“Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush
(Words/Music: Kate Bush, Album: Hounds of Love, EMI 1985)
When I think of Kate Bush, I think of art. Not music necessarily, but art. I think of someone with inspiration, artistic vision, and the ability to bring that vision to fruition. Bush’s music is on the fringe of what most would consider rock in that it is often not guitar-oriented and sometimes entirely orchestral. The only thing that seems to keep her tied to the standard rock milieu is her relationship with other rock artists, primarily David Gilmour of Pink Floyd who “discovered” her and encouraged EMI to sign her and Peter Gabriel, with whom she recorded a duet (“Don’t Give Up”) and provided background vocals (“Games Without Frontiers” and “I Don’t Remember”). But even these associations keep her on the fringes of rock and often categorized as Progressive or the catch-all “Alternative.”
“Running Up That Hill” tells the story of a woman who claims that there is no chance of happiness between a man and a woman because they are opposites (and this was years before all the Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus crap). In order to prove her point, she claims that if she could make a deal with God and switch places, he’ll see that she’s right. Before it was released, the song sparked a controversy because of the original title “A Deal With God.” EMI feared that it wouldn’t sell in religious European countries like Italy and Spain. Bush eventually compromised, changing the title to “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” and in some places just “Running Up That Hill.” Bush has never seemed to be someone concerned for her career, forced to record albums to stay in the spotlight. Instead, she records and performs when she wants and when the need and inspiration hit her. And to me, that is one of the marks of a true artist.
“Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd
(Words/Music: David Gilmour and Roger Waters, Album: The Wall, Columbia 1979)
“Comfortably Numb” may seem like and obvious choice for a Pink Floyd song, but I chose it specifically because it displays the two main reasons why I consider David Gilmour to be a great guitar player. In a band as complex as Pink Floyd, the guitarist (as well as the other musicians) need to be flexible and able to adapt to whatever the song calls for. Gilmour is a talented and experienced blues guitarist who has found a home in a progressive/psychedelic rock band and as a result he can play wonderfully phrased solos which tug and pull at the listener’s emotions and he can play mellow, fluid passages which can send the listener on a contemplative journey. And these two solos do just that.
The first is a moody, atmospheric solo which is tied to the song’s main melody. In this solo, Gilmour’s lead serves as a lyrical break in the song as opposed to a means of personal expression. It provides no fireworks or impressive playing and doesn’t wander too far from its central tonal point. Basically, Gilmour’s first solo is more important structurally than creatively and is a good example of how a great guitar player knows how to be a “team player.”
The second solo (or outro) is where Gilmour shines. It is vintage Gilmour phrasing with its characteristic starts and stops and sputters. In this solo, Gilmour proves that his name belongs alongside Jeff Beck and Billy Gibbons as one of the few rock guitarists who really understand and excel at phrasing. Gilmour (and Beck and Gibbons) don’t generally play long runs but rather opt for the three or four note spurts (or phrases) which, when taken as a whole, build a nice and expressive solo. Arranging the solo as a series of short phrases also creates a musical tension which isn’t released until the end of the solo. This is one of the reasons why many of Gilmour’s solos seem to end with a dramatic flair instead of simply ending. In “Comfortably Numb,” this tension isn’t released at all since the song fades out and the concept album moves on to the next part of the story. In the film, the solo coincides with the scene where Pink Floyd trashes his hotel room and it helps portray the pain that Pink is feeling at this point in his career. He is living a torturous existence full of ups and downs and lashes out in an attempt to gain some semblance of control in his life. Gilmour’s solo helps the viewer (and listener) experience and understand his pain. Looked at as a whole, first solo is really the “Comfortably Numb” solo since it is so mellow and melodic, whereas the second solo is Pink’s rejection of everything he has become and his attempt to break out of the numbness. Gilmour skill and versatility as a guitar player allows him to portray both sides of this character.