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Blue Oyster Cult

Mention to the discerning rock/pop fan on the street the name of BLUE OYSTER CULT and one’s answer will almost certainly pertain to 70s hit song, `(Don’t Fear) The Reaper’, but poll real fans of the monolithic American outfit and the reply might be somewhat supplemented. Known primarily for being an albums act, the thinking man’s heavy-rock band had at their flexible core, almost throughout their four-decade campaign: singer Eric Bloom, lead guitarist Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser and keyboardist/guitarist Allen Lanier; sadly the latter musician – a former beau of PATTI SMITH for several years – passed away on August 14, 2013.
One can trace BOC’s roots back to New York 1967, when, as Soft White Underbelly, the original members worked under the auspices of rock critics/lyricists, Sandy Pearlman and Richard Meltzer, who were studying at Long Island’s Stony Brook College; their first steady line-up would eventually comprise of drummer Albert Bouchard, bassist Andy “Panda” Winters, plus the aforementioned Roeser and Lanier – the latter superseding John Wiesenthal – and singer Les Bronstein.
Elektra Records took interest but not enough to release their first album, leaving the quintet the harsh decision of sacking Bronstein and recruiting former road manager Eric Bloom. Abandoning their old moniker (as well as dispensing with the awful name, Oaxaca), the quintet duly became the Stalk-Forrest Group, by which time, Albert’s bass-playing brother, Joe Bouchard, was installed. A poorly-received single, `What Is Quicksand?’, and an accompanying summer 1970 set was almost put to the back of their minds, when they – as BLUE OYSTER CULT – signed to Columbia Records. Working again with the cosmic, astronomically-minded Pearlman and Meltzer (men also known for their dark and sinister Hell’s Angels/biker inclinations), 1972’s eponymous BLUE OYSTER CULT {*8} was just the post-Altamont Festival ticket to ride on a fantasy wave of hell-bound imagery. A slow burner chart-wise that encompassed the bridge between psychedelia and heavy metal (wait a minute, STEPPENWOLF cultivated this in ’68!), the three-way axe-assaults shouted out through Satan’s speakers on `Transmaniacon MC’, `I’m On The Lamb But I Ain’t No Sheep’, `Stairway To The Stars’, `Cities On Flame With Rock & Roll’ (very JOE WALSH) and `Workshop Of The Telescopes’.
Moving up a notch or two in sales with conceptual sophomore set, TYRANNY AND MUTATION (1973) {*8}, Pearlman, co-producer Murray Klugman, co-lyricist Meltzer and the BOC further mined and explored mystical themes on the likes of `The Red And The Black’, `O.D.’d On Life Itself’ (a track grabbing hedonism by the balls), `7 Screaming Diz-Busters’ and `Baby Ice Dog’; the latter introducing Lanier’s then poet/lyricist girlfriend PATTI SMITH.
Keen to capture the political overtones of Patti for the creative opening salvo, `Career Of Evil’, for parent third set, SECRET TREATIES (1974) {*8}, all concerned with BOC had to answer to allegations of neo-Nazism/S&M, mainly for other dynamic tracks such as `Dominance And Submission’ and `Subhuman’; although the Top 60 breaker was still cosmically and cryptically in-tune via `Flaming Telepaths’, `Astronomy’ and `Harvester Of Eyes’.
Featuring a dozen dirges of unsophisticated proto-metal, and infusing crunching guitars and rhythms with a keen sense of melody, but keeping a tight enough a rein on proceedings to avoid the hoary bombast that characterised other bands of their ilk, world tour live-double document, ON YOUR FEET OR ON YOUR KNEES (1975) {*6}, gate-crashed the Top 40. Though the band peddled fairly cliched lyrics, if more intelligent than average, the music began to sound similarly predictable; bombastic boogie was the order of the day on two encore covers: Calvin Carter’s `I Ain’t Got You’ and, surprise, surprise, STEPPENWOLF’s `Born To Be Wild’.
Bolstered by the darkly shimmering `(Don’t Fear) The Reaper’ opal (a one-off return to their 60s psychedelic roots penned by Roeser), fourth studio set AGENTS OF FORTUNE (1976) {*7}, also rocketed up the charts; the single reached similar Top 20 status a couple of years later in Britain. Watering down their tendency to shock, and stand firm among the hard-rock, arena elite, Patti was once again called upon for two Albert Bouchard collaborations: `Debbie Denise’ and `The Revenge Of Vera Gemini’, the second of which featured her dual vocals. While for many the quality of the set struggled to rise above stale cliché, fans of the group revelled in `E.T.I. (Extra Terrestrial Intelligence)’, `This Ain’t The Summer Of Love’ and `Tattoo Vampire’.
