Tuesday, 23 March 2021

10 from Echo and the Bunnymen


Nothing Lasts Forever, Echo and the Bunnymen's stunning 1997 comeback single was my introduction to this wonderful band. I went to seem at the Barrowland Ballroom in October of that year and in a mist of dry ice, Ian McCulloch (part pop star, part silhouette) was absolutely captivating. I couldn't take my eyes off him. He had that mysterious 'X' factor that certain people do. The real X factor. Whatever 'it' is, McCulloch had it in abundance. 

I bought the Songs To Learn And Sing compilation immediately after that show. What an album! I'd go and see Echo and the Bunnymen whenever they played in Glasgow, I also went to see Mac when he released a solo album and played a show in Borders in Buchanan Street in the afternoon, followed by an intimate show in Tuts at night.

I've seen the good, the bad and the ugly. There was a 2002 show in Manchester supporting New Order at Old Trafford Cricket Ground where The Bunnymen seemed determined to blow New Order off the stage, incredible shows at T in the Park and brilliant nights at the Barrowland. Then their 2011 show at the Royal Concert Hall (blogged on here) was one of the strangest shows I have ever been to. Mac seemed deranged, certainly preoccupied, but there were still moments of wonder.

And when you look back over the career of Echo and the Bunnymen, of Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant, it is sprinkled liberally with moments of wonder. A band bursting with creative energy and ideas, leading to memorable events, singles, albums and performances. 

I did look back, buying the Turquoise Days book to read through the bands vision and adventures, McCulloch's belief in himself and his band was incredible. It was notable that he wanted the Bunnymen to be the best band in the world, not the biggest. He had formed a magical band, they had Bill Drummond (later of The KLF) as their manager, they created their own scene, lived in their own world and for a number of years they could do no wrong. They could have probably moved to stadiums like U2 and Simple Minds, instead they toured the Outer Hebrides, played the Royal Albert Hall and sent their fans on bicycle tours round Liverpool with a map in the shape of a bunny's ears.

Echo and the Bunnymen were beautifully different. Fiercely ambitious, but brilliantly (and stubbornly) independent with it - everything was on their terms. 

Live in Liverpool, 2008

Echo and the Bunnymen mean something to many people across the world. Their legendary 80's line up was impeccable; McCulloch's personality, look and voice wooed girls and boys, Sergeant's guitar playing provoked awe and debate, Les Pattinson on bass is someone I admire more with every passing year, keeping a groove to let guitars and strings flourish and their original drummer Pete De Freitas was super cool. I say original, but in actual fact the band formed with a drum machine called Echo.

Their first 4 albums; Crocodiles, Heaven Up Here, Porcupine and Ocean Rain are critically lauded and worshipped by fans, their 5th eponymous LP is almost as good. 

Something had to give, nothing lasts forever. De Freitas left, living the rock star lifestyle, he rejoined but by then things were frayed and McCulloch left after a Japanese tour in March 1988.

Bizarrely, the band wanted to continue without McCulloch. Tragedy struck when Pete de Freitas was killed in a motorbike accident on his way to the first rehearsal with singer Noel Burke. Rather incredibly, an album, Reverberation, was still released under the name Echo and the Bunnymen, the lead single reached number 96 in the UK charts. I've never felt the need to check it out, the Bunnymen without McCulloch?!

Then you have the majestic 1997 comeback, Sergeant, Pattinson and McCulloch reunited, releasing Nothing Lasts Forever, featuring a young Liam Gallagher on backing vocals. The Bunnymen, the real Bunnymen, were back. Including Evergreen, the band have released 7 albums since reforming and they continue to tour regularly. 

If I was to choose what I consider to be the 10 best songs by Echo and the Bunnymen, there would be slight differences to this list. But this is, at the time of writing, 10 of my very favourite Echo and the Bunnymen songs.

If you're new to the band, start with the aforementioned Songs To Learn And Sing. You will learn them and you will sing them. 

