The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #45: Killing Moon by Echo and the Bunnymen (KEXP)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #45: Killing Moon by Echo and the Bunnymen.

Echo and the Bunnymen were from the same hometown as The Beatles……Liverpool, England. They were part of the very first wave of bands to emerge as the Punk Rock scene was playing itself out and as such, they are known as a “Post-Punk” band. That having been said, I came to know them much later in the decade when I found their hit, “Lips Like Sugar” on a compilation CD that I purchased from The Columbia Record Club. That led me to their greatest hits cd, “Songs to Learn and Sing” and the song, “Never Stop”. *(You can read about that song/story here). In any case, by the time I had twigged on to what a phenomenal group Echo and the Bunnymen were, they were already getting ready to break up and stop performing. Long ago, in their past, came albums like “Porcupine”, with the hit song, “Cutter” and then, the follow up album, “Ocean Rain” and their biggest hit song, “Killing Moon”. Now, saying that “Killing Moon” is their biggest hit song is a bit of a misnomer because it was not the biggest seller nor their highest charting song, either. But, with the passage of time, critics and fans have come to reassess the band’s discography and have declared “Killing Moon” to be a classic of the Post-Punk genre and one of the best songs of all-time. Here is the story of the song, how it came to be and the cultural influence it has attained along the way.

“Killing Moon” is a song whose main concept came to lead singer, Ian McCulloch, in his sleep. To hear him tell the story, one night he awoke from a dream with the following verse intact:


Up against Your Will.

Through the thick and thin

He will wait until

You give yourself to him.

McCulloch claims that the voice of God delivered these words to him and that it makes “Killing Moon” the greatest song of all-time, with due apologies to Paul Simon and “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”, he says. McCulloch claims that he had never had an artistic vision before that moment nor has he had one since. He went on to write the rest of the song very quickly but, is equally quick to state that the song has no real meaning and that it is open-ended and vast in scope. McCulloch claims that “Killing Moon” is about a life lived in search of balance between Fate and Free Will and all that comes with that, which is unique to each individual.

Prior to “Killing Moon”, the band was known for gloomy sounding songs. But, for this song, the band incorporated guitars in a way that was popular in Russia, of all places. The style of guitar work played on “Killing Moon” is known as being “Balalaika”, which is a style made popular in Russia, which is where guitarists, Les Pattinson and Will Sergeant travelled to prior to recording the song in studio. The chords of the song were arrived at by playing “Space Oddity” backwards and taking the reversed chord progression from that song and using it in the opposite direction for “Killing Moon”.

Because “Killing Moon” is more atmospheric, it has ended up being used in movies and television shows with a more creative bent to them. One of the most famous examples is its inclusion in the opening scene of the movie, “Donnie Darko”, starring Jake Gyllenhaal. That movie is one of the most original and creative movies I have ever seen. *(The post of the song, “Mad World”, as used in “Donnie Darko”, can be found here). As the soundtrack was being put together, the band were approached to allow “Killing Moon” to be included as the lead track. They agreed to do so for a small, lump sum. As it turned out, the mythical nature of the song fit the concept of the movie to a tee. In the movie, we are never completely sure if what we are watching is really happening or if it is a figment of Gyllenhaal’s imagination, a psychotic episode or what exactly. Like the song, his character is in a movie-long battle of Fate versus Free Will. I will not tell you how it all turned out. I am not sure I could if I wanted to anyway. Much like “Killing Moon”, itself, the song and the movie, “Donnie Darko” both defy easy categorization. As such, they mean the whole wide world and everything in between.

So, as you listen to “Killing Moon” below, see how it fits into your world view. Are you living a life determined by Fate or are you more in control and exerting Free Will? Whatever the case, “Killing Moon” is a stylistic song that possesses a very unique sound overall. As mentioned above, the passing of time has caused people to reevaluate the merits of this song and now, it is proclaimed as being the best, among many great songs, by Echo and the Bunnymen and a fitting standard by which to measure “Post-Punk” as a genre.

So, without further delay, here is Echo and the Bunnymen with, “Killing Moon”. Enjoy….and think.

The link to the video for the song, “Killing Moon” by Echo and the Bunnymen, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Echo and the Bunnymen, can be found here.

The link to the video that shows “Killing Moon” being used in the opening scene of the movie, “Donnie Darko”, can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for playing the most interesting and imaginative music. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

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