“Blue Oyster Cult” by Blue Oyster Cult (1972)
Usually I’m griping when I bring up music from 1976, but the year actually had quite a few bright spots. One of them was the hit-single status of the Blue Oyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” which came as a sublimely welcome break between tripe like “Convoy” and “Afternoon Delight.”
At the time, the BOC’s marketing campaign portrayed the guys as something like “the least-understood band in America,” which did sound cool to us consumers. And there was something about the band’s name – my dad still invokes it when making fun of rock music – that set it apart from everyone else.
“Agents of Fortune,” which contains the full version of “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” is a tremendous album, complete with a guest vocal spot by Patti Smith. But as much as I like the 1976 offering, I’ve always preferred the band’s Columbia Records debut.
A bit of background: Basically the same group had started in the ’60s as the psychedelically oriented Soft White Underbelly, then landed a deal with Elektra Records as the Stalk-Forrest Group. Besides one single that barely was released, most of that material languished in the vaults for decades.
Shifting gears from the out-of-vogue psychedelia to the up-and-coming hard rock – it never quite was heavy metal – the band took another stab as the Blue Oyster Cult and eventually struck chart gold.
The debut set the blueprint, and some of its tracks are integral parts of the BOC stage show 40 years later: “Cities on Flame With Rock and Roll,” “Before the Kiss, a Redcap” and the based-on-a-true-story “Then Came the Last Days of May.”
The last-named, in fact, appears on the album in its demo form, as the band felt it couldn’t improve on guitarist Don “Buck Dharma” Roeser’s tale of “three good buddies” who plan to bring certain substances back from Mexico, only to fall victim to a bloody ambush.
The lyrics to most of the other songs are fairly arcane, as was the plan of writers Sandy Pearlman and Richard Meltzer. When you try to probe the meaning of a song called “She’s As Beautiful As a Foot,” you may run into some difficulty.
Nevertheless, rock critics generally gave the record the thumbs-up on its release. The oft-curmudgeonly Robert Christgau of The Village Voice, for example, wrote that it was “the tightest and most musical hard rock record since – dare I say it – ‘Who’s Next.'”
When a record draws any comparison whatsoever to that particularly work by The Who, you might want to listen.