Will Sergeant & Ian McCulloch

Nothing Lasts Forever

I'll start with where my love of Echo and the Bunnymen began, their majestic 1997 comeback single Nothing Lasts Forever. I still call it Nothing Ever Lasts Forever!

McCulloch's vocals have a hushed, soulful urgency to them, rising for the bridge to the chorus and then sounding like they are soaring behind the strings as he declares nothing ever lasts forever, nothing ever lasts forever

There is a rich reflective feeling to McCulloch's voice and his lyrics get straight to the point, he doesn't let up as he sings of time running out the door I'm running in

I want it now, I want it now

Not the promises of what tomorrow brings

As comeback singles go, this sets the bar. Check the original video   and the live version from Liverpool in 2001 below.

Lips Like Sugar

The title conjures an image, the lyrics take it further. Everything about this song is super cool; the title, the guitar, the lyrics and McCulloch's vocals.

McCulloch looks like a total star in the video; the lips, the hair, the look, the backdrop as he walks through the city, the way he cradles his microphone ... then it goes a little odd!

But back to the song, after a teasing intro Will Sergeant launches into a riff underpinned by a simple beat that always makes me want to dance. Then McCulloch comes in with his vivid pop poetry.

She floats like a swan

Grace on the water 

Lips like sugar, lips like sugar

Sergeant has a piercing guitar solo and as the song develops McCulloch sounds like he is lost in a dream as he talks of siamese twins and mirror kisses, before launching himself out of his dream and into the chorus. 


The chiming guitar riff is a great intro, leading to the beat and McCulloch singing in a very Lou Reed/Velvets style over a funky bluesy riff. Later on he goes on to repeatedly sing; is this the blues I'm singing?

If I said, I'd lost my way

Would you sympathise, could you sympathise?

I'm jumbled up, maybe I'm losing my touch

I'm jumbled up, maybe I'm losing my touch

But you know I didn't have it anyway

Released away back in 1980, there is still a very timeless quality to Rescue. It grabs your attention, demands your attention and it rewards your attention. 

The breakdown section tips a nod to The Doors before building to the aforementioned is this blues I'm singing outro, McCulloch leading his band superbly and his band rise, playing loosely when allowed but then getting real tight when it matters.

Check the Live at Liverpool version.

Crystal Days

Crystal Days packs a lot into 2 minutes 24 seconds. A classic Sergeant guitar riff is beautifully brief before McCulloch comes in singing looking for hope and I hope it's you

There is heartbreak, pain, misfit ways and crystal days, shadows and golden views. 

The Bunnymen somehow manage to find space for a 40-second instrumental and there is time at the end for McCulloch to hint at his Velvets/Lou Reed influence with a brilliant do do do do do do do section.

Guitar pop perfection, this all sounds effortless. Taken from the Ocean Rain album, Crystal Days is a band at the top of their game.

The Game

If I was writing a blog on what I consider to be the 10 best Bunnymen songs then it is very unlikely The Game would feature, but it's a real favourite of mine. It flows superbly and I particularly love the line,

Everybody's got their own good reason

Why their favourite season, is their favourite season

Opening with organ/keys over a beat, Will Sergeant then comes in with his electric guitar and McCulloch sounds totally on it, singing of tinsel tears and midnight trains.

Do It Clean

This was the last song to be added to my 10 favourites, narrowly pipping Seven Seas. I had a list that contained a number of songs including Rust, Seven Seas, Silver, The Back Of Love, Never Stop and the more recent Think I Need It To which I really like.

In the end I opted to include Do It Clean as it's got a real pure psychedelic garage nuggets style energy that I always enjoy, especially live when the band often stretch it out and go into jams of other songs they love. This is a trick that The Bunnymen do regularly to this day, check the brilliant segue from Nothing Lasts Forever into Walk On The Wild Side from their 2008 T in the Park show HERE (last song in, starts at 12-minutes).

 Originally released on the US version of debut album Crocodiles, the band thought highly enough of the song to include it on the 1985 Songs To Learn And Sing compilation.

