There are some interesting things that happen when you research pop culture from the last few decades. You realize the internet has preserved and generated content in a way that concurrently lends itself to discovering and uncovering pop cultural shifts while sometimes coloring your discoveries opaque and complicated. In other words, this post has a bunch of stuff that was simply the product of making one too many (or maybe far too few) clicks.
For starters, I should probably offer up Kate Bush’s original song, which will be the backdrop for the rest of the post. The song is “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)” and was the first track on her fifth and most recognized album, Hounds of Love from 1985:
It’s a terrific song; very much a product of the mid-80s while also (apparently) offering a timeless template. It’s cathartic and expressive yet austere and cold. Although, gun to my head, I’m gonna take the album’s titular track over this one, any day. But I’m not a huge Kate Bush fan in terms of being familiar with her catalogue. I’m content with these two songs, which are conveniently tracks 1 & 2. I usually listen to them a couple times and then zone out, often moving on to a couple of my favorite covers of “Running Up That Hill.”
Unsurprisingly for someone born in the same year as Hounds of Love, I believe I came to know Kate Bush’s music via a cover of “Running Up That Hill.” The Chromatics’ version is where I first became cognizant of the song:
This cover, from The Chromatics’ 2007 album Night Drive, might ultimately be my favorite version of the song. I don’t quite remember how I discovered that it was a cover; it doesn’t stand out on the album like some covers do—signifying a change in authorship. In fact, it perfectly fits the album’s aptly titled Night Drive aesthetic. The Chromatics play on the song’s steady hypnotic sense and borrow Bush’s austerity. If you don’t know the album, I highly recommend spending some alone time with it.
Most likely, I discovered this second cover around the same time I went looking for Kate Bush’s original. It’s from the drag cabaret duo Kiki & Herb (excuse the live quality):
This version is a good example of the different approaches to “Running Up That Hill.” Kiki & Herb’s cover is the antithesis of The Chromatics’. It’s cathartic without restraint. Apparently, in the video it seems played for laughs, but I always found it amazingly poignant, which is probably just a difference in context. Both Kiki & Herb’s vocal performances are great, they capitalize on the frustration in the lyrics without being syrupy. And I don’t know much about Kiki & Herb, other than they do a lot of covers, but like The Chromatics, their sensibilities nicely redefine the song.
The following covers are all recent discoveries for me. The wormhole started after playing the last three versions for a friend and subsequently looking for others. This is most likely the most famous cover of “Running Up That Hill”:
I always confuse Placebo with Portishead. The whole ‘90s bands from England that start with the letter “P” sub-genre thing, I guess. Yes, I know Portishead is better. I’m sorry. This version appeared on the Special Edition bonus disc of Placebo’s 2003 album Sleeping with Ghosts alongside a handful of other covers. Unfortunately, Brian Molko’s ‘90s alt-rock affectation drags down this otherwise straight-forward cover that is right where it belongs: on a Special Edition bonus disc.
My next discovery was a bit trickier and, thankfully, much more enjoyable:
From the appearances of this YouTube video, this is a “Running Up That Hill” cover by some band called Thor & Loki. I didn’t see any evidence to say otherwise. But I had questions:
Do all their songs have samples from Thor?
Do all their songs tackle the tumultuous relationship between Thor and his brother Loki?
Did this tumultuous relationship really spawn a band called Thor & Loki?
If so, do they know Kiki & Herb?
It took me about 3 minutes and some common sense to find out: No. No to all those questions. The Thor & Loki video series are just fan videos and if I wouldn’t have been too excited to watch the video all the way through, I would’ve seen the credit to some band called Track & Field (I wonder if they know Kiki & Herb?). If you’re feeling boring and want to hear the non-Thor & Loki version, here it is. This cover is by far the most milquetoast, boiler plate one possible. Completely inoffensive and boring, but I still get a kick out of the way the dude sings the line “so much hate for the ones we love” (it’s at the 1:32 mark if you’re watching the Thor & Loki video). Actually, the Thor & Loki video makes the song far more dramatic than it actually is.
Staying on the boring track, next we’ll go to The Feud:
According to The Feud’s official website, they’re unsigned despite having “an incredible sonic force that pumps the crowd to get crazy,” says Music Connection Magazine. That same pull quote was preceded by this: “The Feud can generate monster energy…” and I can only wonder if the ellipsis conveniently hid the subsequent word “drinks.” As in, the band also produces everyone’s second favorite energy drink, Monster. Perhaps a side gig, I don’t know.
Either way, here’s a video of a live acoustic version of The Feud covering Kate Bush’s classic. You really do get a sense of how much they pump the crowd up!:
If you couldn’t hear them over the pumped up crowd, just imagine any music group your youth pastor brought in for lock-ins.
Moving on, this one is anything but lackluster:
Within Temptation’s cover wins oddest find of the “Running Up That Hill” wormhole. Within Temptation seem to be a slightly Eastern infused, slightly proggy version of Evanescence that most likely covered Bush’s song for its biblical reference. The video’s first 35 seconds make you feel like you got lost in the internet, or like when you accidentally stumble onto some weird late night programming on Cinemax involving Wiccans or something.
After Within Temptation, none seem as enjoyable, but at the bottom of the post I have lined up more covers so you can keep riding the wormhole, if you wish. You won’t be disappointed. Before ending, I do have one non-cover related video that I couldn’t pass up sharing. It is a mash up of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” with the Olsen Twins’ slowed up “Gimme Pizza” video.
Placing this song adjacent to such a viral video speaks to both its pervasiveness in pop culture and just the oddities available to us. What amazes me about these covers and Kate Bush’s original is not only does it provide a timeless template for other artists, but it also lends itself to virtually ANY genre, like…any. But I'm not really sure what to make of it all. Why is it so malleable? Why has it become so beloved by artists from so many genres? Is it as simple as just relating it to its original popularity or basic song structure? I just don’t know.