220. Kate Bush – ‘Babooshka’ (1980)

“She wanted to test her husband
She knew exactly what to do
A pseudonym to fool him
She couldn’t have made a worse move”

Taken from the album Never For Ever

AUS #2, UK #5

When I listen to ‘Babooshka’ I envision scenes from an old illustrated copy of Oliver Twist I had when I was younger, a book that simultaneously scared me silly and enthralled me by a world I would never know. This song has that old-time feel about it, Kate has an elegance to her voice and a storytelling technique that reminds me of literature’s finest. Although she didn’t tell her tales in overlong novels, she told them through pop songs.

‘Babooshka’s story is one of spies and lovers – a woman tests her husband’s fidelity by posing as a potential lover, and then meets him in disguise to see how far he would go. She takes on the name Babooshka (“She signed the letter, all yours, Babooshka”), and in an unlikely turn of events, actually manages to fool him. He sees her as vaguely familiar, “just like his wife when she was beautiful”. The tale is sad and ridiculous at the same time – I mean, it’s not believable at all that he wouldn’t recognise his own wife – but it’s the way it is told, Kate’s vocals on the chorus, and that video.

The music video for ‘Babooshka’ is truly iconic. Kate switches between a full black suit and veil, dancing provocatively with a giant double bass, and then in some sort of viking outfit that reappeared in my childhood on the girl character from Golden Axe. The outfit – which is not much more than a bikini and a sword – certainly raised many eyebrows (and probably raised a lot of other things too), and was the most obvious Kate had ever been about using her sexuality in her art. If she was doing it to sell records, it certainly worked, but I have a feeling the incredibly radio-friendly song helped a bit more. It is Kate’s fourth most successful song in Britain and ties with ‘Rocket Man’ as her second biggest in Australia.

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