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Tuesday 24 August 2021

That's The Way The Thunder Rumbles

In 1985 Echo And The Bunnymen released Bring On The Dancing horses, a single designed to showcase the first fruits of the work with producer Laurie Latham, recorded for the film Pretty In Pink (with one eye on a US audience) and to draw in punters to their singles compilation Songs To Learn And Sing. It was the first release following 1984's Ocean Rain and split the opinion of fans, some seeing it as too lightweight, commercial and poppy. I love it- poppy and smothered in the sheen of big studios and name producers it may be, drenched in layers of synths and melodic it definitely is, but what a tune, Mac singing of Jimmy Brown and Charlie Clown and 'shaking while breaking your brittle heart'. The 12" featured an extended mix, stretching the song out for an extra minute or two. 

However it's not Bring On The Dancing Horses but the B-sides that I'm here to offer you today. For the B-sides the Bunnymen went to Strawberry Studios in Stockport and produced themselves. Flip the 12" over and you'll find a darker, grittier, looser Bunnymen. Bedbugs and Ballyhoo is first up, The song would be re-recorded for their 1987 'grey' album with Ray Manzarek from The Doors guesting on keyboards but the version on the 12" single is vastly superior. Pete on brushes, Les' bassline (the starting point for the entire song) and Will's understated guitar lines. Ian makes up the words on the spot- he later claimed the song was about imperialism (and hey, maybe it is) but I think they're just words he plucked out of the Stockport air and stitched together- bison, buffalo, cannonball, rifle, thunder, rumbles- and then the classic romanticism of the chorus, 'down on your knees again/ saying please again'. The loose, funky breakdown is a treat, Bunnymen at the jazz supper club. 

Bedbugs And Ballyhoo (Original Version)

Leave the 12" playing and the second B-side rips into view, a wall of noise with fuzz guitar, thumping drums and a lovely slide guitar part. Ian said in the Crystal Days box set booklet the song was intended as a riposte to the Mary Chain and the noise bands coming up behind. Ian's vocal veers between coolly disinterested/ half spoken and typically histrionic, 'never gonna change/ never disappear'. 

Over Your Shoulder

The album they began to record after this, the self titled Echo And The Bunnymen (known as the grey album), suffered from Laurie Latham's production (which stripped the life from some of the songs), from being forced to re- record it after the record company rejected the first mixes and a loss of interest from the band. They were split into two, maybe three, camps- Ian was isolated and planning his departure (listen to The Game to see where his head was at) and Will, Les and Pete were pissed off with Ian and the whole process. Pete, everyone said, was never the same after his return from his Sex Gods trip across America. But if they'd been allowed to produce themselves and holed up in Strawberry, things could have been different- or at least the album might have been. The Game, Lips Like Sugar and some of the other songs from the 1987 album done themselves in the vein of these two B-sides could have made for a very different record. Not that it would have kept the group together, I think they were too far gone for that. 


Nick L said...

I always thought the "grey album" had some decent songs on it but they were ruined by bland and flat production, the downfall of many a good band in the eighties. The Game, Lips Like Sugar, Satellite and All My Life would be much better in a more rough and raw state.

Echorich said...

Fantastic look at this signpost of things to come!
These B-Sides had life in them, something the attending album had the life pummelled out of it.
I really love Over Your Shoulder. It really is a 2 fingered salute to those who seek to replace The Bunnymen.
The B-Sides to all of the releases around The Grey Album give an insight that is just a crushing glimspse into where The Bunnymen had intended to go musically. Rollercoaster, which was on the B-side of Lips Like Sugar 12" is again loose and ecstatic in its performance. Ship Of Fools, fro the B-Side of The Game, again produced by The Bunnymen with Gil Norton overseeing, shows that what the band was searching for was there - it is gentle, even commercial, but still retains that Bunnymen urgency.
In the end, I think however The Grey Album had ended up, it was just that, the end of The Bunnymen as we knew them. Each member was already broadcasting, in their own way, that the weren't willing to go on with things as they were.

Khayem said...

The original version of Bedbugs And Ballyhoo is amongst my favourite Bunnymen songs, full stop, but the 12" as a whole is pretty excellent. I agree with all of the comments about The Grey Album, although Lips Like Sugar (& it's various 12" mixes) does make more sense and fare better in the context of an 80s mixtape.

Swiss Adam said...

The 12" mix of Lips Like Sugar is a proper 1987 era sounding remix- loads of gated snare and cowbell, extended intro, play the song in full, then an outro


Fair to say that this wouldn't have passed muster as a remix 3 years later when the form had moved forward a little....