It’s the strangest thing but Kate Bush is having a moment. She might have been enjoying the quiet life, away from the limelight – tending the garden, leisurely lunches, sudoku – but when you have enjoyed the recording career she has sometimes the limelight seeks you out.
So it was when the Netflix sci-fi/horror smash-hit Stranger Things cherry-picked Running Up That Hill for a bravura set-piece in season four. It worked gangbusters, a sprinkling of musical pixie dust to heighten the drama, reportedly at Winona Ryder’s request. No spoilers here; you’ll just have to watch it.
But it did something rare, creating a pop-cultural moment that transcended genre TV, spreading across TikTok like pond weed, sending the single to the top of the streaming charts in the US and UK as a new generation got turned on to the enigmatic English chanteuse.
Everyone loves Kate Bush, right? You could look like a member of the Steppenwolf road crew class of '69 but as soon as Wuthering Heights comes on you start dancing like Willow from The Wicker Man, as though you’re onstage at the end-of-year show with the amateur theater group, all fluid movement and a blur of chiffon.
Bush’s taste for the theatrical and her capacity for endowing a pop song with a sensual, literary depth is perhaps what makes her so timeless, still in regular rotation on radio and an enduring inspiration for today’s bands looking for a cover.
Running Up That Hill is a strange one from a guitar perspective because it holds a fascination despite being driven by a Fairlight CMI cuckooing away atop a propulsive beat.
The late Alan Murphy’s guitar only coming to the fore via overdubs near the song’s denouement. And yet it hasn’t stopped guitarists the world over reinterpreting it anew. Some covers work better than others. But be it on acoustic guitar or with electric, played in alt-rock, heavy metal, indie or folk, the the following covers demonstrate how Running Up That Hill is infinitely adaptable.
First Aid Kit
It's quite difficult to top that intro, isn't it? The whir of the synth, then that rolling beat that makes you feel like you're, well, running up a hill. Good on First Aid Kit's Klara Söderberg, then, for creating a fingerpicked acoustic arrangement of the song that doesn't try to one-up those instantly recognizable bars, but captures that same kinetic excitement nevertheless.
The pitch-perfect harmonies on this live cover – recorded at the Rock Werchter festival in 2018 – sure don't hurt, either.
Mastodon, Emma Ruth Rundle, Yob and Old Man Gloom with Gwarsenio Hall
Running Up That Hill has become an internet phenomenon in its own right, likewise this version that saw Emma Ruth Rundle join Gwarsenio Hall and members of Mastodon, YOB and Old Man Gloom for a YouTube cover to lift the misery that was June 2020.
Created from their respective homes during the COVID-19 lockdown – when setting up shop in front of a camera was the closest musicians could come to performing live – the cover appeared on the metal-themed Two Minutes to Late Night YouTube chat show, and found Mastodon’s Bill Kelliher trading a host of harmonized lead licks with host Gwarsenio Hall (aka comedian Jordan Olds), while Rundle used her dulcet tones to recreate Bush’s now-viral vocal lines.
Simon Neil with Roddy Hart and The Lonesome Fire
Recorded professionally at a benefit concert in Glasgow in early 2021, again, during another Covid lockdown when Celtic Connections was delivered remotely – this rendition of the Bush classic finds Simon Neil giving a visceral vocal performance, while the band and their backing musicians give the track a stellar rock reimagining.
Here, John Martin is on electric guitar, favoring a Bigsby-equipped Gibson ES-335 to ground the song and give the synth a run for its money. Though perhaps on this occasion the role is to support Neil and get out of his way.
Maybe Biffy should add this to their roster of cover songs. Simon Neil is definitely more comfortable channeling Kate Bush than he is Cardi B.
Brian Molko and co are often credited with creating the defining cover of Running Up That Hill, originally including it on their 2003 album Covers (issued as a bonus release with their record Sleeping with Ghosts).
