So, 37 years after its original release, Kate Bush’s classic track reaches the top of the UK singles chart, thanks in small part to its inclusion in the latest series of Netflix’s Stranger Things. Here it is …
Kate Bush is what you might call a Marmite artist – some people love her, some think she’s awful. As for me, I’m a big admirer. Very few people are truly unique as a music artist but Kate Bush is one – a talented writer, musician, singer and performer but, above all, a fearless innovator. At a time when so much music is stylised in the extreme, it’s a reminder that there really are no boundaries to what you can achieve.
From a musical perspective, what makes Running Up That Hill work. Let’s explore.
First, the song is in Cm. This suggests that Kate wrote it on piano, as keys with lots of flats don’t come so easily on guitars. The melody uses a C minor natural scale – C D Eb F G Ab Bb C, although the Ab doesn’t feature. In practice, the song sounds more like it’s in a pentatonic C minor blues scale (C Eb F G Bb) with an occasional D. There really is a blues feel to the song, particularly the riff on the lead synth.
Instrumentally the track is unusual, with a single voice, a thunderous drum loop, a synth pad, a not-so-obvious bass synth and a very distinctive lead synth with a glide up to each note.
The chord structure is not at all obvious as the chords seem to blend into each other, but essentially you have various combinations of Cm, Ab and Bb, with a hint of Gm here and there.
Most of what makes the song so effective comes from the atmosphere inherent in the arrangement and the production, Kate’s unusual vocal style and an amazing set of lyrics – if she could she’d make a deal with God so that they could swap places and she could then run up hills and the sides of buildings!
There is one distinctive piece of harmony in the chorus that’s worth noting:
The G of ‘could’ creates a nice major seventh with the Ab major chord. The G of ‘God’ adds a sixth to the Bb major chord. The overall effect of repeating this simple motif over the chord progression of Ab Bb Cm is really powerful. Class is permanent.