Echo & the Bunnymen's Ian McCulloch Comes Clean on 'Greatest Song Ever' Claim

Craig Rosen
Live NationJuly 31, 2014

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Back in the '80s, Echo & The Bunnymen frontman Ian McCulloch was so famous for his arrogance that he earned the nickname "Mac the Mouth." He was sort of the post-punk version of Kanye West before anyone knew 'Ye, making pronouncements like calling the band's 1984 signature hit "the greatest song ever written."

Thirty years later, McCulloch and the Bunnymen are still fighting the good fight, having recently released Meteorites, an album McCulloch says is "a worthy successor" to the band's classic first four albums from the '80s.

While McCulloch and guitarist Will Sergeant remain the group's only original members, the band manages to maintain the Bunnymen's mystic majesty on Meteorites. In a recent interview to talk about the album and the band's legacy, McCulloch slightly tempered some of his famous claims with disarming humor and honesty.

Since its initial release, "The Killing Moon" has taken on a life of its own. It famously served as the soundtrack to the opening sequence of the 2001 cult classic Donnie Darko and it's been covered over the years with various degrees of success by French new wave tribute combo Nouvelle Vague, former Grant Lee Buffalo frontman Grant-Lee Philllips, duet partners Susanna Hoffs and Matthew Sweet, Pavement, the Bunnymen themselves on several live releases, and McCulloch on his 2013 live set Live at the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral.

"I was thinking tonight about possible rivals," McCulloch says of the classic song. "There are loads of greatest songs of all time. When I say that 'it's the greatest song of all time,' it is if you choose not to ever listen to anything else, if it's the only song you've ever heard. My suggestion is that it should be the only song people ever hear."

Once the joking stops, McCulloch offers some of his other favorites. "I love 'American Pie' by Don McLean. I remember thinking, 'That's the best song ever written.' So are some Dylan songs. Lou Reed's 'Pale Blue Eyes' is up there. And you've got to have [Leonard Cohen's] 'Suzanne' in there."

It's hard for McCulloch to talk about "The Killing Moon" without bringing up the Bunnymen's late drummer, Pete de Freitas. It wasn't until de Freitas joined the Bunnymen in 1979, replacing their "Echo" drum machine, that the band secured a deal with legendary Sire Records executive Seymour Stein. As McCulloch explains, it was also de Freitas who added the finishing touches to "The Killing Moon" that made it became a classic.

Initially, McCulloch was disappointed with an early version of the track. "I said, 'I'm not even singing on this,' although I thought it was a hell of a song, because it was crap," he says. Originally, McCulloch explains, he advised de Freitas to play a drum beat on a floor tom like the Velvet Underground's Mo Tucker, but it didn't work. After the initial sessions in Bath, England, McCulloch met up with de Freitas to take a different approach on the song back home in Liverpool. "I think I asked him to try some brushes and he did," McCullloch recalls. "It was just me and Pete and the engineer, and it was unbelievable how he used the brushes on that. I think that was the first time he ever did. Then I sang it and we mixed it that night, and that was it."

Sadly, just a few years later, de Freitas was killed in a motorcycle accident. The Bunnymen continued with a new drummer and Noel Burke temporarily replacing McCulloch, who went solo. McCulloch and Sergeant eventually regrouped as Electrafixion in 1994. Bassist Les Pattinson returned to bring back the Bunnymen in 1997, before he opted out of the band a few years later, leaving McCulloch and Sergeant as the band's only two original members.

"Let the world know that me and Will have the best kind of communication," McCulloch assures. "We've been at it a long time. It's not that we're always at each other, but sometimes we don't talk to each other, but now we talk to each other, even if it's just jokes. We do make each other laugh. As I've said before, we're the [Richard] Burton and [Elizabeth] Taylor of rock. We always come back to each other."

We just have to ask, who's who? "I'll be Burton. I've got the looks," McCulloch reasons. "Well, there's actually bits of both, definitely. Then he's got the diamond ring. Didn't Richard Burton buy her the world's most expensive diamond ring?"

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