45 years ago | Bradley Lane, Standish, UK | 20th January 1978
Forty-five years ago, I had, what I now think was my first full experience of chart music: the unforgettable ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Kate Bush…
I was still only four and I think I was having breakfast before school, with the radio on in the kitchen. I’d been aware of pop music before that point but I don’t remember much of it making an impact on me. The family record collection included both Chicago’s ‘If You Leave Me Now’ and ABBA’s ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ but I was listening to them well after their time in the charts had ended. Almost inevitably, I seem to remember being aware of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, albeit also well after the event – although I do know where I was when it was Number 1, but that’s a different story…
Nor was it my first recollection of a song that was in the charts at the time. I’m pretty sure that distinction goes to Paul McCartney and Wings with ‘Mull Of Kintyre’, which I remember watching on ‘Top of the Pops’, with the band of pipers marching into the studio at the end.
What I mean is the appreciation of a chart song, not just for the music itself but also as an item of fashion; in the knowledge that others would be aware of it, listening to it, knowing it mattered that week. I can still remember marvelling at its soaring melodies that morning, wondering what kind of creature was making those impossibly high notes.
When I came to watch the wide-eyed, pouting, dervish of flailing limbs that was Kate Bush on ’Top of the Pops’ or possibly ‘Swap Shop’, I was even more amazed. I’d taken my first steps into pop music and I loved it.
On reflection, the phenomenon unleashed on the listening public in January 1978 was such a random collision of factors: a prodigy performance artist from Kent dancing expressively to her self-written song based on a (then) 140 year-old novel by Emily Brontë, set on the West Yorkshire Moors. Nothing about it fits any kind of formula for pop success but it got to Number 1 in the charts and stayed there for a month.
And so, as with any other child of the Seventies, thus began a decades-long journey of Radio 1-listening, TOTP-watching and chart-following as the constant ebb and flow of new music seemed to chronicle our lives.
Eventually, I tired of Radio 1, ‘Top of the Pops’ went to the giant glitter-ball in the sky and, for various reasons, the charts began to lose their relevance. Such is the natural order of things, you may agree. But for a large part of my first 30 years, chart music seemed to matter a lot – and I can’t remember ever feeling that way until I heard Kate as Cathy.