50 Years of Music: 1985 - Kate Bush - Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)

Community Engagement, KEXP 50
07/13/2022
Janice Headley
photo by Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images

KEXP is celebrating our 50th anniversary this year, and we're looking back at the last half-century of music. Each week in 2022, KEXP pays homage to a different year, and our writers are commemorating a song from that year that resonates with them. This week, we’re celebrating the year 1985. KEXP's Janice Headley reflects on the recent Kate Bush resurgence, and asks the KEXP community, "what song gives YOU strength when you need it most?" 

Read or listen to the piece below. 


WARNING: If you have not yet watched the Netflix series Stranger Things, know that mild spoilers ensue. It's probably nothing you haven't already read online yet anyway.

I know, I know… by this point, everyone already knows that Kate Bush’s 1985 single “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)” has soared back up the charts, thanks to its recent use in the Netflix series Stranger Things. As of this typing, it sits at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100, after peaking at #4. (When the song was first released, 37 years ago, it only hit #30 in the States.) The song has become hard to escape, like the Upside Down itself, soundtracking every TikTok video or Instagram Reel I scroll past. (But, I think we can all agree, it couldn’t have happened to a more talented, influential, deserving artist than the great Kate.)

Released on Bush’s acclaimed fifth album, Hounds of Love, the song is essentially the wish for a man and woman to trade places and perspectives. "It seems that the more you get to know a person, the greater the scope there is for misunderstanding," she said at the time of the song's release to The London Times. "Sometimes you can hurt somebody purely accidentally or be afraid to tell them something because you think they might be hurt when really they'll understand. So, what that song is about is making a deal with God to let two people swap place so they'll be able to see things from one another's perspective." 

The song becomes sort-of a “talisman” (as Kate herself put it in a rare interview for BBC Radio 4) for Stranger Things character, pre-teen Max Mayfield. As she struggles with her PTSD (and why don’t all the kids have it at this point?), she listens to the song over and over again on her Walkman. 

It’s the song’s zenith that really struck a (Fairlight CMI synthesizer) chord with me: Max is trying to escape from the Upside Down (the alternate dimension, for anyone who hasn’t seen the show yet, Martin Douglas). In the real world, her body is comatose, eyes rolled back up in her head. Her friends frantically search through her cassettes, hoping if they play her favorite song into her headphones, she’ll be revived. And as soon as the plaintive, echo-y hook courses through her ears, she’s able to see a portal back into reality, finding the strength to escape from the monster. Throughout the rest of the series, she keeps the song on perpetual play to protect herself. (And, as if we needed any reminder that this show is fantasy, the Walkman batteries somehow never die? Pfft, pure make-believe.) 

And this isn’t the first time music has saved one of the kids. In season one, youngster Will Byers is trapped in the Upside Down, and softly sings The Clash’s 1982 smash “Should I Stay or Should I Go” to himself not only as a source of comfort, but as the contrivance that leads to his eventual rescue. (Hey, ST Music Supervisors, you heard about this?…) 

Stranger Things is a show that gets the power of music, which is something we know our listeners relate to. We asked the KEXP community, is there a song that gives you the strength to push through? Not necessarily while being chased by a monster, obvs, but also when you’re feeling vulnerable or you need a push. (NOTE: With last week’s release of part two of season four, Spotify released what they call your “Upside Down” playlist, with what they consider your "savior song" at the top of the list. Spotify continues to invoke my ire by listing mine as Slipknot, a band I have never played in my life. As if we needed any reminder that robots cannot program music.)

My personal power anthem is Cat Power’s 2003 single “He War,” a song that never fails to make me feel like a bad-ass. I know Seattle is a relatively safe city, but as a woman, I am constantly vigilant. Walking back to my car after a concert, late at night, I can’t help but think of Mia Zapata, who was murdered in 1993 doing the same thing. With only one earbud in (because you have to be hyper-aware of your surroundings), this song’s ​​fierce, driving rhythm and Chan Marshall’s sneering, attitude-drenched vocals help me walk back to my car a little taller, keys clenched in my hand.

Check out some more “savior songs” from the KEXP community below, and share yours with KEXP by calling our hotline at 206-926-1540 and leaving us a message. We just might feature your story on an upcoming edition of Sound & Vision. And check out more power song picks at the KEXP Twitter here.


Elton John - "I'm Still Standing"

"Whenever something goes wrong, or it doesn't go the way that I plan, or when someone hurts me, I listen to the song after I've had a moment to be sad, or angry, or go through the grieving process. Then I have to remember that life goes on, and I have to keep going on, and I have to keep getting stuff done, and making sure that I'm taken care of and that I'm okay. I listen to the song and I keep going, because I have to remember that I am a strong person and I can do things and I'm very thankful." — Micaela Gonzales, Guest Services at KEXP // Seattle, WA

Rilo Kiley - "Silver Lining"

"It’s a song that reminds me of growing up/adolescence and how to find moments of self love even in difficult times! It’s stuck with me forever!" — @SeaLemonMusic

Black Flag - "Rise Above"

"We all need to be reinflated from time to time, and this song wastes no time in getting me there." — Noel // Vancouver, BC

Sleigh Bells - "Comeback Kid"

"Back when this album came out, I was going through a really rough time at my job. I had this person in my company that did not want to see me succeed and kept pushing me down and kept closing doors. So, before meetings, I would put on my headphones and just blast this whole Sleigh Bells album, Reign of Terror, and that song 'Comemback Kid' really empowered me. It empowered me through those meetings, and later empowered me through hard times in life, when I felt like I was I was kicked down, I wanted to come back. 'Comeback Kid' by Sleigh Bells is, to this day, my power song, and I listen to it loud, often, because I need it." — Rachel Stevens, Sound & Vision Producer // Seattle, WA

The Cure - "Doing the Unstuck"

"A manic, giddy ode to burning bridges to gloomy times and moving on to greener pastures. Let’s get happy!" — @MtErieFarm

Explosions in the Sky - "The Birth and Death of the Day"

"This power comes from the emotions that pour through the quiet parts and the loud parts of the song. I listen to a lot of instrumental music, and since there are no lyrics, the song can be about whatever I'm going through in life at the time. I usually cue this one up when I'm going through a major transition in life, so this can be, waking up at 4:00 AM for a ten-hour drive back to my hometown, grieving a lost family member, or needing to find inspiration to be creative again. Basically, this is the song that I turn to in those inevitable moments when I start to lose the core of my identity, and Explosions in the Sky always reels me back to that core again." — Roddy Nikpour, Sound & Vision Producer // Phoenix, AZ

Roger McQuinn - "Wasn’t Born To Follow"

"Although written by Carol King and husband Jerry Goffin, McQuinn’s version was used in 1969’s film Easy Rider. It's so uplifting, and the lyrics are wonderful." — @WPRNPublicRadio // Tampa, FL

Terry Reid - "Seed of Memory"

"Fantastic song that gets me out of any mood, whether I'm sad or happy. It's about rebirth, I guess you can say." — Steven // Shreveport, LA

The Hold Steady - "Stay Positive"

"Even have a tattoo of the album's logo as a reminder." — @producerdoom

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