This is a column called Pity Party and it is brought to you by Lauren O'Neill from Noisey UK. It's about music (obviously) and feelings and #feelings. Please cry along, thanks.
Often when I am writing about music, I’m drawn to focus on the weather and atmosphere it puts me in mind of. Sometimes it’s specific – one song recently made me think of driving on a hot, heavy night – but most of the time it’s more abstract. A bright synth line is like the vivid blues and greens that begin to bloom in May; widening strings on a chorus become days yawning out in front of you, longer than you have known them in months.
Some music, therefore, just sounds like summer; like warmth, like beer in the afternoon with a squeeze of lime. Artists and labels know this, and they’ll chase elusive “Song of the Summer” status – a title bestowed on a track by a bumper combination of radio, streaming, sales, and cars absolutely fucking banging it out their windows on any given high street – like the holy grail. Song of the Summer contenders usually employ sunny instrumentation, and, often, they’ll capture the pop music zeitgeist in some way. As a big advocate of mirroring the music I pipe into my ears to the season (in winter we listen to Death Cab; in autumn… also Death Cab), I love Songs of the Summer. In fact, I look forward to each year’s new batch – in 2017, I marched over pavements to “Slide” and “Wild Thoughts” as though I were in the film of my own life – though there are also some more timeless tracks that I return to year on year.
“I Feel Love” by Donna Summer is walking with purpose, at speed, through central London, on the hottest day in the city. “Heaven or Las Vegas” by Cocteau Twins is lying in grass, which is making an imprint in your back, while you squint through sunglasses at infinity, dyed azure, spread out above you. And then there is “Cloudbusting,” the masterpiece second single from Kate Bush’s 1985 album Hounds of Love, which is summer encapsulated, really, because it embodies what summer represents most of all: possibility, and the feeling that something good is going to happen.
Bush was inspired to write “Cloudbusting” after reading about the relationship between the psychologist Wilhelm Reich and his son Peter. The track concerns their practice of trying to make rain using a machine Reich built, called a cloudbuster. A singular song with very few points of comparison within the pop music canon, “Cloudbusting” is a piece of work on which it feels easy to project your own feelings, because it is neither happy nor melancholy. Instead, the song is on the cusp of something, and it’s expansive, the way languid summer days are, vessels ready to fill with what you make of them. The quickly recognisable cello part ebbs and flows like water lapping your feet, rising like a tide at the song’s crescendo, allowing you to ride whatever emotion you like on its wave. “Cloudbusting” has bookended my summers: it has been there during a glorious 5AM sunrise, as pink light melted through my window, and for total stillness at the height of a sweaty, sleepless night. On both occasions, and in all of the moments when I’ve heard it in between, the song’s largesse allowed me to simply be enveloped by it, as my heart swelled up with whatever it wanted, the strings stretching like muscles.
In that way, there’s a sensuality about “Cloudbusting” that makes it feel like it belongs firmly within summer, the most tactile season. Bush’s voice, which tangibly sighs and pleads across the track, feels like it’s trying to grab onto something, like fingers in sand, or feet climbing a hill under beating sun. Her lyrics are largely centred on the Reichs (singing from Peter’s point of view, Bush is concerned with Wilhelm Reich’s arrest in 1941: “I can't hide you from the government / Oh, God, Daddy, I won't forget"), and yet the hope at its core, paired with the rousing, lilting musicianship that could mean anything at all, allows the song to maintain a universality that is bigger than their story. In fact, “Cloudbusting” is just one of many examples of Bush’s gift for taking a narrative (think, even, of her most famous song “Wuthering Heights”) and reinventing it for her own purposes, to make more all-encompassing points.
That broadness can be observed at all levels of the song, and I think I like best about “Cloudbusting”. It’s rare that you hear pop music that feels so simply big. It is an island of a song, existing in and of itself, and it lies outside of trends, expressing itself entirely without need for them. It is not the Song of the Summer, but the Song of Every Summer, because it can mean something different every time. It tells a story that is small – the tale of a son and his father – but inside that specificity there are pockets of enormity: there’s a whole sky just in its soaring chorus.
It’s here, in the chorus, where the summer in “Cloudbusting” seeps out. Bush’s voice, pretty but somehow beseeching, conjures sun after rain, light after dark, summer after a long, punishing winter. It’s a perfect image of possibility, made more powerful by the surge of the cello. And then there are the words themselves, like an incantation opening up the sweeping vistas of life that summer promises in a way that other times of year just cannot: I just know that something good is going to happen. And I don't know when. But just saying it could even make it happen.
I am quite sure that there are no words that feel truer on a summer evening, which is as close as nature gets to real magic – the cloudless heavens turning purple, your body warm and light like the air – than those words of Kate Bush’s from “Cloudbusting”'s chorus. Close your eyes and say them for yourself. I just know that something good is going to happen. And I don't know when. But just saying it could even make it happen. Perhaps it really could.
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