Despite Blue Öyster Cult’s 30 years in the business, it is surprising how little music fans know of the band or their vast catalog of music. Query anyone (except the diehard Cult fan) and you’ll find that their only exposure to the band comes via their two biggest hits “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper” and “Burnin’ for You”. That of course is not surprising given the fact that those two numbers were monster hits, but they also represented a mainstream accessibility that most of Blue Öyster Cult’s songs never had.
The core of Blue Öyster Cult, (guitarist Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser, guitarist/keyboardist Allen Lanier and drummer Albert Bouchard) came together on the campus of the State University of New York in 1967 under the name of Soft White Underbelly. The band’s debut album for Elektra Records was never released, resulting in a shift in personnel. They added their road manager Eric Bloom (rhythm guitar/lead vocals), while changing their name to the Stalk-Forrest Group. This incarnation recorded a second album that, like their debut, never saw record store shelves. By 1971, the band had brought in Albert Bouchard’s brother Joe on bass guitar, changed their name to Blue Öyster Cult and secured a deal with Columbia Records.
Released in 1972, Blue Öyster Cult met with considerable critical praise for its powerful sound and dark, mysterious lyrical content. Their music has been defined as sci-fi, futuristic, even psychic rock, but to define Blue Öyster Cult’s sound as metal is completely wrong. It is, in essence, merely blues-based heavy rock. I find it amazing how fans and critics throw around the term “metal” every time they hear a distorted guitar. It is irresponsible to confuse the heavy rock sound of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper or even Blue Öyster Cult with that of later metal purveyors like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. Without question the foundation of late-‘70s/early-‘80s metal can be traced directly back to these and other great artists, but it’s confounding to hear these bands classified in this way.
As for Blue Öyster Cult, it is indeed a good record, but it’s not without its obvious influences. “Tranmanicon MC” is one of the album’s strongest tracks, but one doesn’t need that discerning an ear to hear the Mick Box (Uriah Heep) influenced descending guitar passages that kick off the song. Likewise, “I’m on the Lamb But I Ain’t No Sheep” smacks of Cream. The verse section of the song is an uptempo version of “Strange Brew”; even Dharma’s lead guitar is Clapton at his Creamiest. “Redeemed” owes more than a passing nod to the Grateful Dead from its country-fied, Jerry Garcia guitar lines to its off-kilter harmonies. But there are moments that are definitive BOC—a sound that would be honed and refined on subsequent albums. “Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll” is classic Cult and just happens to sport one of the heaviest, Zeppelin-esque riffs in the band’s entire catalog. Other great tracks are the eerie “She’s as Beautiful as a Foot” and the psychedelic-tinged “Screams”. The newly remastered version of BlueÖyster Cult is outfitted with four previously unreleased bonus tracks taken from a 1969 Soft White Underbelly demo session.
Secret Treaties (1974) was Blue Öyster Cult’s third album, and the first to find its way into the Top 100, settling in at #53. The power of BOC’s sound not only remained intact, but it was sonically much more dense, though the direction was certainly more melodic than the band’s two previous offerings. Alan Lanier’s keyboard work is also more prominent here than on any of the band’s other works. Secret Treaties represents the band’s most consistent album up to that point with songs like “Career of Evil” (lyrics by Patti Smith), “Dominance and Submission”, “ME 262” and “Cagey Cretins” spewing BOC’s resplendent power, nastiness and attitude. As far as authoritative guitar statements go, the greatest riff in Blue Öyster Cult history (outside of “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper”) is Buck Dharma’s dynamic lick-laden rampage that begins the classic “Flaming Telepaths”. Anyone rockin’ to AOR radio in the ‘70s would have come across this song on more than one occasion—perhaps unknowingly. This remastered effort contains three previously unreleased tracks and single versions of “Career of Evil” and Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild”.
Blue Öyster Cult are one of the most unsung and under-appreciated bands of ‘70s rock. They may not have had the instantly recognizable repertoire of Zeppelin and Sabbath, or the groundbreaking theatrical gimmickry of Alice Cooper; but as Blue Öyster Cult and Secret Treaties will attest, BOC’s music exudes dominance and demands your submission.
// Notes from the Road
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