Their take is a glistening ‘00s update. It is powered by a pulsating heartbeat bass line that, alongside Molko’s trademark quivering vocal, evokes the sense of a protagonist on life support, bargaining with supernatural forces.
The guitars are sparse, more of a textural backing to a mix heavy on piano and dramatic, breathy vocals. It’s majesty was arguably somewhat undermined following its association with Wrestlemania 26’s promos for its Undertaker vs Shawn Michaels showdown [see below], but it too got some airplay on a television hit when it was picked up by The O.C.. It was also used in the 2009 vampire plague movie Daybreakers.
Proving the versatility of Kate Bush’s original composition, Within Temptation put a symphonic metal spin on the track with their 2003 cover, with Robert Westerholt stacking punchy guitar powerchords underneath a grandiose orchestral section and choir, and Sharon den Adel fully embracing the overheated gothic opera of it all.
It was no surprise that the track was a bankable crowd-pleaser, charting in the Dutch Top 10, and remaining a staple of the band’s setlist in the years following its release. But has rarely been played since 2008. Perhaps now is the perfect time for Within Temptation to bring it back into rotation?
Okay, so we have had the pristine indie-folk of First Aid Kit, Placebo’s similarly TV-friendly take on the song and Within Temptation fully leaning into the track’s histrionic largesse, now here comes the Wombats with a performance inspired by the present pop-cultural moment and commissioned by Australian radio station Triple J for their Like a Version YouTube covers series.
The English indie trio take away the bombast of the original. The electronic pulse is dialed down, making space for the acoustic, electric and bass guitar and a three-part vocal harmony.
“I first heard Kate Bush driving in a van, on a cassette tape [traveling] across the south of Spain to my cousin’s wedding when I was 10 or something,” says Dan Haggis, who steps out from behind the drum kit to play acoustic sing on this. “It was that and Don’t Give Up by Peter Gabriel that was on my mum’s cassette. That’s how we used to discover music.
“Now you sit there on the bus with your phone, and you’ve got all this amazing music across history at the touch of a button, and those amazing songs will rear their heads again because they are fucking great.”
It’s worth noting here that the song is not the only thing making a resurgence in this video. Guitarist/vocalist Matthew Murphy is playing a Coronado II, a reissue of a mid-60s Fender oddity that had a semi-hollow thinline design to compete with similar models from Gibson, Epiphone and Gretsch. It’s either too weird or too cool for school. We can’t decide. This cover works, though.
Car Seat Headrest
The Virginian indie band included a version of R.U.T.H. on their 2021 EP MADLO: Influences, which collected together and covered material that inspired 2022 full-length Making A Door Less Open.
Their take is characteristically lo-fi, giving Bush’s rich and synth-y original a bit-crushed brush-off, interlaced with some funky-but-undressy clean guitar.
Compared to the British pop icon’s desperate pleas, frontman Will Toledo’s ‘deal with god’ feels more like an idle thought, a daydream documenting a ‘what if’ moment. Special points are awarded for the funky breakdown, which should not work, but absolutely does.
And finally... Kate Bush ft David Gilmour
Okay, it is not a cover so we cannot officially include it in the list, but we can’t talk about the guitar reimagining Running Up That Hill without mentioning this classic ‘80s collaboration.
Here we have David Gilmour, the maestro beyond compare for guitar solos that defy the laws of gravity and time, notes just hanging there in suspension, and here the Pink Floyd guitarist is playing against type and engaged in the frantic reveries of Kate Bush’s most-famous song.
Of course, the black Fender Stratocaster was put it to pasture by then, retired from regular rotation. Instead, Gilmour reaches for a headless Steinberger – a mid-‘80s classic that found its way onto Floyd’s A Momentary Lapse of Reason in 1987.
This performance, from the same year, is immaculate. Everyone is on point. The material brings out the best in Gilmour. Bush’s voice defies the cardiovascular reality of performing onstage. Tony Franklin on fretless bass is godlike. No wonder his hair is standing on end.