The Meaning Behind Kate Bush’s 1985 Classic “Running Up That Hill”

Though Kate Bush had already topped the U.K. charts in 1978 with her Charlotte Bronte-roused saga “Wuthering Heights,” she still didn’t reach the U.S. airwaves. 

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Upon releasing her fifth album Hounds of Love in 1985, the first single “Running Up That Hill” quickly became her highest-charting hit since “Wuthering Heights” and peaked at No. 13 in the U.S. on the Billboard Dance Club chart. 

1983 – 1985

“Running Up That Hill,” was the first song recorded for Hounds of Love and underwent a couple of iterations before Bush felt it was ready. On Oct. 6, 1983, Bush first played an early demo of the song to her engineer Paul Hardiman. “The first time I heard ‘Running Up That Hill’ it wasn’t a demo, it was a working start,” said Hardiman. “We carried on working on Kate and Del’s [Del Palmer, engineer] original. Del had programmed the Linn drum part, the basis of which we kept. I know we spent time working on the Fairlight melody hook but the idea was there plus guide vocals.”

Switching Places

The meaning of the Hounds of Love hit is about two people who are in love, and how the power of love is almost bigger than them. “It leaves them very insecure and in fear of losing each other,” said Bush of the meaning of the song in a 1985 interview. “It’s also perhaps talking about some fundamental differences between men and women.” 

The lyrics of the song also hover around how a man and a woman might view their relationship if they were given the chance to trade places by God.

“I was trying to say that 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,” said Bush, elaborating on its meaning and connection to God. “And I think it would be led to a greater understanding … really the only way I could think it could be done was either … a deal with the devil. And I thought, ‘Well, no, why not a deal with God,’ because in a way it’s so much more powerful, the whole idea of asking God to make a deal with you.”

A Deal with God?

Initially, Bush’s working title for the song was “A Deal With God,” a phrase she also incorporated into the lyrics. “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 wouldn’t be played in any of the religious countries,” shared Bush. “Italy wouldn’t play it. France wouldn’t play it, and Australia wouldn’t play it. Ireland wouldn’t play it, and that generally [meant] we might get it blocked purely because it had ‘God’ in the title. I couldn’t believe this, this seemed completely ridiculous to me and the title was such a part of the song’s entity. I just couldn’t understand it.”

Bush’s Regret

Of the title switch, Bush said, “Nonetheless, although I was very unhappy about it, I felt unless I compromised that I was going to be cutting my own throat. I’d just spent two, three years making an album, and we weren’t gonna get this record played on the radio if I was stubborn. I felt I had to be grown-up about this, so we changed it to ‘Running Up That Hill.’ But it’s always something I’ve regretted doing, I must say. And normally I always regret any compromises that I make.”

4 Versions of “Running Up That Hill”

To date, there are four different versions of “Running Up That Hill” that exist, including the Hounds of Love album version, an extended version, an instrumental, and an edited version (3:24 minutes) released on a promotional 7″ single in the U.S. Dutch DJ Ben Liebrand also remixed a version of the song in 1985, but it was never officially released.

Bush’s 2012 Remix

Bush also released a remixed version of “Running Up That Hill” and added a new vocal to the track for her album A Symphony of British Music: Music for the Closing Ceremony of London 2012.

Under the Covers

For nearly 40 years the song has been featured in television and film from The O.C., The Vampire Diaries, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, NCIS: Los Angeles, and Bones. It was also featured in the 2009 film Daybreakers, The Chocolate War in 1988, and as the theme song to the BBC drama Running Scared

A recent cover by Meg Myers in 2019 gave the artist her first No. 1, and artists like Tori Amos, John Forté, Tiffany, Placebo, and Car Seat Headrest have also covered the Bush classic throughout the years.

Stranger Things

Most recently “Running Up That Hill” had rebirth on the fourth season of the Netflix sci-fi horror series Stranger Things. Featured in the first episode of the fourth season of Stranger Things around the character of Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink) as she copes with the death of her family and plays the song on her Walkman, the song also makes a return in the fourth episode.

After the song was featured on Stranger Things, “Running Up That Hill” saw a spike in streams on Spotify with millions of new streams within the U.S., while Bush’s entire music catalog has also seen an uptick of 1,600 percent in global streams, according to Spotify. For the first time in 37 years, the song also topped the charts, reaching No. 1 on the iTunes chart over the Memorial Day weekend. Bush’s original 1985 video for the song has also been viewed nearly 60 million times on YouTube.

“You might’ve heard that the first part of the fantastic, gripping new series of Stranger Things has recently been released on Netflix,” shared Bush in a rare public statement on her website. “It features the song, ‘Running Up That Hill’ which is being given a whole new lease of life by the young fans who love the show. I love it too!”

Bush added, “Because of this, ‘Running Up That Hill’ is charting around the world and has entered the UK chart at No. 8. It’s all really exciting. Thanks very much to everyone who has supported the song. I wait with bated breath for the rest of the series in July.”

Photo: Pete Still/Redferns

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