Blue Oyster Cult is best known for the classic rock staple (Don’t fear) The Reaper. It’s a great song but, as a fan of the band, I find it unfortunate that many people’s knowledge of their music seems limited to that song. This is my attempt to just list some of the other worthwhile tunes in the BOC back-catalog. Some of these will be familiar and others almost certainly will not. All of them are worth a listen.
One final note: BOC was a concept band in some ways. Their musical beat was, at least initially, heavy and weird. So whereas Black Sabbath were playing around (at about this same time) with devil imagery and putting Hieronymus Bosch on their covers as part of their aesthetic, BOC was into UFOs, aliens, science fiction and fantasy. In fact, as I’ll note below, some of their lyrics were even written by fantasy author Michael Moorcock. Think of BOC as the band that channeled the “In Search of…” quality of the 70s.
So let’s just roll out the music in no particular order.
Burnin for You (1981)– This song was written by guitarist Buck Dharma aka Donald Roeser for his solo project which he was working on at the time. The band convinced him to put it on the album. Like Reaper (which Roeser also wrote) it was a big hit and gave the band a big lift after a couple of poor selling albums.
Take Me Away (1983) – The music for this song was actually written by Aldo Nova, the Canadian rocker best known for his hit “Fantasy.” Aldo dropped the song from his own album because producers didn’t like the lyrics so he gave it to BOC’s lead singer Eric Bloom and encouraged him to come up with new lyrics. Bloom did in about a day. This song is about exactly what it sounds like. If the aliens are listening, Bloom wants them to know he’s ready to leave.
Godzilla (1977) – Arguably one of the great hard rock guitar riffs, up there with “Smoke on the Water.” Roeser does a decent job of imitating Godzilla’s “bark” with his guitar and the final refrain “history shows again and again how nature points out the folly of man” is actually an excellent statement of the original film’s theme. This song, not surprisingly, was a big hit in Japan. Eric Bloom took an immersion course in Japanese so he could speak to the crowd in their own language between songs. Tthis is not an official video, just fan made.]
I Love the Night (1977) – While BOC is known for their edgier songs, they have written quite a few softer songs. This song, from the same album as Godzilla, is one of the their best ballads.
Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll (1972) – This is old school rock and roll. This song off BOC’s self titled debut was one of the songs they were known for in the early days. It got a second life when it was included as a selection in Guitar Hero.
Fire of Unknown Origin (1981) – This song was actually recorded twice by the band. The original, down-tempo version was recorded for the Agents of Fortune album (best known for Reaper) but was dropped from the release. You can hear it here. The lyrics, which were written by Patti Smith, remained but the music was completely rewritten and became the opening song (and the album title) of the band’s 1981 album. It took five years but this lyric, which opens “Death comes sweeping through the hallway, like a lady’s dress,” was definitely worth saving.
Vengeance (The Pact) (1981) – One of the most underrated BOC songs. This was originally written–along with several other songs–for the soundrack of the 1981 animated film Heavy Metal. The song is actually a mini-epic that describes a battle scene at the end of the film (depicted on the film’s poster). The producers chose not to use the song and instead chose another BOC song (Veteran of the Psychic Wars) which had nothing to do with the content of the movie. Vengeance is like two great songs in one. Also, listen for the short but artful solo by Roeser.
E.T.I. (1976) – Another song about aliens (E.T.I. stands for extra-terrestrial intelligence). This was the song that followed Reaper on the band’s breakthrough album, Agents of Fortune. The song’s reference to the “King in Yellow” is about this book by Robert Chambers. Chambers is considered a forerunner of H.P. Lovecraft, author of horror stories and creator of the Cthulhu mythos.
She’s as Beautiful as a Foot (1972) – There’s no way to explain this song. It’s easily the weirdest in this list. The lyrics were left over from an earlier generation of the band when the concept was “I’m as beautiful as a foot.” I’m not sure that makes much more sense, actually. In any case, the music for this track, which is half The Doors and a dollop of Pink Floyd is quite beautiful. The break between the verses, which only appears once in the song, is especially memorable.
Joan Crawford (1981) – Speaking of weird…this song certainly fits the bill. Members of the band were jamming late one night in a basement of drummer Al Bouchard’s house. Al’s marriage was at that moment nearing it’s end and at some point his soon to be ex-wife came downstairs and made a scene. After she left, David Roter, who was not a member of the band, said something like “Joan Crawford has risen from the grave” and that led him to write the lyrics for this song. The classical sounding piano intro was actually written by the band’s bassist, Joe Bouchard, and spliced on to the front end of the track.
Black Blade (1980) – Lyrics for this song, which opened the band’s 1980 album Cultosaurus Erectus, were written by fantasy author Michael Moorcock. Moorcock is the author of a series of stories about Elric of Melniboné an anti-hero who wields an intelligent and utterly malignant sword called Stormbringer.
Monsters (1980) – Another song from the Cultosaurus Erectus album which shows just how talented these guys are as musicians. This song, which was written by Al Bouchard and his wife (later to inspire Joan Crawford) Caryn. The driving rock hook gives way to a jazz break and then right back to the hook. It’s a catchy, crazy tune but unfortunately the album never took off and few people heard it.
Debbie Denise (1976) – Somewhat controversial among BOC fans. It closed the Agents of Fortune album, but as you’ll hear it’s very different from most of the band’s material. And yet…if you can put yourself in the frame of mind to enjoy a light rock AM radio classic this a pretty catchy tune. And if you want a bit of edge, well, the lyrics about a girl left behind during travels with a band weren’t written by one of the guys in the band but by their friend Patti Smith.
Celestial the Queen (1977) – Another one from the Spectres album by Joe Bouchard. This one sounds a bit like an Asia song. Though the mix is a bit unfocused it’s still a good tune. After you listen a couple times you’ll catch yourself singing it.
Dancin’ in the Ruins (1985) – An overlooked song from the band’s not very well received album Club Ninja.
That’s 15 tracks that cover a variety of styles. If you liked some or all of these, here’s a list of other BOC songs you should also check out: Astronomy, The Red and the Black, Flaming Telepaths, Veterans of the Psychic Wars, Tattoo Vampire, Fallen Angel, Shooting Shark and Harvest Moon. All of this music is available on iTunes and Amazon (as mp3s).
Finally, if you want to know more about the band check out the definitive BOC book by music journalist Martin Popoff. All of the details I’ve recounted above come from Popoff’s book (314 pages with photos). It’s not a biography so much as a song-ography which offers details on the writing and recording of every track in the band’s catalog based on exclusive interviews with all the members (and producers). Best of all, you can get the e-reader pdf version for just $8.88.