The Library: "Babooshka" by Kate Bush

The Library is a recurring feature at Sketchy Details where I recommend a song that I think would be a good fit in anyone's music library. This week, the recommendation is one of my favorite pop songs of all time. "Babooshka" by Kate Bush is a great narrative song with a story that is still edgy 31 years later. The story goes like this: a woman is convinced her husband is cheating on her. To catch him, she assumes an alternate identity to seduce him. By the first chorus, we know she is successful. We also know that she doesn't realize that she might have changed over the years. The second verse describes their first meeting in person. Once again, we as the audience are given information that the wife doesn't know: he feels that she has "freezed on him." He didn't stray; she pushed him away. She sacrifices everything she has to convince herself of a paranoid fantasy when, in reality, her husband is only drawn to the mysterious woman because she is just like his wife when they first met. He knows he has met her before but he can't place her until she reveals her true identity.

The vocal performance on this is just aggressive enough to sell the concept. When Kate Bush tears into that chorus, you can't tell if she's crying out in ecstasy or screaming in agony. The verses, in contrast, are almost conspiratorial in tone. We're being led on and we can do nothing to stop it. Kate's sweet little soprano voice is almost a whisper building to an unexpected roar by the chorus. It's a brave choice that serves the song well.

The arrangement of the recording is rather sparse, which only serves to put the focus on the storytelling. The main instruments are an upright bass, an acoustic piano, a synthesizer, a steel string guitar, and a drum kit. What I'm drawn to the most is the guitar. It has this Eastern European folk sound to it, rapidly strummed to build tension in the first verse. This is replaced in the second verse by a warbling, brass-like setting on the synthesizer and the increasing interference of crackling sound effects. These escalate to the clear sound of a window breaking when the wife destroys her marriage by the end of the song.

I think the song still sounds very current and could be playing on the radio today. Give it a listen then go download it at your store of choice.

So what do you think of "Babooshka?" Are you going to add it to your own collection or pass on the invitation? Sound off in the comments.

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