Kate Bush – Suspended in Gaffa
A luxury most pop stars don’t enjoy these days is the freedom to do whatever the hell they like and hang the consequences. In 1982 and nearly five years into her career, Kate Bush had successfully taught her label, EMI, that she was not going to be told what to do – and until this point she had defied all conventional wisdom by becoming an enormous star entirely on her own terms. From that very first victorious battle over her debut single – EMI wanted James and the Cold Gun, she wanted Wuthering Heights – Kate trod an increasingly individual path, scoring hit singles sung from the point of view of an in utero foetus (Breathing) and making one of pop’s more unusual references to anal sex (“he’s too busy hitting the Vaseline” from Wow.) You certainly didn’t get that with Sheena Easton.
For The Dreaming, Kate was to produce an album by herself for the very first time, and having discovered Fairlight synthesisers through Peter Gabriel she introduced a harder, much more abrasive sound into her work. A stop-gap single in 1981, Sat In Your Lap, signalled this new direction and it remains possibly the strangest song ever to make the UK top twenty. But far stranger things were to come, and when The Dreaming finally appeared it put the singer and her label directly at odds once again – though this time it was Kate who came off worst. Telling Q Magazine in 1991 that it was her “‘She’s gone mad’ album, my ‘She’s not commercial any more’ album” the title track and first single peaked at no.48 and its follow-up, There Goes a Tenner failed to chart at all. And while they’re both enjoyable, neither track was remotely commercial. This goes for most of the album, which while often cited by fans as her greatest, was not exactly packed with potential singles.
Things could have been very different had Suspended in Gaffa been chosen as the first single. The least scary track from the album – though it is still really quite terrifying – it has a bombastic, oom-pah-pah sound carried along by one of her most gorgeous melodies. It was certainly eminently more suitable for a performance on Pebble Mill at One than The Dreaming, and ought to have given the album the boost it needed. As it was, it hit no.4, but dropped precipitously in the following weeks, eventually only going silver. EMI, it’s fair to say, certainly had the jitters about Kate at this point and declined to release any further singles. Gaffa was released throughout Europe with an accompanying video that can only be described as Morris dancing in a dusty asylum – hitting no.50 in the Netherlands but bombing everywhere else.
In modern times, that would be the last you’d have heard of Kate Bush. Remember when Dido was the biggest female star on the planet? One flop album and that was it. See also: Duffy and Macy Gray. Nowadays there is absolutely no allowance for a glorious failure, and that’s unfortunate. Kate, however, went away for what then seemed like an eternity of three years, and returned with the no less strange but massively commercial Hounds of Love in 1985. And while she’s tested the patience of fans many times since then, she’s remained the most interesting, and certainly the most brilliant pop star the UK has ever produced. As her triumphant Before the Dawn shows in London proved, Kate has lost none of her ability to astound, entrance and make grown men weep.
Entered chart: was not released
Who could sing this today and have a hit? In the best possible way – no-one.