This is based on Emily Bronte's classic book of the same name. The song pretty much tells the same story as the book, only at a much higher pitch.
In the book, two young people, Catherine and Heathcliff, are brought together and become lovers. Along the way, they struggle with issues of class and family. Wuthering Heights
was Bronte's only novel, although she did publish some poems.
This was the first song Bush recorded for a label. It was released as a single, and while the music press dismissed the song as a novelty, it hit #1 in Britain. It stayed there for four weeks and launched her career at age 19.
Kate Bush and Emily Bronte share the same birthday, July 30 (Bronte in 1818, Bush in 1958).
Kate started playing piano at age 11 and wrote her first song at 13. By the time she recorded the album, she had about 50 songs to choose from, but this wasn't one of them. She came up with it shortly before recording the album. She claims she wrote the song in one night under a full moon.
This was a huge hit everywhere except the US. This is the way it remained for Bush, who has never been able to break the US market.
Bush's label, EMI, wanted to release "James and the Cold Gun" as her first single, believing that radio stations wouldn't play this because it sounded too odd. When Kate found out, she insisted that "Wuthering Heights" be released first, but as a 19-year-old who had never released a song, she didn't have much say in the matter. Her label boss decided to let her have her way, figuring the song would flop and he would prove to Bush that he knew how to do his job better than she did. He was proven horribly wrong, and Bush was allowed to select her next single. Her choice was "The Man With The Child In His Eyes
When this rose to #1, Kate Bush became the first female solo artist to top the UK charts with a self-composed song.
At the time of writing this, Kate had never read the book in its entirety but she knew the story. She borrowed the novel from her brother and leafed through the pages, picking out some key lines. "The name Cathy helped, and made it easier to project my own feelings of want for someone so much that you hate them," she explained in a 1979 fan club newsletter. "I could understand how Cathy felt." Kate claims she felt such a connection with the text that she even found lines in the book after she'd already written them in the lyrics.
The guitar solo is by Ian Bairnson, formerly of Pilot. In the mid-'70s, they had a #5 hit in the US with "Magic" and a chart topper in the UK with "January."
Engineer Jon Kelly recalled Kate Bush's recording of the song in the book Classic Tracks: The Real Stories Behind 68 Seminal Recordings by Richard Buskin. "In the case of 'Wuthering Heights' she was imitating this witch, the mad lady from the Yorkshire Moors, and she was very theatrical about it," he recalled. "She was such a mesmerising performer – she threw her heart and soul into everything she did – that it was difficult to ever fault her or say, 'You could do better.'"
"You couldn't keep Kate away from the sessions even if you had wild dogs and bazookas," Kelly added. "She was just drinking it all up, learning everything that went on. The first moment she walked into the control room, I could tell that's where she wanted to be; in control of her own records. She was astute, and she was also phenomenally easy to work with."
Bush re-recorded her vocal late one night, doing two or three takes from which producer Andrew Powell chose the best. "There was no compiling," Kelly confirmed. "It was a complete performance. We started the mix at around midnight and Kate was there the whole time, encouraging us. You couldn't deny her anything. So we got on with the job and finished at about five or six that morning."
Pat Benatar covered this on her 1980 album Crimes of Passion.
Kate noticed a number of coincidences during the songwriting process, as if she were meant to write the tune. She explained: "When Emily Bronte wrote the book she was in the terminal stages of consumption, and I had a bad cold when I wrote the song. Also, when I was in Canada I found out that Lindsay Kemp, my dance teacher, was in town, only ten minutes away by car, so I went to see him. When I came back I had this urge to switch on the TV - it was about one in the morning - because I knew the film of Wuthering Heights would be on. I tuned in to a thirties gangster film, then flicked through the channels, playing channel roulette, until I found it. I came in at the moment Cathy was dying, so that's all I saw of the film. It was an amazing coincidence."
Two music videos were made. In the first version, directed by Nick Abson, Kate is shown dancing in the English countryside (Salisbury Plain, specifically), wearing a red dress. In the second version, directed by Keef, she wears a white dress and performs in a dark room amid a white mist. Kate spoke of the first clip in a 1990 VH1 interview: "Well, the video we made for 'Wuthering Heights' was probably amongst the first ever made, certainly here in this country in terms of a video, and I was very influenced at that time still by Lindsay Kemp. So it was very much the dance influence that I was expressing. So it was really working out choreography that just looked interesting, that would kind of create a persona of Cathy."
The American punk band White Flag recorded a version for the 1992 compilation album Freedom Of Choice: Yesterday's New Wave Hits As Performed By Today's Stars.
This was used in the TV series Doctors ("Author, Author" – 2014) and I'm Alan Partridge ("Basic Alan" – 1997). It was also featured in the movies The Trip (2010) and Soft Fruit (1999).