The Killing Moon

Album: Ocean Rain (1984)
Charted: 9


  • The meaning of this song is rather fluid, even to Echo lead singer Ian McCulloch, who wrote the lyric. "It sounds vaguer than it actually is," he said in a Songfacts interview. "I never really tell people what the meaning is to all the songs because that surely spoils their journey. When they listen to something like 'The Killing Moon,' there are so many different ideas of what that is about. To me it's like to be or not to be moments."

    The song has had a rather profound effect on him. He added: "I've been on the moon that is 'The Killing Moon.' No one else has really been on that moon because I sing it as I wrote it. It's my moon now. Not the one up in the sky, but 'The Killing Moon' is my moon - I know everything about it. I feel it from day to day, but it changes all the time.

    Every now and then and I go, 'Wow! That was like some kind of scripture for me, that song.' It doesn't mean it's about God, but it's my parable that I had to write for myself first, but it seems lots of people see 'The Killing Moon' as a special song."
  • This was recorded at Crescent Studio in Bath, Somerset. After catching a cold, frontman Ian McCulloch completed the recording of his vocals at Amazon Studio in Liverpool, where Pete de Freitas also completed the drumming.
  • In a Songfacts interview with Echo guitarist Will Sergeant, he explained how this song came together: "We'd all been given acoustic guitars by Washburn and we were all playing around with them, so the album was heading to a more acoustic world. I was going over to Mac's house - we had a 4-track there and we were just coming up with riffs and chord sequences and stuff like that. 'The Killing Moon' was one of them, and it just sort of developed.

    It was pretty different than the recorded version at the time. I think that the recorded version took it to a another level, really. It had some interesting sounds on it, like reversed autoharps in the choruses and things like that."
  • McCulloch (from Mojo magazine March 2012): "I woke up with that lyric, 'Fate up against your will,' as if God had given it to me in my sleep. Recently I realized what it is - it's that soliloquy, 'To be or not to be' - but it's even better, because I'm f---in' singing it."
  • The song's Middle Eastern-tinged instrumentation was inspired by a vacation that bassist Les Pattinson and guitarist Will Sergeant spent in Russia. Pattinson told Uncut August 2014: "Me and Will had been in Russia for a holiday, and there was this band playing balalaikas in a hotel foyer, really cheesy cabaret. But it was fantastic and we just started messing about and the next thing is we've got a chorus for 'The Killing Moon'. It was just brilliant."

    Will Sergeant added: "Adam Peters came and did cellos and double-tracked it to make it sound like an orchestra. I reversed the reverb of the autoharp going in on the chorus chords so you get a big 'whoosh' sound. I got a Vox Teardrop 12-string."
  • David Bowie inspired the song's formation. "I played David Bowie's 'Space Oddity' backwards, then started messing around with the chords," McCulloch recalled to The Guardian. "By the time I'd finished, it sounded nothing like 'Space Oddity.'"
  • Ian McCulloch isn't humble about this one, sometimes calling it "the greatest song ever written." This is part of a publicity campaign of sorts. He told Songfacts: "If you're told something's great and something's worthwhile, people start believing it. That's why I started talking about 'The Killing Moon' being a great song lyric, and some people believe it now. I've always thought it was because it's a really good song."
  • This song is used in the opening scene of the 2001 film Donnie Darko, which congruently features a terrifying anthropomorphic bunny. It's also included on the soundtrack.

    Guitarist Will Sergeant recalled to The Guardian in a April 2015 interview: "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. 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?"
  • "The Killing Moon" has proven quite soundtrack worthy. In addition to Donnie Darko, it was used in these movies:

    Kill Your Friends (2015)
    The Girl Next Door (2004)
    Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)

    It was also used in these TV series:

    Billions ("Flaw in the Death Star" - 2018)
    Red Oaks ("Memories" - 2017)
    13 Reasons Why ("Tape 6, Side B" - 2017)
    Scream Queens ("Handidates" - 2016)

Comments: 8

  • Tony from San DiegoCan never get sick of this one.
  • David from Bath UkKilling Moon was actually recorded in Bath, England (not Paris) - by me!
  • Jim from Long Beach, CaI remember hearing this song for the first time and I was thrilled. I have been a major bunnymen fan since..
  • Edal from Baltimore, MdPerhaps one of the most ominous songs ever. I saw Ian perform it from the front of the crowd. His voice, the crowd, the lighting. Oh see again, brought down this ocean rain, to bathe me again. This song is cleansing. All hands on deck at dawn, sailing to sadder shores. Where are you going? Time to listen to Ian.
  • Audry from Las Vegas, United Stateswas in the movie Gia way before any of these movies already mentioned.
  • Jasen from Seattle, WaI asked a very drunk Ian what this song was about two years ago backstage. All he could say was " You know, it's about life, you know it's about everything" he then performed a horrible set in which he left his band on stage after getting several lit cigarettes thrown at him.
  • Tracey from White River, South AfricaThis song is also in The Girl Next Door
  • John from Levittown, NyIn the Donnie Darko Director's cut, this song is replaced in the opening by Never Tear Us Apart by INXS.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Tom Keifer of Cinderella

Tom Keifer of CinderellaSongwriter Interviews

Tom talks about the evolution of Cinderella's songs through their first three albums, and how he writes as a solo artist.

Mike Scott of The Waterboys - "Fisherman's Blues"

Mike Scott of The Waterboys - "Fisherman's Blues"They're Playing My Song

Armed with a childhood spent devouring books, Mike Scott's heart was stolen by the punk rock scene of 1977. Not surprisingly, he would go on to become the most literate of rockers.

Trucking Songs That Were #1 Hits

Trucking Songs That Were #1 HitsSong Writing

The stories behind the biggest hit songs about trucking.

Jello Biafra

Jello BiafraSongwriter Interviews

The former Dead Kennedys frontman on the past, present and future of the band, what music makes us "pliant and stupid," and what he learned from Alice Cooper.


AdeleFact or Fiction

Despite her reticent personality, Adele's life and music are filled with intrigue. See if you can spot the true tales.

Jay, Peaches, Spinderella and other Darrining Victims

Jay, Peaches, Spinderella and other Darrining VictimsSong Writing

Just like Darrin was replaced on Bewitched, groups have swapped out original members, hoping we wouldn't notice.