Where am I going, where have I been?

Where are you going, where have you been?

Do It Clean sounds fresh, full of energy with a raw edge and intensity, check this early live version where the band extend it to include All You Need Is Love. Imagine getting into this band upon release of their debut album, what a ride you would have been on! I'd have loved to have seen the band at this stage.

The Cutter

If push came to shove this might be my favourite Bunnymen song. Opening with some outrageous guitar riff from Will Sergeant with some kind of harmoniser effect, McCulloch is in, quickly leading us to the chorus

Conquering myself until

I see another hurdle approaching

Say you can, say you will

Not just another drop in the ocean

After a second verse and another run through the chorus the song is sent towards the heaven thanks to an absolutely beautiful burst of strings at 1-minute 48 seconds. 

Am I the happy loss? Will I still recoil?

When the skin is lost, am I the worthy cross?

Will I still be soiled, when the dirt is off?

This is almost like a second chorus, the real chorus, it is spell binding, a band in majestic form, brimming with the confidence to create something as good and ambitious as this. Ian Broudie deserves a lot of credit for his work as producer on this gem. L Shankar provides the incredible cloud bursting strings.

Bring On The Dancing Horses

Bring On The Dancing Horses has a kind of shimmering quality to it, helped by synths that are constantly at play underneath the bass groove and beats.

When you read the lyrics you might wonder what it's all about, but then you hear it and it somehow all makes perfect sense. Lush, dreamy, sublime, cinematic, post punk psychedelia, Bring On The Dancing Horses is the sound of a band lost in their own world and capturing a piece of it to display on Planet Earth.

Bring on the dancing horses, wherever they may roam

Shiver and say the words of every lie you've heard

First I'm gonna make it, then I'm gonna break it, til it falls apart

Hating all the faking and shaking while I'm breaking, your brittle heart

The Killing Moon

Described by its author as the greatest song ever written, The Killing Moon is a single lifted from the 1984 Ocean Rain album. 

There is no doubt that it's a special song, one that came to McCulloch in a dream, so much so that he jokingly credits God with a co-write as he woke up with the lyrics fate up against your will, through the thick and thin, you will wait until, you give yourself to him

McCulloch is at his poetic best, imagery pours out of him; blue moon, starlit nights, your lips a magic world and your sky all hung with jewels. 

Musically, Les Pattinson on bass, Pete de Freitas on drums and Will Sergeant on guitar, are on fire, aided by glorious strings, conjuring a cinematic feel to match McCulloch's poetry. 

Official video

Ocean Rain

Ocean Rain might be the most beautiful song that Echo and the Bunnymen have written and recorded. Backed by a 35-piece orchestra, McCulloch delivers a perfect performance, telling of a broken heart / depression, trying to get back , with Will Sergeants guitar sounding like it is crying at times, offering hope at others.

The Bunnymen self-produced the Ocean Rain album (with a little help) and they get the performance and production absolutely spot on. This is a devastatingly beautiful song, delivered with heartfelt soul. The instrumental section with lush strings and Sergeant's impeccable guitar solo is just sublime. 

When you look at it on paper, there is only a couple of verses, but they way they are repeated throughout as the song builds leads to them becoming like a long chorus. McCulloch sounds broken and gentle at the start, but by the end of the song he is in full flight with the strings and guitar, sounding defiant - he will get through the storm. Listen to the way he lifts his voice to sing the waves at 4-minutes 20 seconds, it is euphoric, by the end of the song we're all going to get through it.

Check the incredible live version from The Tube in 1984 with Mac introducing it as 'a slowy'. 

Live in Liverpool 2001

Live on The Tube

All at sea again

And now my hurricanes, have brought down this ocean rain

To bathe me again

My ship's a sail, can you hear its tender frame

Screaming from beneath the waves, screaming from beneath the waves

All hands on deck at dawn, sailing to sadder shores

Your port in my heavy storms

Harbours the blackest thoughts

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