This song is about making a deal with God to swap lives with another person. Bush explained in a 1985 interview: "It's about a relationship between a man and a woman. They love each other very much, and the power of the relationship is something that gets in the way. It creates insecurities. It's saying if the man could be the woman and the woman the man, if they could make a deal with God, to change places, that they'd understand what it's like to be the other person and perhaps it would clear up misunderstandings. You know, all the little problems; there would be no problem."
Bush wrote this with the title "Deal With God." Her label made her change it because they didn't think radio stations in any religious countries (Italy, Ireland...) would play a song with "God" in the title. Bush thought that was ridiculous, but agreed to the change because after spending two years making the album, she didn't want her song to get blacklisted because of the title.
It was a rare creative compromise for Bush, and one she came to regret, as she feels "Deal With God" is the proper title and part of the song's entity.
This was Kate Bush's biggest hit in the US, where she has a small but devoted following. She was a chart regular in her native UK, where the Hounds Of Love album knocked off Madonna's Like A Virgin to claim the top spot, and popular throughout much of the world, but remains mostly unknown in America.
Stateside success was never her priority. Bush rarely plays live and never did a concert in America. Her record company had a hard time promoting her there because she didn't travel to the country and didn't do many phone interviews with American journalists. While "Running Up That Hill" was taking off in other parts of the world, American radio was saturated with more straightforward acts like Duran Duran, Whitney Houston, Huey Lewis & The News, and Phil Collins. A lot of it had to do with MTV, which didn't put the "Running Up That Hill" video in rotation.
Bush wrote "Running Up That Hill" using a Fairlight CMI digital synthesizer. She was one of the first to use the device, including it on her 1980 album Never For Ever
Typically, Bush writes on piano, but composing on the Fairlight opened up new gates of inspiration. "There is something about the character of a sound," she said in a 1992 radio documentary
. "You hear a sound and it has a whole quality of its own that can be sad or happy, and that immediately conjures up images, which can of course help you to think of ideas that lead you onto a song, so everything is crucial for trying to find some direction with inspiration. A good sound is worth a lot artistically."
Kate Bush not only wrote her own songs, but starting with her 1982 album The Dreaming, was also her own producer, a rare feat at the time especially for a female artist. Until she came along, the only woman on this level who did her own writing and production was Joni Mitchell, another singer of immense influence and acclaim.
The song's concept is a flip on the Faustian bargain where one makes a deal with the Devil. When Bush thought about what it would take to switch places with your partner, she first thought of the deal with the Devil, then decided it could also be done through a deal with God, which would be even more powerful.
A new version of the song, subtitled "2012 Remix," reached #6 on the UK singles chart in August 2012. The track was transposed down a semitone to fit Bush's current lower vocal range and was premiered during the 2012 London Olympics closing ceremony
. Bush did not appear in person, but the recording was featured in a crucial section after the athletes entered.
Bush often used interpretive dancing in her music videos to express the emotion of her songs. By the time she released "Running Up That Hill" in 1985, she felt the art was being cheapened by the newer crop of talent on MTV. She explained in a 1985 TV interview with Canada's Good Rockin' Tonight: "During the gap between the last and this album, I'd seen quite a few videos on television that other people had been doing. And I felt that dance, something that we'd been working in, particularly in the earlier videos... was being used quite trivially, it was being exploited: haphazard images, busy, lots of dances, without really the serious expression, and wonderful expression, that dance can give. So we felt how interesting it would be to make a very simple routine between two people, almost classic, and very simply filmed. So that's what we tried, really, to do a serious piece of dance."
Clad in Japanese hakamas, Bush and her dance partner, Michael Hervieu, perform an intimate dance routine before they're torn apart by a crowd of masked strangers. The dancers' archery-inspired gestures are referenced in the single's cover art, which features Bush brandishing a bow and arrow. The clip was directed by David Garfath and choreographed by Diane Grey.
Instead of airing the music video, MTV decided to use footage from Bush's performance on a BBC TV program. According to the singer's brother Paddy Bush, "MTV weren't particularly interested in broadcasting videos that didn't have synchronized lip movements in them. They liked the idea of people singing songs."
Bush did just one concert tour - a run of 24 shows in Europe in 1979. She stopped touring because she got so focused on making music and the visuals to accompany it. "Running Up That Hill" she performed at just a handful of charity events until 2014, when she put on a production called Before The Dawn that ran for 22 shows at the Eventim Apollo in London. These shows were highly theatrical, with dialogue, dancing, illusion and elaborate set design framing her performances.
