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'She makes children of us all': Guardian writers pick their favourite Kate Bush lyrics

The Guardian logo The Guardian 12/09/2018 Lanre Bakare, Ben Beaumont-Thomas, Tim Jonze, Hannah Jane Parkinson, Alexis Petridis, Dave Simpson, Laura Snapes, Jenny Stevens and Imogen Tilden

You’re the One (The Red Shoes, 1993)

Kate Bush: You’re the One – video

I’ve got everything I need
I’ve got petrol in the car
I’ve got some money with me
There’s just one problem
You’re the only one I want

It’s easy to overlook this breakup ballad. The album it’s taken from – The Red Shoes – contains Rubberband Girl and Why Should I Love You?, which brazenly combines Prince and Lenny Henry. But You’re the One, the album’s closer, takes a straightforward story of two people breaking up and turns it into the equal of Nothing Compares 2 U, when it comes to a big bombastic statement about heartbreak. The lyrics, which start with the strangely functional (“It’s alright, I’ll come round when you’re not in”) are the key to its success, as Bush slowly and tragically admits to being unable to function without her lover. Bush’s own long-term relationship with bassist Del Palmer had come to an end before the album was recorded, while her mother and guitarist Alan Murphy also died in the lead up to the album’s release. That loss is sprinkled all over the song but these lyrics,in an instant, capture how putting a brave face on things can’t outrun the pain of grief. Lanre Bakare

Cloudbusting (Hounds of Love, 1985)

Kate Bush: Cloudbusting – video

But every time it rains
You’re here in my head
Like the sun coming out
Ooh, I just know that something good is gonna happen

I first heard this during the lowest point of my life. I had recently graduated but – to misquote Morrissey – couldn’t get a job even if I wanted one; my mother had just died and I lived alone in our childhood semi-detached council house on a diet of KitKats and baked beans. I was at my most miserable when I joined a mail order music service called the Britannia Music Club: signing up (however briefly) meant you got three free albums. There wasn’t a vast choice but I got Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits, Prince’s Sign O’ the Times and Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love, and devoured each intensely. Cloudbusting – Hounds’ second single - is actually about the relationship between psychologist/philosopher Wilhelm Reich and his son, Peter, and in particular their time spent together making a rain-making machine – a Cloudbuster – but these lines spoke to me and offered a bright light at the end of a very dark tunnel.

Each time I heard it, I instantly felt better: about myself, the future, everything. Gradually, I realised that the singer was singing about a father, whose memory lingered on, and I related to that too. My own father died when I was six, but one of my abiding memories of him is of how he left a new word for me every day on a blackboard before he went to work, which meant I could spell by the time I got to school. All this came together when an exasperated dole mate, Paul, said, “Look, all you’re interested in is music. Why don’t you write about music?” and a light bulb went on above my head. I clambered out of the tunnel, never to return. Thank you Dad, thank you – wherever you are – Paul, and thank you Kate. Dave Simpson

Moments of Pleasure (The Red Shoes, 1993)

Kate Bush: Moments of Pleasure – video

This sense of humour of mine
It isn’t funny at all
Oh, but we sit up all night
Talking about it

Aside from being six minutes of gorgeous piano work backed by an orchestra, arranged by Michael Kamen, Bush’s Moments of Pleasure is among her lyrically strongest works thanks to its lightness of touch. Mostly inspired by the grief that came after multiple people close to her had died, there are vignettes of memory; the titular moments of pleasure (“I think about us / lying on a beach somewhere”). But it’s this lyric that I go back to. I’d hate to say these lines stand out for me as someone who absolutely copes with the darkest of events using awkward jokes and black humour, much explored by frustrated therapists and partners, but, well … that is why. No idea if this is true, but I’ve heard the line was inspired by a technician who accidentally wiped a finished track from The Dreaming: “God, I couldn’t stop laughing”. You gotta laugh or you’ll cry, right? Hannah Jane Parkinson

Leave It Open (The Dreaming, 1982)

Kate Bush: Leave It Open – video

We let the weirdness in

The Dreaming isn’t Kate Bush’s best album, but it remains my favourite; there’s something very beguiling about the sound of an artist finally letting their imagination fully run riot. Not that Kate Bush’s imagination was ever terribly constrained, but The Dreaming is marked by the sense that sampling technology had now enabled her to fully recreate the sounds in her head, and that she was now successful enough to please no-one other than herself. That’s what Leave It Open seems to be about: a confession that things hadn’t always been done the way she would have liked – “narrow mind would persecute it, die a little just to get to it” – and an announcement that they will be from now on. There’s something really moving about the way the lyrics make the listener complicit, drawing you in to her increasingly weird world: it’s not confrontational but trusting, it ends with a repeated invocation not of “I”, but “we let the weirdness in”. The pronoun seems important, as if she knows that anyone left after this is in it with her for the long haul. Alexis Petridis

This Woman’s Work (The Sensual World, 1989)

