Echo & The Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch on why he abhors “With A Little Help From My Friends”

Echo & The Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch on why he abhors “With A Little Help From My Friends”

In HateSong, we ask our favorite musicians, writers, comedians, actors, and so forth to expound on the one song they hate most in the world. 

The hater: Since 1978, Ian McCulloch has been best known for fronting Echo & The Bunnymen, a band that ruled college radio in the ’80s with such songs as “The Cutter,” “The Killing Moon,” and “Lips Like Sugar.” Yet while the Bunnymen continue to tour regularly and record sporadically, McCulloch occasionally pursues a solo career as well. His latest effort, Holy Ghosts, is a two-disc set which offers both an album’s worth of new material (Pro Patria Mori) as well as a concert performance (Live At London’s Union Chapel) that features rearranged and re-imagined versions of solo songs and Bunnymen classics.

The hated: The Beatles, “With A Little Help From My Friends” (1967)

Ian McCulloch: I hate the song. I hate Ringo’s version, and I hate Joe Cocker’s version. I can’t imagine anyone ever doing that [song] and me liking it. [Laughs.]

The A.V. Club: And yet you’re an avowed Beatles fan.

IM: Well, I like the Beatles, though I prefer the Stones. But Ringo Starr came to Liverpool a few years ago and tried to milk his Liverpudlian-ness for a few days. Then he went on a London chat show a few days later, slagging off Liverpool and saying there’s basically nothing about it that he likes. So for that reason as well, Ringo Starr’s version is probably my least favorite version. ’Cause I just don’t like Ringo Starr.

AVC: Just to clarify, when you say “Ringo Starr’s version,” does that mean you have more tolerance for the original than his more recent interpretations?

IM: Well, wasn’t the original Ringo’s version?

AVC: He sang it, yeah. But he’s issued at least half a dozen versions on various live albums since then— 

IM: Oh, I see. No, this covers any version, so from the Beatles onward. [Laughs.] Joe Cocker’s version’s horrible as well, but at least he’s never slagged off Liverpool. I just don’t like it as a song… even if it is by the Beatles. I’m sure I won’t have Paul McCartney come after me, though. He’s got a few pounds now, hopefully he won’t mind. 

AVC: What is it about the song? Are the lyrics too upbeat?

IM: That, and I don’t like the melody line. But the sentiment behind it… I hate it. “What would you think if I sang out of tune?” Ugh. Compare that to “In My Life,” and see what you get. I mean, I like Paul McCartney, and I know it’s a very popular song, but it’s just so cheesy. It sounds like the biggest crowd-pleaser ever written. Maybe I wouldn’t have minded it as much if any other Beatle would’ve sung it. Does Paul sing on that one at all?

AVC: He does backing vocals, although John’s voice tends to be more prominent. 

IM: [Snorts.] I’m surprised John bothered. So maybe if one of the other Beatles had taken the time to sing it properly, I might’ve liked it better. But as it is, nah, I don’t like it at all. I should say that I tried to think of other songs, stuff that people might be more likely to expect me to hate, but even with really crap songs, a lot of the time I’ll sing ’em and I’ll find ’em funny, so at least I get something out of ’em. There’s plenty of those. I don’t know if you know the song “Agadoo,” by Black Lace, but the lyrics are something ridiculous like, “A-ga-doo-doo-doo, push pineapple.” [Laughs.] It must’ve sold a million copies, and every sane person came to hate it. But to be fair, even with songs like that, there’s always something there. [Hesitates.] So what have some of the other people picked, then?

AVC: As far as your contemporaries, Robyn Hitchcock’s not a fan of “Arthur’s Theme.” 

IM: Oh, actually, I like “Arthur’s Theme!” It’s fantastic, man! [Starts to sing.] “When you get caught between the moon and New York City…” The lyric’s fantastic. “The best that you can do is fall in love.” That’s better than “With A Little Help from My Friends,” anyway! [Laughs.] What an odd choice. Anyone with a shattered heart’s gonna love that one. What were some other choices?

AVC: Funnily enough, the only other person’s pick that can really compete with yours is probably Frank Turner’s. He picked “Imagine,” saying that, by Lennon’s standards, it “seems almost lazy.”

IM: [Shocked.] Did he? What a stupid idiot. It’s only one of the most beautiful, perfect songs ever written. I mean, it might get on his nerves now, but… oh, yeah, nice one, Frank Turner. As if you could write anything that anyone would remember close to that. Lazy? That’s like saying “Love” is lazy because he just goes, “Love is real / Real is love.” That’s lazy? What a fucking idiot. [Laughs.] Well, I reckon you can tell who my favorite Beatle is…

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