While the rest of the globe was belatedly succumbing to the stratospheric rise of safety-pin punk and new wave, BLUE OYSTER CULT limped towards a safe, anthemic rock’n’roll on SPECTRES (1977) {*6}. The glam twist was projected on Bloom and IAN HUNTER’s pop-fuelled but poignantly-titled `Goin’ Through The Motions’, while with almost self-parody abandon, opening salvo `Godzilla’ and `R.U. Ready 2 Rock’, were pure AOM – that’s Adult Orientated Metal!
While their second live set, SOME ENCHANTED EVENING (1978) {*6}, featured little in the way of a surprise in its limited 38 minutes – check out respective MC5 and The ANIMALS covers of `Kick Out The Jams’ and `We Gotta Get Out Of This Place’ – 1979’s MIRRORS {*4} struggled to stay in both the US and UK Top 50’s with its bobby-sox, post-“Grease” type rock’n’roll. Plucked from the bastion of sci-fi novels, former HAWKWIND associate MICHAEL MOORCOCK was employed to give `The Great Sun Jester’ a bit of lyrical mystique – needless to say, this and the likes of the pop-inflected `Dr. Music’ and `In Thee’, were almost embarrassing.
Although CULTOSAURUS ERECTUS (1980) {*5} and FIRE OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN (1981) {*7} – including words from MOORCOCK on `Black Blade’ and `Veteran Of Psychic Wars’ – restored some faith among their legion of loyal disciples, even their classy Top 40 hit, `Burnin’ For You’, sounded pale in comparison to heavy-grounded material they’d penned several moons ago. Dressing up the songs in titles such as `Joan Crawford’, added little glam to a band now pigeonholed with J. GEILS BAND, CHEAP TRICK and KISS… on a bad day. As if to rub salt in an already infected wound, and with Albert moving over for Rick Downey, homecoming concert double EXTRATERRESTRIAL LIVE (1982) {*6} made it three live sets in seven years; however, with a re-vamp of The DOORS’ `Roadhouse Blues’ (showcasing ROBBY KRIEGER on guest guitar), BOC were regaining momentum.
That was until typical 80s-styled sets, THE REVOLUTION BY NIGHT (1983) {*4} and CLUB NINJA (1985) {*4} were unleashed. Without the focused Lanier on board on the latter set (Downey also departed), and with the addition of respective replacements, Tommy Zvoncheck (ex-ALDO NOVA) and Jimmy Wilcox, BOC were going through the motions on outsider material from Bob Halligan (who’d worked with JUDAS PRIEST) and others.
Conjuring up another trick or two when Lanier subsequently returned (alongside fresh session drummer Thommy Price), the mystical forces were in place through the haunting inspiration of a real-life 19th century maverick. Although it seemed almost impossible to get the group back in among arena’s big boys again, BOC’s final Columbia effort, IMAGINOS (1988) {*7}, was truly a triumph in their hard-rock concept bid to return lost listeners to the fold. Primarily down to music penned by Albert Bouchard for a projected but shelved solo set, Pearlman – who had came up with the concept in a collection of poems entitled “The Soft Doctrine Of Imaginos” – convinced all parties concerned that Bouchard’s songs would make up pieces of the jigsaw for the BOC set. However, it failed to register a place in the Top 100 for once. Perturbed at his exclusion on the final say on these recordings, Albert took legal action.
Re-vamped rock dinosaurs BLUE OYSTER CULT subsequently scribed music from the film, BAD CHANNELS (1992) {*4}, including stand-out track, `Demon’s Kiss’, a throbbing up-tempo rocker. The movie’s lyrical themes of sowing wild oats were tempered by its insouciant musical fluidity, though a shout-it-out-loud chorus tainted the said song with its 80s metallurgy. Follow-on track, `The Horsemen Arrive’, took things down a few gears, as power chords rung out a strident mid-tempo middle section railing against the government, greed and corruption; though it all felt quite harmless at the time. In among some nondescript synth-driven AOR fodder by various artists and a group score to boot – into touch(!), the rest of the album was largely a sprawling, synthetic industrial soundscape, awash with synths and heavily reverberating blues guitar licks; 1994’s CULT CLASSIC (1994) {*3} was tracks re-recorded unnecessarily for the sole purpose of re-promoting a fresh take of “The Reaper”.
Numerous personnel switches, swaps and schwatever else, marred the progress of the once-mighty BLUE OYSTER CULT, and if one wanted examples of their hook-line horror-metal, one could access them on C.M.C./Sanctuary-endorsed sets, HEAVEN FORBID (1998) {*4}, THE CURSE OF THE HIDDEN MIRROR (2001) {*7} and the live A LONG DAY’S NIGHT (2002) {*6}.
© MC Strong 1994-2004/GRD // rev-up MCS Oct2013

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