Kate Bush: This Woman’s Work – video

I stand outside this woman’s work
This woman’s world
Ooh, it’s hard on the man

The idea of pregnancy being hard on the man … blimey, do we really want to go there? As someone who witnessed his tough cookie of a wife doubled up in agony while emitting sonorous groans and accusing her loving husband of conspiring with the midwives to deny her pain relief, I’m not sure now (or ever) is the time. Yet the partner’s experience of childbirth undeniably provides its own unique brand of torture – not least in the sheer powerlessness you feel. The act of watching biology whirl around you while you can do nothing but “pray God you can cope” and try not to let your tears show is something many men will have felt. I doubt any will ever express it as eloquently as Bush, though. Tim Jonze

I should be crying, but I just can’t let it show
I should be hoping, but I can’t stop thinking
Of all the things I should’ve said that I never said
All the things we should’ve done though we never did

For me this song speaks of grief; of finding out that life is not infinite, relationships don’t always last and at some point everything you’ve wanted to say to someone dissolves; it’s too late, and time has moved on without you. It is a song that demands courage – to speak up, to stand up, to travel, to see everything and do everything because life has a way of disrupting plans. Of course it is a sad song, but sadness here is a driver – a way of moving forward and pushing for more. Jenny Stevens

The Man With the Child in His Eyes (The Kick Inside, 1978)

Kate Bush: The Man With the Child in His Eyes – video

They say no, no it won’t last forever
And here I am again my girl
Wondering what on earth I am doing here
Maybe he doesn’t love me
I just took a trip on my love for him

I’m a strange kind of music fan: I don’t really notice lyrics. There are songs that make my heart swell and glow, but I can only pick out odd words, or quote just the occasional line that floats to the surface. Maybe that’s why Kate Bush’s The Man With the Child in His Eyes is the track I think of now. Piano, cello and voice, barely three minutes long, with whispered lines that seem to come from a half-remembered dream, it’s so simple and direct it felt like something I’d always known.

Bush wrote this song at 14 or 15, and recorded it at 16, the age I too was spinning secret dreams of being cherished and simply understood in the way her lyrics spoke of. Its absence of cynicism makes it a song that could only be written by a young teenager, from its anxious intensity as it lurches from declarations of eternal love to, “Maybe he doesn’t love me”, and its us-against-the-world story: “They say no, no, it won’t last”. I yearned for someone to tell me about the sea. All the boys I knew just had bad hair, spots and made stupid jokes about the size of your breasts. And, to misquote another great work of art that sustained my teenage years, The Princess Bride, this wasn’t a song about kissing (yuck), this was about something deeper, purer. I wonder if I was also obliquely glimpsing the pain and vulnerability I saw but could not directly acknowledge in my father, as my parents’ marriage broke up that same year. Bush’s songs soundtracked that period of my life, which is why today The Man With the Child in His Eyes makes me think of my father, which is why I still cherish it. Imogen Tilden

A Coral Room (Aerial, 2005)

Kate Bush: A Coral Room – video

My mother
And her little brown jug
It held her milk

The power of Bush’s lyrics is often found in the way she telescopes between fantastical visions and intimate detail, and this is a perfect example. Coming at the end of disc one of 2005 double album Aerial – a series of character studies including Elvis, Joan of Arc and her son – is this song about Bush’s mother. It begins with a weird reverie, seeing a cityscape and even a battlefield in a bunch of fishing paraphernalia, but just as Bush gets carried off by her daydream, it’s as if something triggers a long-forgotten memory. The world contracts to a room. Like all our most powerful memories, it is an incredibly simple image, and yet so redolent of nursing and nurture. This is one of the most intensely poignant moments in Bush’s catalogue, all the more so for how the clarity of the memory is crowded out by her reverie rushing back in again. Reminiscent of Eliot’s “Marie, Marie, hold on tight. And down we went” from The Waste Land, it is one of those moments in life where you’re transported back to childhood, all our experience and language collapsing into innocence and need. With this song, Bush makes children of us all. Ben Beaumont-Thomas

Deeper Understanding (The Sensual World, 1989)

Kate Bush: Deeper Understanding – video

Hello, I know that you’ve been feeling tired
I bring you love and deeper understanding
Hello, I know that you’re unhappy
I bring you love and deeper understanding

Bush wrote Deeper Understanding before I was even born, and a decade before MSN Messenger and LiveJournal turned after-school hours into opportunities to share your darkest secrets with strangers you only knew by their a/s/l. And yet, despite coming from a more primitive time – the internet newly born as a niche concern – it is the most empathetic and accurate song I’ve ever heard about the relationship between humans and computers. (Ever wise, Bush also predicted the addictive nature of playing the Sims: “Nothing else seemed to matter / I neglected my bodily needs.”)

It’s a hard balance to strike – the past five years or so have spawned countless songs about that bond, many of them preachy or facile. There is no judgment in Bush’s beautiful song: the user’s family may intervene, but still, they’re lonely and lost. It reminds me of another of my favourite Bush lyrics, from Hounds of Love – “I’m ashamed of running away / From nothing real / I just can’t deal with this / But I’m still afraid to be there” – about how hard it can be to submit to human intimacy. Is this “deeper understanding” a simulation or a true salve? Couldn’t it be both? Laura Snapes

• Which Bush lyrics would you nominate for inclusion in How to Be Invisible? Tell us which ones – and why – in the comments.

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