Although the theme of 2020 has been how awful things are (and they indeed are), I have been pushing to find positives around me. Increased time at home with a formerly busy family, time to watch the shows on my “must see” list, and working on my dusty pile of books to read. I have also realized we are in a cool time music-history-wise. Obviously we have not been able to go see bands play, but just like having comfort food when you are sick, I have seen many friends get comfort in music from their past.
As for why I think it is “a cool time,” many of those comfort bands are celebrating 40-year anniversaries right now, as we have covered here on OC Music News: The Cure, Pet Shop Boys, OMD, and now Echo & the Bunnymen.
Echo & the Bunnymen intend to mark the 40th anniversary of their debut album “Crocodiles” with a 2021 UK tour. Maybe if we believe hard enough, they can add the US to their schedule?
Before there was an Echo, there was a little band by the name of The Crucial Three. It existed for six weeks and never performed in front of a crowd. Why was it significant? Its three members went on to shape the Liverpool music scene. The crucial three in The Crucial Three were Ian McCulloch, Julian Cope (The Teardrop Explodes) and Pete Wylie (The Mighty Wah!).
While there were a couple of versions of The Crucial Three, it ended with Cope firing McCulloch. Cope and McCulloch have never been called quiet personalities…
And so, in Liverpool in 1978, McCulloch moved on. While he handled vocals, he joined with Will Sergeant on guitar, and Les Pattinson on bass. Despite launching with a drum machine, they added drummer Pete de Freitas to the group for the debut album.
Before de Freitas arrived, the Bunnymen released their first single, “The Pictures on My Wall” and got immediate attention, even landing on the indie music charts.
In 1980, the debut album “Crocodiles” placed them in the top 20 on the UK music charts. “The Pictures on My Wall” and “Rescue” did well as singles and the album got praised by Rolling Stone, NME and Blender. Not a bad first disc and definitely worth celebrating with a special tour.
“Measure by measure, drop by drop and pound for pound, we’re taking stock of all the treasure still unlocked,… the love you found must never stop.”
They followed “Crocodiles” up with “Heaven Up Here,” which not only hit the top ten on UK charts, it dropped them onto the US charts as well. “A Promise” and “Over the Wall” helped the album earn a place on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time,” but their greatest songs had not even come out yet…
Despite tensions between band members, side projects, the release of a single, and an appearance at the first WOMAD festival, they were able to record “Porcupine” for a 1983 release. Whatever hell went into making it worked: It hit number two on the UK charts. While “The Back of Love” is amazing, it is second place to the classic that is still playing heavily on ‘80s stations: “The Cutter.”
Echo & the Bunnymen now had mainstream success and their next album would solidify them as a legendary band. “Ocean Rain” was promoted as “the greatest album ever made” and for the band, it arguably is just that. Killer tracks like “Seven Seas” and “Silver” are indeed amazing, but hello, “The Killing Moon” exists.
It remains their most popular song and is still making appearances in media like “13 Reasons Why” and “I Am Not OK with This.” I’ll let you debate if it was used better in “Donnie Darko” or “Gia.” Oh yeah, and then there’s the Roman Remains cover from the Netflix Dracula soundtrack which has just the right amount of creepy to make it very noteworthy. You know what they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Continuing mainstream acceptance, their single “Bring on the Dancing Horses” ended up in the ‘80s classic film, “Pretty in Pink” and their Doors cover of “People Are Strange” (which was assisted by Doors’ keyboardist Ray Manzarek) was a huge success after “The Lost Boys.”
So what could possibly go wrong? During an alleged drug binge and with mental stresses, de Freitas decided to leave the band. After being briefly replaced, he did return to record the next studio album, “Echo & the Bunnymen.”
At the same time, McCulloch was drinking heavily and being, well, being himself. He was given the nickname “Mac the Mouth” due in part to his “rock star attitude.” In a 2003 interview, The Independent said, “McCulloch is renowned for his arrogance and bad temper and, where interviewers are concerned, is known to have a particularly short fuse.” (OK, I am not feeling so bad about him not replying to my messages…) The disc was completed though, and it gave us yet another amazing song that remains heavily played on air, “Lips Like Sugar.”
The drama of recording and the craziness of touring seemed to catch up to the band, plus McCulloch was not a fan of the new disc. Before the ‘80s ended, McCulloch left the band. He released solo stuff and Sergeant and Pattinson continued on under the Echo & the Bunnymen moniker with Noel Burke as the replacement singer. Sadly, in 1989 de Freitas was killed in motorcycle accident at the age of 27 – making him part of the unfortunate 27 Club.
Pushing forward, Echo added Damon Reece as their drummer and released “Reverberation” to not much fanfare. The band officially called it quits in 1993. However, McCulloch and Sergeant could not stay away from each other and started Electrafixion.
“Let the world know that me and Will have the best kind of communication,” McCulloch assured The Independent. “We’ve been at it a long time…We always come back to each other.”
Pattinson had been doing work for other artists, but then he rejoined the other Bunnymen. The remaining original members of Echo were back! In 1997, they released “Evergreen” and regained a chunk of their success with “Nothing Lasts Forever.”
But the reunion was short lived and Pattinson decided to leave again. He did help with their 1998 disc, “What Are You Going to Do with Your Life?,” but from then on, it was McCulloch and Sergeant making albums and touring. They released four more studio albums (“Flowers,” “Siberia,” The Fountain,” and “Meteorites.”) and updated mixes of past discs.
There was also 2018’s “The Stars, The Oceans & The Moon” which is a brilliant album of “reworked orchestral” versions of their past songs.
For the diehard Echo fans, we can’t forget a few other tunes that defined an era. Those songs include “Bedbugs and Ballyhoo,” “Do It Clean,” and “Never Stop.”
In between these releases, Pattinson and Sergeant formed the band Poltergeist with drummer Nick Kilroe (Black Velvets) and McCulloch released solo albums (and got in the news for having lead singer-itis).
As we arrive at 2020, McCulloch and Sergeant are ready to hit the road. They have been making past concerts available for download, plus special album merch, masks, and a book of McCulloch’s lyrics on their site.
So grab some new “Crocodiles” merch and add another band to your “hope to see in 2021 list” so we can celebrate 40 years of the Bunnymen.
TO GET YOUR MERCH AND FIND OUT ALL THERE IS TO KNOW ABOUT ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN