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Wuthering Heights

Song: Wuthering Heights

Songwriter: Kate Bush

Singer: Kate Bush

The British musical landscape of 1978 was fairly evenly divided between the forces of home-grown punk rock, and disco sounds mostly from across the Atlantic. The arrival the young Kate Bush's extraordinary debut single was greeted with incredulity: “What on earth was that!” We had simply never heard anything like Wuthering Heights.

It's hard to separate the song Wuthering Heights from Kate Bush's astonishing performance, with its sweeping, almost caterwauling vocal and lush arrangement.

The song Wuthering Heights takes its subject matter from Emily Bronte's classic novel of the same name. Heathcliff is visited by the ghost of his lover Cathy. Kate Bush's Cathy is every bit as creepy as the original. While her delivery obviously adds to this effect, the harmonic structure of the song, and the melodic lines also have a major part to play.

The chords of the opening section are very unsettling and chromatic, as is the melody. While the chorus is in the key of C sharp (in itself an unusual choice of key), the verse opens on the chord of A major – the flattened sub-mediant of C sharp, a fairly uncomfortable harmonic leap. This A major chord is followed by an F major, which is in turn the flattened sub-mediant of A, and which leads into an E major. The disconcerting effect of these chord changes is only reinforced by the melody, which does nothing to “smooth out the bumps”. In fact the melody plunges down a spine-tingling major seventh (from E to F) in the very first line on the words “wiley, windy”:

Out on the wiley, windy moors we'd roll and fall in green

The creepiness eases somewhat as we head through the bridge, with it's unresolved Esus4, and into the chorus, which uses more conventional chords. However there is another factor which makes the chorus rather unsettling, and difficult to decipher. The words are somewhat out of sync with the meter of the music, resulting in some odd stresses:

Heath-cliff, it's me, I'm Cath-ee, I've come home and I'm
o co-o-o-o-ld

I also only realised when researching this article that the title Wuthering Heights appears in the lyrics at the climax of each bridge section. Once again the lyrics are lost in the the bizarre melody and Kate Bush's dramatic delivery:

Leave behind my wuthering, wuthering, wuthering heights

Wuthering Heights is also a very pianistic song; I can't really imaging these kinds of chord changes being written on a guitar. (Just try and get your fingers around them!) But first and foremost, Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights is a brilliantly conceived and executed one-off.


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