10 Best Echo & the Bunnymen Songs

Liverpool’s second-most famous band, Echo & the Bunnymen arrived in the post-punk era; they released their debut single in 1979. Their early career mirrors U2‘s – both released their first four albums between 1980 and 1984. Both were enjoying mainstream success in the UK by 1984 – Echo & the Bunnymen’s Ocean Rain reached #4 on the UK charts, while U2’s The Unforgettable Fire topped the charts. But while U2 became mega-stars thereafter, Echo & the Bunnymen took a year’s hiatus and never regained their career momentum.

It’s likely, however, that Echo & the Bunnymen were never destined for the same level of success as U2. They’re an arty band; lead vocalist Ian McCulloch was a disciple of The Doors’ Jim Morrison, while guitarist Will Sergeant blended 1960s psychedelia with post-punk aggression. Their rhythm section was strong – Pete de Freitas was an accomplished drummer, while Les Pattinson’s bass-lines are always prominent.

Here are ten of their best songs, leaning heavily on their work from 1980 to 1984. Apologies to songs I couldn’t squeeze in, like ‘All My Colours’, ‘Crystal Days’, ‘Rescue’, ‘Lips Like Sugar’, and ‘Bring on the Dancing Horses‘.

10 Best Echo & the Bunnymen Songs

#10 – My Kingdom

from Ocean Rain, 1984
1984’s Ocean Rain is just about wall-to-wall quality – I’ve never been keen on McCulloch’s “cu-cu-cucumber” in ‘Thorn of Crowns’. There were a bunch of strong songs that I couldn’t squeeze into this list, like ‘Crystal Days’ and ‘Seven Seas’. One relatively unheralded track that I’ve always enjoyed is ‘My Kingdom’ – it’s a relaxed, jangly deep cut before a manic lead guitar part appears – it’s part solo and part riff.

#9 – Nothing Lasts Forever

from Evergreen, 1997
After a stint with a different lead vocalist, and then a breakup, McCulloch, Sergeant, and Pattison reformed Echo & the Bunnymen in 1997. ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’ was their comeback single, and both it and parent album Evergreen made the UK top ten. Liam Gallagher is on backing vocals, and ‘Nothing Last Forever’ sounds like a contemporary Oasis song. McCulloch’s a sharper lyricist, however, “I want it now, I want it now/Don’t tell me that my ship is coming in.”

#8 – Villiers Terrace

from Crocodiles, 1980
Debut album Crocodiles has more of a light, psychedelic feel than Echo & the Bunnymen’s subsequent work, recalling their 1960s influences like The Doors. I assume the piano is played by producer David Balfe. I’m not sure if this interpretation of the song by Stylus Magazine is entirely accurate, but it’s interesting:

Allegedly the servant-in-the-hall perspective of the Munich Dictate, the song describes the aftermath of Hitler’s quiet acquisition of Czechoslovakia. The first domino to fall after the Anschluss, Hitler overjoyed after securing a bloodless victory over territory that ensured a broader front against countries to the immediate south and east. Immediately thereafter, Hitler foamed in an epileptic celebration: his body rolling about on the floor, tongue lolling out of his head, such was his glee

Stylus Magazine

#7 – Ocean Rain

from Ocean Rain, 1984
For a post-punk band, Echo & the Bunnymen used strings often and well. The closing track of Ocean Rain is dominated by its gorgeous orchestrations – there’s light drumming and some guitar leads, but it’s all about McCulloch’s voice backed by the moody strings. The gorgeousness kicks in with the line “All hands of deck at dawn/Sailing to sadder shores”.

#6 – Back of Love

from Porcupine, 1983
The single ‘Back of Love’ was released almost a year in advance of the album Porcupine. It always sounded a little Beatlesesque to me – McCulloch’s vocal reminds me of John Lennon, and there’s an orchestral interlude that recalls the baroque touches of the Beatles in the mid-1960s. ‘Back of Love’ is intense, but there’s a solid pop tune underneath too.

#5 – Stars are Stars

from Crocodiles, 1980
Again, another Crocodiles track that’s less musically intense than what was to come. There’s a Byrdsy jangle on ‘Stars are Stars’ that’s more overt than on most of the band’s work. “Stars are stars and they shine so hard” is a great line. McCulloch and Sergeant revisited ‘Stars and Stars’ on 2018’s album of reworkings, The Stars, The Oceans & The Moon.

#4 – Show of Strength

from Heaven Up Here, 1981
‘Show of Strength’ starts with a great introduction; it begins seemingly midway through a jam before the key components coalesce. First Pattinson’s bass groove, then Sergeant’s guitar riff – psychedelic and hard-hitting. McCulloch’s voice is deliciously sonorous and his lyrics are typically pretentious, starting lines with lengthy words like “realistically” and “hopefully”.

