Updated: Jan 13
In January of 1978, Kate Bush released a song, her first single. This song was to become a beloved cult favorite, admired by everyone from Noel Fielding to Big Boi to St. Vincent. The song was called “Wuthering Heights”, and it was like no other song put out at that time. With high pitched, extreme vocals and seemingly bizarre lyrics; it’s safe to say that even now after 42 years, it stands apart. It is for that reason that, odd as it may be, it is a beloved classic.
“Wuthering Heights” is based off of the book by Emily Bronte. When Kate Bush was a teenager, she described seeing a part of the BBC tv adaptation and being inspired to write a song
about it. However, in typical fashion with true dedication to her work, she didn’t do so until after she read the book. The book, a classic gothic novel, is about a romance between a young woman named Catherine Earnshaw and her childhood friend Heathcliff, which ends in vengeful feelings. Kate Bush wrote it from the perspective of the heroine in the book, singing of her tempestuous romance and obsession. With references to the moors, the fiery tempers of the characters, and feelings of deep unhealthy longing, the song is a better than adequate adaptation of the novel. She not only captures the essence of the book in the song, however, but also in the music video.
While she made two videos for the song (a UK version and a US version), the US version is the one that most people remember her by. It is simple, Kate Bush does an interpretive dance in a field for
four and half minutes. There is something almost surreal about it, perhaps because of the dance which was choreographed by Kate herself. It could also be because of the costume she wears while performing all of this, a blood red dress with matching tights and a shawl around her waist. All of this, plus the original weirdness of the song, make for a very memorable time to say the least. Despite the fact it’s undeniably strange, it conveys exactly what Kate Bush desires; the story of a ghost doomed to wander the moors forever, tortured with thoughts of her former lover.
When the song came out, it was an instant hit, entering the charts at No. 29 on Capital Radio. After continuing to climb the charts, it was added to Radio one and became one of the top most played songs. However, its contemporary success is almost nothing compared to its legacy. Not only has it been covered by the likes of Pat Benetar in 1980 for her “Crimes of Passion” album, but has sparked an entire celebration of the song. The event, called “The Most Wuthering Heights Day Ever”, was created in 2016 and has been held annually in countries all over the world ever since
(even in 2020, it was held over Zoom). On “Wuthering Heights Day”, fans gather in various set locations outside dressed like Kate Bush in her music video. Then, following appointed instructors for cues, they do the dance. With participators ranging in all ages and genders, it is truly a treasured tradition.
Like most cult classics, Wuthering Heights could almost be described as niche. At the same time, however, it’s surprisingly accessible. The drama, the insane music video, the hyper emotional lyrics, almost add an element of camp to it, making it vastly appealing. At the same time, however, those things also make it unironically enjoyable. It’s fun to indulge in a piece of media so unapologetically what it is, so unafraid to hold back in its intensity.