The hauntingly beautiful “Running up That Hill”, released by Kate Bush in 1985, is one of the greatest love songs of the last century. Written during a period of intense creativity for the English singer-songwriter, the song is a unique example of her expansive musical style—a combination of synth-pop, rock, and classical themes.
So what does it mean? Well, the lyrics speak to a powerful and universal theme: the frustrations that come with not being able to change another person. In her own words, Kate has said the song is “about putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and actually experiencing what it would be like for you.” In other words, if only we could truly understand each other—without judgment—all our conflicts would be resolved.
“Running up That Hill” speaks directly to this universal longing for connection and understanding. Through her evocative imagery and touching story of a couple trying to find common ground, Bush poignantly conveys how much we long to “change our luck” by taking a leap of faith in someone else.
Album & Release Date of “Running up That Hill”
Released in 1985, “Running Up That Hill” is a song off the iconic album “Hounds of Love”. It was the first single off the album and quickly became a commercial hit. The single alone reached the top 5 in seven countries, and remains one of Kate Bush’s most popular songs to this day.
The song peaked at number three in the UK singles chart, but went on to become Kate Bush’s highest-selling single for many years. With its slow but powerful lyrics, it has become an anthem for endurance, resilience and self-empowerment ever since its release.
It was written by Kate Bush herself and produced by her long time collaborators (Leo Abrahams, Del Palmer and Paddy Bush). Real strings were used instead of synthesizers to give it a classic feel; the Irish Chamber Orchestra performed at Abbey Road Studios to get its sweeping sound.
The video for the song was also quite controversial for the time; it featured Kate Bush as a wounded angel being held upside down in an alley by two men. Fans will recognize this visual as an homage to her theatrical background, as well as her love of balletic expression.
Overview of the Lyrics
Now that you’re aware of the back story of the song, let’s explore a lyrical journey of “Running Up That Hill.” The song starts out with the lyrics, “It doesn’t hurt me.
These lines set the foundation for the whole story—Kate Bush is pleading with someone to try and understand her pain and sorrow. This can be interpreted on many levels, as Bush stated that she wanted to use this song as a way of reaching out to her own parents in hope they would understand her feelings throughout her life.
The lyrics discuss several themes throughout the song. Primarily it touches upon love, religion, and fate.
The opening line of “If I only could make a deal with God and get him to swap our places…” speaks not only about love but also faith and surrendering control over your life because ultimately God is in charge. The chorus repeatedly states “running up that hill…if we only could make a deal” proposing an idea of making a Faustian bargain; therein lies more religious references of making an attempt to bargain with God for a better life without suffering, grief or heartache.
Throughout the song there are also mentions of fate; does our destinies really lie in our hands or are we powerless against our future? The overall theme of the song implies that we don’t always have control over our lives no matter how much we try—but by understanding what makes us happy, we can learn how to cope and live more peacefully despite whatever challenges may come our
Interpretations & Themes in the Lyrics
Interpreting the lyrics of “Running Up That Hill” can be quite difficult, as they are full of symbols and metaphors. However, there are a few overarching themes that you can pick up on.
Sacrifice & Exchange
The narrator in the song is begging for a lifeline from God to be able to “make a deal.” They suggest a trade – their life for someone else’s – in order to show that she is not in control of her own life or destiny. This speaks to the idea that one person’s life is connected to another’s and therefore sacrifice and exchange are necessary.
Power & Control
The lyrics suggest that the narrator is at an impasse—she recognizes the inequality between men and women, but feels powerless to do anything about it. She sings, “If I only could, I’d make a deal with God, and I’d get him to swap our places.” In other words, if she had the power, she would exchange her place with God in order to experience what it would be like for women to have ultimate power. This speaks to an inherent power struggle between genders—that even if people find themselves in an unequal position, they still long for control over their own lives.
Fate & Destiny
The chorus emphasizes fate—”It doesn’t hurt me,” suggesting that no matter how much we try we cannot escape our destiny. By trying to make this deal with God, the narrator is attempting to take control of her fate by doing something that goes against her own nature. The notion of destiny being immovable aligns with the idea that despite previously existing power structures like gender inequality or racism attempts made by individuals can have
Music Video for “Running Up That Hill”
The music video for “Running Up That Hill” has become iconic. It was directed by David Garfath, who was responsible for videos created by other 80s artists like Pet Shop Boys and Aha!
The concept of the music video centered around a man and woman, a representation of the relationship between Kate and her husband, bass guitarist Del Palmer. There’s a lot of symbolism throughout the video—Kate can be seen spinning the uphill road rapidly in the night sky, representing her desire to make time stand still while they had those moments together.
The song’s title phrase is repeated in an eerie voiceover throughout the video, which emphasizes what Kate is trying to express: “If I only could, I’d make a deal with God.” The video ends with Kate opening her eyes as she does a backflip—signifying that hope prevails over fear in life’s relationships.
Overall, though the video is high budget and glamorous, it does a good job of conveying the emotion behind Kate’s lyrics.
Critical Reception & Legacy of “Running up That Hill”
“Running Up That Hill” was released as the lead single from Bush’s album Hounds of Love in June 1985, and it was met with critical acclaim. The song has been praised for its unique instrumentation, thought-provoking lyrics, and the powerful vocals that bridge both.
The impact of “Running Up That Hill” has extended beyond music. It has been cited as an influence on visual art, theater, and literature, while also being sampled by modern artists like Nicki Minaj. The song remains a cult classic to this day, receiving coverage by publications like Rolling Stone and Pitchfork. It is one of Bush’s most popular songs, having sold more than 500,000 copies in the UK since its release.
In June 2005 the single was played on BBC Radio 1 for 12 consecutive hours—a signal of how timeless the track has become. In 2009 it was featured in an official UK music video that went viral around the world.
Simply put, “Running Up That Hill” is a timeless classic—a piece of music that will continue to inspire generations to come.