Vinyl Confessions: Burnin’ for Blue Öyster Cult

Blue Öyster Cult by Conor Maynard
Blue Öyster Cult by Conor Maynard

I tend to think of CDs as a form of currency. Sometimes there’s gold in them discs.

A recent housecleaning of my music room (i.e. man cave) yielded 50 CDs I was finally ready to part with in trade. The hope was to garner something– anything– back in store credit from one of my favorite New England music stores, Bull Moose. If they somehow took all of these off my hands, I had an immediate game plan.

I was going to buy nothing but Blue Öyster Cult albums.

I didn’t really have a reason why I was so hell-bent on BOC. Of course, I’ve heard their two biggest hits, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” (which celebrates its 40th birthday this year – MORE COWBELL!) and “Burnin’ for You” ad nauseam on the radio. I knew they were a bit outside the mainstream but revered as hard rock icons. Maybe it was just the uniqueness of their album covers that drew me in.

Either way, my wife Jen and I trekked to Maine to make the deal and (to my surprise) it proved successful. I walked out with BOC’s first five albums – a terrific representation of four years of the band’s recorded history – Blue Öyster Cult, Tyranny and Mutation, Secret Treaties, Agents of Fortune and the group’s first live album, On Your Feet Or On Your Knees. There isn’t one standout among them – I love them all.

First off, I dig groups with crazy song titles, as if hits are the last thing they want to achieve. When it comes to bizarro track names, BOC currently joins my other two favorites – Captain Beyond and Welsh heavy metal trio, Budgie. The latter enthralled audiences with “Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman,” “Hot as a Docker’s Armpit” and “You’re the Biggest Thing Since Powdered Milk.” BOC, meanwhile, has “I’m on the Lamb But I Ain’t No Sheep” (which would later be re-recorded and renamed “The Red and the Black”), “She’s as Beautiful as a Foot,” “Mistress of the Salmon Salt (Quicktime Girl)” and “Harvester of Eyes.” You can find yourself inadvertently whistling to all four tracks thanks to their catchiness.

As unique as BOC was in dabbling with the occult, the demonic and the all-together zany, they can technically be considered one of the 1970s greatest bar bands. What other group would sing a tune called “Seven Screaming Dizbusters” and then pad their live sets with tracks like “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” by the Animals, “Kick Out the Jams” by the MC5 or “Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf?

Alas, the classic lineup showcased on these five albums is no more, especially given the death of guitarist and one-time Patti Smith muse, Allen Lanier. Eric Bloom is a gritty frontman, complemented well by other singers Albert and Joe Bouchard, who each handle a majority of the vocal duties on BOC tracks. Yet it’s important not to overlook the singing contributions of “Reaper” vocalist Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser. All of these are definite BOC standouts: “Then Came the Last Days of May,” “Before the Kiss, a Redcap,” even his background vocals on “Harvester of Eyes.”

BOC seemingly falls into the same position as other iconic bands – they release a trio of albums that slowly gain momentum and build buzz until the masses finally get wind of how fresh and exciting they really are. Kiss had this dilemma, releasing Kiss, Hotter Than Hell and Dressed to Kill before Alive and Destroyer turned them into musical gods. Even U2 didn’t become “U2” until after they released their third album War, despite the fact this album and their prior two, October and Boy, are arguably the band’s best work. This could be because they’re not trying so hard to sound meaningful; they’re playing from inspiration rather than expectation.

I’ll be keeping BOC close to my heart – well, my work desk at least – well into the future. These five albums provide a great amount of oomph in terms of writing inspiration.

Best 50 CDs I ever spent.

-Ira Kantor


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