Happy Birthday, Ian McCulloch

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Monday, May 5, 2014
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Happy Birthday, Ian McCulloch

Ian McCulloch, frontman for Echo and the Bunnymen, hits the big 5-5 today, which means that he was only 25 years old when Rik from The Young Ones wrote him a letter which began with the words, “Dear Mr. Echo…” (Too obscure a reference for you, kids? Not to worry: here you go. After all, that’s what YouTube’s for, innit?)

Born in Liverpool in 1959, McCulloch didn’t start his musical career as the frontman for Echo and the Bunnymen, but they were definitely the band that kickstarted his success. Prior to that, however, he somewhat notoriously spent “about an hour” as a member of The Crucial Three, a trio which also featured Julian Cope (The Teardrop Explodes) and Pete Wylie (The Mighty Wah!). In Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs That Defined the 1980s, by Lori Majewski and Jonathan Bernstein, McCulloch summed up the experience in typically forthright fashion:

“We played one horrible song in my mum’s front room. Julian had a silver bass. He’d painted graffiti on it, like ‘I Am a Punk’ or ‘Get Punkitude.’ He was a dickhead extraordinaire. Wylie played some kind of Les Paul the color of fudge. I stood there with a bog roll [toilet paper] and a sponge on my head mumbling some kind of crap. It was an hour of abject bollocks. The other two still believe that we toured.”

In October 1978, McCulloch founded Echo & the Bunnymen with guitarist Will Sergeant, Les Pattinson, and a drum machine that the band reportedly called Echo…and even if they didn’t, it’s still one of the greatest apocryphal stories of the post-punk era. As history reveals, of course, Echo was soon shunted aside in favor of a proper drummer, Pete de Freitas, with the band releasing their debut album, Crocodiles, in July 1980.

The Bunnymen soon established themselves on the singles charts as well, earning their first UK Top 20 hit with 1982’s “The Back of Love” and quickly following it with their first top-10 hit, 1983’s “The Cutter.” Both songs came from the band’s third album, Heaven Up Here, but it was their subsequent release which has come to be seen as their definitive full-length effort: Ocean Rain, featuring the unforgettable single, “The Killing Moon.” It took until their self-titled 1987 album, however, for the Bunnymen to begin the process of breaking the U.S. market in earnest, by which time internal turmoil was on the verge of destroying the band. Despite singles like “Lips Like Sugar” and “Bedbugs and Ballyhoo,” not to mention their cover of the Doors’ “People are Strange” on the soundtrack to The Lost Boys, the Bunnymen broke up in 1988.

McCulloch made a bit of headway as a solo artist, with his debut solo album, 1989’s Candleland, spawning a few college rock singles (“Proud to Fall,” “Faith & Healing”), but not so terribly long after his sophomore effort, 1992’s Mysterio, failed to turn many heads, he reunited with Sergeant to form the hard-rocking – and, if we do say so ourselves, highly underrated – Electrafixion. For better or worse, the collaboration only lasted for a single album, but the end result of the group’s dissolution was the reforming of Echo & the Bunnymen, albeit without de Frietas, who’d died in a car accident in 1989. Indeed, the Bunnymen continue to this day, always with McCulloch and Sergeant in the lineup at the very least, but McCulloch also still manages to put out a solo album once in awhile, the most recent being 2012’s Pro Patria Mori.

To celebrate his birthday, we’ve put together a playlist that’s predominantly filled with the best of the Bunnymen’s classic singles, but we’ve also popped in a few other tracks, making a point of putting a few tracks from Candleland in the mix as well. Give it a listen, and be sure to wish dear Mr. Echo the happiest of birthdays as you do so.