#3 – The Cutter

from Porcupine, 1983
‘The Cutter’ was The Bunnymen’s highest-charting UK single, reaching #8, although it was later equalled by ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’. The group’s initial versions of the Porcupine tracks were rejected, and Madras-born violinist L. Shankar was brought in to brighten the sound. McCulloch’s lyrics reached peak impenetrability here – he told NME in 1983 that “‘The Cutter’ is about three different aspects of this man, The Cutter. I’m six-foot tall, so that’s a clue.”

#2 – Over The Wall

from Heaven Up Here, 1981
‘Over The Wall’ is another intense post-punk rocker from Heaven Up Here. It’s a slow-burner to start with, but de Freitas’s drums kick in during the first chorus, and are the focal point thereafter. ‘Over the Wall’ was only released as a single in Australia. In the liner notes to Heaven Up Here, McCulloch notes that “It was a frightening record, and the best fun to make. We were the Real Madrid of rock…. I loved the fact that our Scouseness, well mine in particular, meant that no one was getting all of us. There were levels beneath the surface.”

#1 – The Killing Moon

from Ocean Rain, 1984
McCulloch’s never been shy about his achievements – he told The Observer “When I sing ‘The Killing Moon’, I know there isn’t a band in the world who’s got a song anywhere near that.” In a 2015 interview, McCulloch said: “I love (the song) all the more because I didn’t pore over it for days on end. One morning, I just sat bolt upright in bed with this line in my head: ‘Fate up against your will. Through the thick and thin. He will wait until you give yourself to him.’ You don’t dream things like that and remember them. That’s why I’ve always half credited the lyric to God. It’s never happened before or since.” The music was derived from the chords of Bowie’s ‘Life In Mars’, played in reverse order, while the arrangement is creative with balaika-inspired guitars and strings.

Did I miss your favourite Echo & the Bunnymen song?

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  1. This is going to be hard. No mean to be rude with fans. The Killing Moon is a great song. Really super good. But the overall legacy of the band is not that impresive. Other groups from the same period are better. U2, REM, The Cure, INXS, The Jam, The Police, Talking Heads, The Smiths, XTC, Joy Division/ New Order, to mention a few. And I remember these guys talking by themselves as if they were the new Mozarts or the new Beatles. And talking bad about the peers.

    • Their prime career was only four albums really – they’d lost something by their 1987 record. I think McCulloch is known as “Mac the Mouth” for his tendency to talk-up the Bunnymen and talk down their competitors. Often it’s more about intensity than tunefulness too.

    • I found Porcupine pretty hard to get into, outside the singles. I’ve had a CD copy for years. I think Killing Moon is a pretty predictable number one.

  2. I mostly know Echo & The Bunnymen by their memorable name. Ironically, the only tune I could name is among the ones you noted you left out: Lips Like Sugar. I remember hearing that on the radio in the ’80s back in Germany. I don’t recall any others.

  3. I like The Cutter better than Killing Moon, but I think those are the two best. And then probably Ocean Rain. And I too would put Gerry and the Pacemakers before Echo and the Bunnymen as the second most famous and second best Liverpool band. Ferry Cross the Mersey and Don’t let the Sun Catch You Crying both make better classics.than Echo’s two classics.

    • Gerry and the Pacemakers probably are more famous, really. But I feel like for my generation, they’re edging towards an irrelevant oldies band.

      • actually I think the sixties have held up a lot better than the 80s. The 80s has a lot more classics than I once thought, but it has the sound of like second-tier classic. It doesn’t have the ring of first-tier classics. ha ha

        • Gerry and the Pacemakers belong to the early 1960s – I think a lot of music fans behave like rock music started around 1965 with Rubber Soul, Highway 61 Revisited, and Pet Sounds, and ignore the older stuff.

          • That’s true. I was probably like that myself at one time. But now I like a lot of stuff from the early 60s and even the 50s. I like Doo Wop now and rockabilly, and now I like Elvis a lot and some of the other original guys.

          • I think the late 1950s rock and roll like early Elvis, Chuck Berry, and Buddy Holly is a bit more accessible.

  4. It took me a while to appreciate them. I think I told you before but a co-worker got me into them years ago. During the 80s I didn’t hear a lot of them…only from friends. The number 1 song I totally agree with… I also learned more about them looking for power pop….never thought of them like that but I do now….great stuff.

    • I don’t know if anything is super-close to power pop – maybe more the later hits like Lips Like Sugar or Nothing Lasts Forever. The early stuff is a bit post-punk and intense to count, I think?

      • I agree with the early stuff…that is what my co-worker started me on. The power pop music is the hardest genre to pin down. I always thought it was weird that The Beatles had a huge influence on the genre but they are not considered power pop.

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Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person. It features album reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.

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Graham Fyfe has been writing this website since his late teens. Now in his forties, he's been obsessively listening to albums for years. He works as a web editor and plays the piano.

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