Three songs into her third album, Kate Bush lists the imagined residents of her rock ‘n’ roll heaven. Buddy Holly, Sid Vicious and Keith Moon are all there, of course. But so are Minnie Riperton and Sandy Denny. What’s made explicit here — on Never For Ever‘s electric piano ballad “Blown Away (For Bill)” — has been implicit throughout Bush’s career. That is, here’s a female singer/songwriter with enough reckless ambition and unapologetic weirdness to compete for the glory that’s too often limited to rock’s boys’ club. And she’s not afraid to wield elements of traditional femininity (orgasmic cries, folk romanticism) just as flamboyantly as male rockers have tended to emphasize their machismo. As Bush would sing five years later on her greatest song, Hounds of Love‘s “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God),” “Let’s exchange the experience.” Everyone from Björk to Gang Gang Dance’s Lizzie Bougatsos has tried following her lead.
Released in 1980, when Bush was only 22, Never For Ever was the first original studio record by a female solo artist to reach the top of the British album charts. It was also the first full-length for which Bush received a co-production credit. Her unconventional vocal phrasing and propensity for lyrics that draw on literature, films, or ancient lore were already familiar from her first two albums, particularly 1978 debut The Kick Inside‘s hit “Wuthering Heights.”
On Never For Ever, though, Bush increasingly makes use of the Fairlight digital sampler and other varied instrumental textures, building songs that feel as if they conform to the rhythm, rather than the other way around (see the looped sounds of bottles breaking on mistaken-identity single “Babooshka,” the Moog jam on “Egypt,” or the post-punk frenzy of “Violin”). And while Bush’s distinctive approach hadn’t yet reached its stunning consummation (both “Running Up That Hill” and the title track from Hounds of Love are great places to start), Never For Ever is the album where she leaves behind some of the sentimentality and childish imagery of her earliest work. If there’s a place for Bush in rock ‘n’ roll heaven — and there’d better be — this is where she truly begins her ascent.