Kate Bush and 'Stranger Things': the story behind 'Running Up That Hill'

The tune has reached number one on iTunes thanks to the Netflix show

Kate Bush's 1985 song 'Running Up That Hill' is back in the charts after it appeared on TV show 'Stranger Things'. Photo: Pete Still / Redferns
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The 1985 Kate Bush song Running Up That Hill has hit No 1 on the iTunes charts in 2022, thanks to Netflix show Stranger Things.

In season four of the Duffer Brothers' sci-fi horror series, Bush's haunting tune plays a significant role in the story arc of Max Mayfield, played by Sadie Sink. (We'll give away no spoilers here.)

Originally titled A Deal with God, the single was the first from Bush's 1985 album Hounds of Love and hit the radio waves on August 5, 1985 in the UK, her home country.

Back then, it peaked at No 3 on the UK charts and made 30 in the Billboard Hot 100 in the US.

The song's name was changed by Bush's label as record executives feared it would be blacklisted in religious countries, such as Italy or France. Bush relented, changing the title, but it's still listed as Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God) on the album.

As with most Bush songs, it's a theatrical piece of synth-laden music taken to new heights with its deeply personal lyrics. She is said to have written it in one evening.

It's about making a deal with God to swap lives with another person; a fitting theme for Max's dilemma in the TV show.

“It's about a relationship between a man and a woman,” Bush said in a 1985 interview. “They love each other very much, and the power of the relationship is something that gets in the way. It creates insecurities.

“It's saying if the man could be the woman and the woman the man, if they could make a deal with God, to change places, that they'd understand what it's like to be the other person and perhaps it would clear up misunderstandings. You know, all the little problems; there would be no problem.”

A relationship fraught with complications is at the heart of the theme. As goes verse two: “You don't want to hurt me / But see how deep the bullet lies / Unaware, I'm tearing you asunder / Ooh, there is thunder in our hearts / Is there so much hate for the ones we love?”

“It seems that the more you get to know a person, the greater the scope there is for misunderstanding,” Bush said in an interview with The Times in 1985.

“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.”

Then comes the now-trending chorus: “And if I only could / I'd make a deal with God / And I'd get him to swap our places / Be running up that road / Be running up that hill”.

“I don't know that perfect love exists in any human being, but I don't think it can be encouraged enough,” Bush told Blitz magazine when the song came out.

Running Up That Hill was one of the first songs she wrote for the album, and she had to persuade her label to make it the single instead of Cloudbusting.

She won the battle, and the song also got a nearly five-minute music video, directed by David Garfath, featuring Bush performing an interpretive dance with Michael Hervieu that was choreographed by Diane Grey.

Bush and Hervieu wear grey Japanese hakamas, a traditional style of floor-length trousers, and the dance suggests the pair are drawing a bow and arrow, an action that also appeared on the song's cover artwork.

In surreal sequences, the duo search through crowds of masked strangers and it ends with them being swept away from each other.

Interestingly, MTV initially refused to run the video, reportedly because the network preferred clips of people singing along to songs. At first, the channel ran a live performance of the song from TV show Wogan instead, but eventually put the video into rotation.

Over the years, various artists have covered the song, from dark wave group Faith and the Muse in 2001 and rock band Placebo in 2003 to pop star Will Young in 2011.

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Updated: May 31, 2022, 12:38 PM