Songs to Learn and Sing – Echo and the Bunnymen (1985)

Songs to Learn and Sing cover
Songs to Learn and Sing cover

I haven’t written about any greatest hits albums mostly because they are a kind of cheat sheet. There was a time when the emergence of the CD meant that many people now had new reasons to buy a greatest hits compilation. That was the case for me as my expensive Akai CD player only had a few discs to play when Echo and the Bunnymen’s Songs to Learn and Sing arrived.

The songs were pulled almost evenly from the band’s first four albums, showing a progression from dark moody guitar post punk to a brighter melodic sound with elaborate symphonic touches. The symphonic touches are heard on the last two tracks from 1984s Ocean Rain. Those tracks (“The Killing Moon and “Silver) were joined by others like “The Cutter” and “A Promise” as college radio favorites in America when the album arrived. Most Americans had never heard of the band beyond a few rock publications. Even MTV was stingy when it came to Echo and the Bunnymen videos from their back catalog.

That would change with Songs to Learn and Sing. The albums only new track “Bring On the Dancing Horses” was modestly successful in America and got heavy airplay on MTV. More importantly, the songs on Songs to Learn and Sing were difficult to come by without paying the expensive premium for imports (which at that time were still mostly on vinyl for the Bunnymen).

The success of Songs to Learn and Sing was bolstered by the cute video and catchy hook of “Bring on the Dancing Horses”. The vocal style of the band leader Ian McCulloch was distinctive in an area where so much musical diversity might have made it impossible to stand out. Other bands from the Liverpool, England area include China Crisis, Elvis Costello, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and many others. One of the many others was Julian Cope and The Teardrop Explodes, a band who’s style was similar to the early Echo & the Bunnymen.

Even as the band’s fortunes were looking up there was a considerable amount of internal strife, mostly centered around McCulloch’s personal issues. With the release of a self titled album of new material about a year later, Ech and the Bunnymen seemed poised for a big commercial breakout which almost sorta happened.

After the band broke up under the weight of their own demons in 1993, it reformed with a new lineup in 1996. A resurgence in Echo and the Bunnymen occurred in 2001 as the film Donnie Darko featured “The Killing Moon” in its soundtrack, introducing a new generation to the band. Their last album Meteorites was released in 2014.

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