Bush's record company wanted to release "Cloudbusting
" as the first single, but Kate convinced them to release "Running Up That Hill" instead. Since they had already renamed her song, it was considered a compromise.
This was used in these TV shows:
Stranger Things ("Chapter One: The Hellfire Club" - 2022)
On Becoming A God In Central Florida ("American Merchandise" - 2019)
Big Little Lies ("The Bad Mother" - 2019)
How To Get Away With Murder ("We Know Everything" - 2019)
Vanity Fair ("In Which Becky Joins Her Regiment" - 2018)
Warehouse 13 ("Emily Lake" - 2011)
NCIS: Los Angeles ("Empty Quiver" - 2011)
The Vampire Diaries ("Pilot" - 2009)
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation ("A La Cart" - 2007)
Bones ("Judas On A Pole" - 2006)
The O.C. ("The Avengers" - 2006)
And in these movies:
The Circle (2015)
The Human Contract (2008)
The Chocolate War (1988)
A version by British band Placebo was recorded for their 2007 Covers album. It entered the UK singles chart in January 2010 as a result of its use in the theatrical trailer for the feature film Daybreakers.
The Los Angeles singer-songwriter Meg Myers released a popular cover in 2019 with a video
that got over 2 million YouTube view. Said Myers: "This song to me, represents an opening of our hearts and a possibility of acceptance for all."
Her version dawdled, rather than ran, up Billboard's Rock Airplay chart. Forty-two weeks after its release, it reached the top spot on the tally, giving Myers the first #1 Billboard single of her career. That's the longest any track has taken to conquer the Alternative Songs summit.
Prior to Meg Myers, the record was held by Fitz and the Tantrums, who took 33 weeks to top Alternative Songs with their 2013 single "Out Of My League
We learn during Stranger Things
season 4 that "Running Up That Hill" is Max Mayfield's favorite song. Whenever she escapes in her music, the tune seems to play on a loop in her headphones. It even saves her life (we won't go into detail in case you've yet to watch it).Stranger Things
music supervisor Nora Felder explained how the song lyrics fit perfectly into the storyline involving Max Mayfield. "Kate Bush's lyrics can mean very different things to different people," she told Variety
. "In the face of Max's painful isolation and alienation from others, a 'deal with god' could heart-wrenchingly reflect Max's implicit belief that only a miracle of unlikely understanding and show of support could help her climb the hills of life before her."
Felder sent her request to Wende Crowley, Sony Music Publishing's SVP of creative marketing "Kate Bush is selective when it comes to licensing her music and because of that, we made sure to get script pages and footage for her to review so she could see exactly how the song would be used," said Crowley.
It turns out Bush is a fan of Stranger Things
and she granted them permission after agreeing to their vision for "Running Up That Hill." After the episode aired, she posted a message on her website
praising the "fantastic, gripping" new series of the show and sharing her elation over the resurgence of her song. "It's all really exciting!" she wrote. "I wait with bated breath for the rest of the series in July."
Thanks to its use on Stranger Things, the song ran back up the charts in 2022, reaching the Top 10 in 34 territories. In America, where the song's #30 placement in 1985 was Bush's highest showing, it climbed to #4. Bush's entire catalog saw a big boost in streaming around this time.
Winona Ryder, who stars in Stranger Things, is a huge Kate Bush fan and encouraged the producers to use her music. Ryder said she would often wear her Kate Bush T-shirts on set as a hint.
Powered by its placement in Stranger Things
, "Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)" completed a 36-year race to #1 in Australia. In its second week after re-entering the tally, the song rose to the summit of the ARIA Chart dated June 13, 2022. Bush had topped the Australian chart on one previous occasion in early 1978 when her debut single "Wuthering Heights
" led the survey.
In the UK, "Running Up That Hill" reached #1 on the singles chart dated June 17, 2022. Its ascension to peak position broke three records:
1. Bush's previous chart-topper, "Wuthering Heights," reached the summit in 1978. The gap of 44 years broke the record for the longest wait between #1s, previously held by Tom Jones. There was a 42-year gap between the Welsh singer's "Green Green Grass Of Home
" and his charity single "(Barry) Islands in the Stream
2. "Running Up That Hill" eventually reached #1 37 years after its release, breaking the record for the longest time taken to reach the top spot. Wham!'s "Last Christmas
" previously held the record; it topped the chart 36 years after its release.
3. At 63 years and 11 months, Kate Bush became the oldest female artist to top the UK singles chart. She replaced Cher, who was 52 when "Believe
" reached #1 in 1998.