In terms of British indie bands, you don’t get much more revered than Liverpool outfit Echo & the Bunnymen. Only superseded by the likes of The Smiths in terms of eminence, the Bunnymen have written no end of incredible cuts over their long career, and their fusion of the post-punk ethic with more pop-oriented textures made the band stand out from the crowd, as well as frontman Ian McCulloch’s unmistakable haircut.
The brilliant thing about Echo & the Bunnymen is that they fit somewhere between the jangly indie of The Smiths and the minimalist goth of Bauhaus, creating a blend that remains as thrilling as when they were at their peak in the mid-1980s. Across their back catalogue, you can hear many of the key facets by which the current crop of post-punks were inspired.
The band were formed in 1979, and the original lineup was comprised of Ian McCulloch, guitarist Will Sergeant and bassist Les Pattinson. In 1980, Pete de Freitas joined as the drummer, and thus the band’s classic lineup was established. Together the quartet would release a string of must-have albums for any so-called ‘collectors’ of music.
Notably, the band’s 1980 debut album, Crocodiles, went into the top 20 of the UK Albums Chart and quickly established the group as one of the most exciting acts that Britain had to offer. Going from strength to strength, they released their criminally underrated sophomore record, Heaven Up Here, in 1981, and carried on the upwards trajectory.
The 1983 single, ‘The Cutter’ became a top 10 hit in the UK, and the album from which it came, Porcupine, went into second place on the charts. The best was yet to come, though. The following year, in 1984, Echo & the Bunnymen released what is resoundingly hailed as their masterpiece, Ocean Rain, which was headed up by the timeless classic, ‘The Killing Moon’.
Before too long, all the trappings of success would make their mark, and the band would become a fraught environment, with McCulloch struggling with alcoholism. Against all the odds, though, they released their self-titled record in 1987, which featured fan favourites such as ‘Lips Like Sugar’, and ‘The Game’. Despite this, things went from bad to worse. McCulloch left in 1988, and tragically, the following year, de Freitas was killed in a motorcycle accident.
The band then released their polarising effort Reverberation in 1990 with frontman Noel Burke, and in 1993 decided to call it a day. They reformed in the late ’90s and, since then, they’ve released more albums and toured sporadically.
Regardless of how the first part of their career ended, at the peak of their powers, Echo & the Bunnymen had one of the most potent sounds of the era, and we shouldn’t forget that. Duly, we’ve listed the band’s six definitive tracks, which paint a vivid picture of the band’s artistic outlook, and just how great they are.
Echo & the Bunnymen’s six definitive songs:
‘The Pictures on My Wall’ – Crocodiles (1980)
The first single released by the Liverpool legends, ‘The Pictures on My Wall’ is one of the definitive post-punk tracks. Ice cold and minimal, the high pitched synth line is brilliant and creates a palpable atmosphere akin to ‘A Forest’ by goth heroes The Cure.
There are elements of the song that are similar to the soundtracks of later Italian Giallo films, and we love it. It’s everything you want from a piece of post-punk and has a strangely anthemic chorus to boot, defying genre norms.
‘Over the Wall’ – Heaven Up Here (1981)
A wholly underrated cut, ‘Over the Wall’ is absolutely excellent. Kicking off with some rudimentary but powerful synth lines, there’s flecks of John Carpenter and Kraftwerk here, clearly reflecting the influence that the band took from electronic music. The principal, bassy synth line is that good it surprises me that no one’s sampled it.
Added to the festivities is the arpeggiated bassline, which sounds eerily similar to one of Bon Jovi’s biggest tracks, but we won’t mention which one. In fact, Les Pattinson’s basswork here is fantastic, and the way he drives the song is really quite something. It’s the kind of bassline that The Mission would make their own towards the end of the decade on tracks such as ‘Wasteland’.
‘The Cutter’ – Porcupine (1983)
Although it was a hit at the time of release, ‘The Cutter’ has been largely forgotten by music lovers, another great mystery. Mixing in psychedelic and Eastern influences, this was Echo & the Bunnymen realising their heady potential.
Prior to this point, they’d always teased an expansive sound but always kept it as minimal as possible, per the post-punk doctrine. However, ‘The Cutter’ showed to everyone, including the band, that their anthemic propensity wasn’t to be ignored but to be utilised, and what a choice it was. Without ‘The Cutter’, there’d be no ‘Killing Moon’.
‘Ocean Rain’ – Ocean Rain (1984)
‘Ocean Rain’ is a beautiful song. Swooning and atmospheric, it, like the album of which it gave the title, saw the band hit their creative peak and blend their bold creative vision with various instrumentation.
This slow builder was fittingly picker as the album closer and touched on the psychedelia that the band had flirted with over the years. It is a sensory delight.
‘The Killing Moon’ – Ocean Rain (1984)
One of the most iconic tracks of the ’80s, ‘The Killing Moon’ needs no real introduction. It’s a straight-up classic. Whether it be the carnal mood of the song, McCulloch’s performance in the chorus, or the general dynamics of the song, we’ll be talking about this hit for many years to come.
In recent years ‘The Killing Moon’ has become a staple in popular culture and has been cherished by subsequent generations after its use in films such as Donnie Darko and Gia.
‘Lips Like Sugar’ – Echo & the Bunnymen (1987)
A personal favourite, ‘Lips Like Sugar’ is everything you want from a late ’80s indie cut. With a timeless riff, expansive sounding electronic textures, and full-bodied production, ‘Lips Like Sugar’ was Echo & the Bunnymen fully embracing the era’s ubiquitous form of ‘big music’.
The chorus is also one of the finest they ever penned and will be stuck in your head for days. It builds and builds, and the constant push of the song is something of a departure from many of the band’s other works.