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How God helped Echo & The Bunnymen write 'The Killing Moon'

Echo & The Bunnymen are the very essence of 1980s post-punk cool. Throughout that decade, the Liverpool band released album’s like their 1980 debut CrocodilesHeaven Up Here, and the record which won the group mainstream success, 1983’s Porcupine.

The group combined the poetic sensibility of Leonard cohen with the gobby angst of punk to create a potent blend of new-wave and, in doing so, have left an indelible mark on UK music — and to think they were nearly called ‘The Daz Men’.

It was the thriving music scene of Liverpool in the 1970s and ’80s that acted as the launchpad for Echo & The Bunnymen. McCulloch, Julian Cope and Pete Wylie, all vocalists, began playing together as The Crucial Three as early as 1977. However, Wylie quit to form The Mighty Wah! and McCulloch and Cope went on to form A Shallow Madness, which was an early incarnation of The Teardrop Explodes. McCulloch, bereft of a band, hooked up with Will Sergeant and Sergeant’s school buddy, Les Pattinson. With drummer Pete de Freitas in the mix, the band’s lineup was complete, and they went on to release their debut record in the first year of the 1980s.

Fast forward to 1983, and Echo & the Bunnymen were at the peak of their game, releasing their most prominent album Ocean Rain the year after, in 1984. Much of the album was recorded in Paris, and it features a 35-piece orchestra. Of the album, Will Sargent said: “We wanted to make something conceptual with lush orchestration; not Mantovani, something with a twist. It’s all pretty dark. ‘Thorn of Crowns’ is based on an eastern scale. The whole mood is very windswept: European pirates, a bit Ben Gunn; dark and stormy, battering rain; all of that.”

And the song which epitomises the album’s dark heart is its lead single, ‘The Killing Moon’. It’s an iconic track, receiving the silver-screen treatment in the opening scene of 2001’s Donnie Darko. When asked about the inspiration behind the song, Ian McCulloch gave a cryptic answer, saying: “I never really tell people what the meaning is to all the songs because that surely spoils their journey. When they listen to something like ‘The Killing Moon,’ there are so many different ideas of what that is about. To me, it’s like to be or not to be moments.”

However, the song, at the time of writing, obviously had a profound effect on McCulloch, who spoke of the song in almost spiritual terms. he said: “I’ve been on the moon that is ‘The Killing Moon.’ No one else has really been on that moon because I sing it as I wrote it. It’s my moon now. Not the one up in the sky, but ‘The Killing Moon’ is my moon – I know everything about it. I feel it from day to day, but it changes all the time” 

McCulloch added: “Now and then and I go, ‘Wow! That was like some kind of scripture for me, that song. It doesn’t mean it’s about God, but it’s my parable that I had to write for myself first, but it seems lots of people see ‘The Killing Moon’ as a special song.”

Take a listen to ‘The Killing Moon’ below.