Single Stories: Echo & the Bunnymen, THE KILLING MOON

Thursday, January 20, 2022

"I've always said that 'The Killing Moon' is the greatest song ever written," is Echo and the Bunnymen singer Ian McCulloch's humble estimation of the lead single from the band's 1984 magnum opus, Ocean Rain. "I’m sure Paul Simon would be entitled say the same about 'Bridge Over Troubled Water,' but for me 'The Killing Moon' is more than just a song. It's a psalm, almost hymnal. It's about everything, from birth to death to eternity and God - whatever that is - and the eternal battle between fate and the human will. It contains the answer to the meaning of life. It's my 'To be or not to be...,'" he added, effectively comparing the song to Shakespeare.

For McCulloch, "The Killing Moon" was nothing less than a gift from God: "One morning, I just sat bolt upright in bed with this line in my head: 'Fate up against your will. Through the thick and thin. He will wait until you give yourself to him.' You don’t dream things like that and remember them," he explained to Guardian in 2015. "That's why I've always half credited the lyric to God. It's never happened before or since. I got up and started working the chords out. I played David Bowie's 'Space Oddity' backwards, then started messing around with the chords. By the time I'd finished, it sounded nothing like 'Space Oddity.'"

"Mac might have come up with the lyrics and all that, but it was definitely a team effort," added guitarist Will Sergeant. "The strings are just Adam Peters on cello and the producer on some state-of-the-art keyboard thing he had. Mac says he suggested that Pete play the drums with brushes, but I know Pete had already been inspired by the gentler, jazzier way of playing on Dave Brubeck’s Take Five, which we’d all been listening to...During the recording, we went for a curry round the corner, and when we came back the producer had found this twangy thing on tape that I'd done tuning the guitar. He insisted it go in the song. It became the best-known guitar line in our entire catalogue."

Released on January 20, 1984, "The Killing Moon" soared all the way to #9 on the UK Singles chart. In America, the song was a college radio hit, helping propel Echo and the Bunnymen's growing cult status on this side of the Atlantic. In Ireland, the song peaked at #7.

"I still love 'The Killing Moon,'" Sergeant shared. "The lyrics are mysterious and it's open to interpretation. It's got a timeless quality. Years after it was a hit, we got an email saying this bloke wanted to use the song in a film, Donnie Darko, which we didn't think would go anywhere, so accepted a one-off £3,000," he revealed, with the song being a popular movie and TV sync over the years. "Then when the director did the director's cut, he replaced 'The Killing Moon' with 'Never Tear Us Apart' by INXS. Aren't some people knobheads?"