Blue Oyster Cult: Spectres

[1 May 2007]

By Dan MacIntosh

The Not-So-Scary Blue Öyster Cult

Blue Öyster Cult seemed kind of scary to me back when I was a kid. Any group with “Cult” in their name raised red flags in my fundamentalist Christian home. The fact that “Don’t Fear the Reaper” was a song about suicide only supported these ominous suspicions. But listening to these ‘70s rock songs with new millennium ears takes most of the “scary” out of this equation. I got this same newfound impression when I revisited Kiss from a more adult perspective. I know now that these were four relatively regular guys behind all that makeup and leather.

At the time, Blue Öyster Cult was considered the thinking man’s heavy metal group, which sounds a little strange: the heavy metal style had not been completely codified yet. And with bands like Metallica now, which make intelligence and power chords look easy, Blue Öyster Cult’s feats aren’t quite so amazing these days.

Perhaps more significantly, Blue Öyster Cult knew how to combine humor with its hard rock. Spectres begins with the one-two punch of “Godzilla” and “Golden Age of Leather”. The latter starts with this toast: “Raise your can of beer on high”. And with it, you can just imagine Archie Bunker giving his proper respects. Pseudo-serious rock bands have often sung about monsters over the years. In fact, Iron Maiden even brings a beast on stage with it to this day. But the song “Godzilla” is all about that beautifully cheesy lizard and star of many b-movies. “Oh no, there goes Tokyo / Go, go, Godzilla”, the song states. And speaking of creepy guys, Blue Öyster Cult also has a song about that great night crawler, “Nosferatu”.

I doubt I was the only one that didn’t quite “get” Blue Öyster Cult back in the day. For instance, the most popular song from Spectres is “R.U. Ready 2 Rock”, which received omnipresent FM radio play back when AOR ruled the airwaves. Naturally, the stoners took this track as a call to arms. It was nearly rhetorical because these long hairs were ever-ready to rock out. But upon close inspection, the song lyric speaks about transcending life’s mundane existence. It’s about exploring the “wonder of light” and dying to be “born again”. Sure, you can still bang your head to it. But it was made to get that grey matter inside those skulls working, as well.

Blue Öyster Cult also released Some Enchanted Evening right about the same time as Spectres. Naturally, it contains many of the songs from the studio release, including “R.U. Ready 2 Rock” and “Godzilla”. It also includes “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper”, which has lost some of its spook power due to a popular SNL skit featuring Christopher Walken and Will Ferrell, who humorously recreated the song’s original studio recording. This concert’s two cover songs say much about Blue Öyster Cult’s true musical inspirations. No, there are no Black Sabbath songs. Instead, these guys do faithful versions of MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams” and the Animals’ “We Gotta Get Out of This Place”. These were more than just memorable rockers; “Kick Out the Jams” is fueled by political angst, and “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” is angst of a more personal nature. One of its bonus tracks is “Born to Be Wild”, which may be the first place where the term “heavy metal” ever appeared in song. It’s also a song about breaking out on a personal level.

Another added bonus is an 11-song accompanying DVD. Rather than the Atlanta show captured on CD, this visual was taken from a Landover, Maryland, concert in 1978.

To fully appreciate Blue Öyster Cult, you must view them in the context where they made their greatest mark. The fact that they wrote brainy and memorable songs, and also sold records to many fans too buzzed to notice how good they were, is nothing short of a miracle. That must have made for many strangely enchanted evenings, I suspect.

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