would stay on the chart until mid-January 1986. It stayed on the Hot 100 for a total of 20 weeks, which is a longer chart stay than some songs that went to No. 1.
“Running Up That Hill” was also one of those rare hits that appealed to both Dance and Rock fans, and reached No. 13 on BILLBOARD’s Dance chart and No. 34 on BILLBOARD’s Mainstream Rock chart.
The wonderful legacy of “Running Up That Hill” has continued for more than 30 years, and has been covered numerous times, including a 2003 cover by a Dutch Symphonic Metal band, Within Temptation, but my favorite cover version has to be the 2003 version by the London Alt-Rock band, Placebo. It’s one of the best 80s covers I’ve ever heard. In 2006, Placebo’s downbeat version was described by Q magazine as “sound[ing] more like a pact with the Devil’ than the original ‘deal with God’.” I love that. That version has also appeared on several TV shows and films.
When EMI Records celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1997, HOUNDS OF LOVE was featured as part of their “EMI First Centenary” series, replete with B-sides and remixes. I was so excited to find this shortly after its release, and, it’s a disc I treasure dearly to this day. In fact, HOUNDS OF LOVE is one of my all-time favorite albums of any decade. And, from the first time I heard “Running Up That Hill,” I can safely say there’s been a thunder in my heart for Kate Bush ever since…