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Old 10-10-2013, 02:10 AM   #1
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Blue Öyster Cult: The Thread

I've spent about a month exploring a box set of this band's Columbia Records discography, and I'm very pleased with what I've heard. So I've created this in the hopes of sharing my findings with some of you.

When most Gen-Xers hear "Blue Öyster Cult", they're most likely to think of their two biggest radio hits "Don't Fear The Reaper" and "Burning For You", and the subsequent generation probably recalls the famous "More cowbell!" skit from Saturday Night Live that poked fun at the recording of the former track. But in their initial 15-year run as recording artists, BÖC covered an impressive amount of musical terrain, and in a perfect world would have found "crossover" chart success with a good number of songs. Making their reputation more as a ferocious live act, the band's studio albums never seemed to receive the proper promotion from Columbia Records that would have achieved this goal. Regardless, the band did go on to sell 20+ million albums worldwide and influence many later acts.

Classified (incorrectly) as "heavy metal" for much of their career, the band's origins suggest a geekier version of the history behind The Velvet Underground or Sex Pistols: music critic and aspiring promoter Sandy Pearlman collected together a group of young musicians, and along with fellow critic Richard Metzler contributed lyrics to most of the band's songs for the first few years. In Pearlman's case, most of his writing came from The Soft Doctrines of Imaginos, his collection of poetry and script excerpts from a long-gestating project that blended Lovecraftian horror, science fiction, and a secret world history spanning centuries. A young Patti Smith (girlfriend of Cult keyboardist Allen Lanier) also lent her poetry to the band's songs, a collaboration that would last for over ten years. And while the band may have been the brainchild of Pearlman, all five members contributed to the songwriting process on almost every album, with four of them contributing lead vocals at one time or another. Musically, the early days of BÖC draw comparisons to harder acts like Black Sabbath and Steppenwolf, but also psychedelic bands like early Pink Floyd and Grateful Dead.

As the 1970s continued, the band drifted increasingly further from the obscure subject matter of their mentors, and branched out musically as well. While continuing to prove their hard rock chops (often seeming to parody the metal genre while doing so), one can hear the classic influences of Phil Spector and Frankie Valli, and contemporaries like The Cars and Steely Dan. Their peak of popularity came with the platinum-selling 1975's Agents Of Fortune, which featured the aforementioned Top 20 hit Reaper. As the band attempted to embrace pop in its various forms more fully, their fanbase objected with lower album sales even while their live shows still drew bigger and bigger crowds, and three live albums were released in less than a decade.

The 1980s saw BÖC return to a heavier sound (while paradoxically using more synthesizers and horns on some tracks) and deeper genre writing, including collaborations with fantasy writers Michael Moorcock and Eric V. Lustbader. Martin Birch (producer of Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, and Iron Maiden albums) worked for the band on two releases. Lineup changes and a termination of their record contract eventually put the band on a ten-year hiatus between studio albums, but not before Pearlman essentially used the band members as session musicians to complete his Imaginos project, originally planned as a three-album rock opera. Recorded over a period of seven years, a mutated and condensed version was finally released in 1988, featuring contributions from former Doors member Robbie Krieger, metal guitarists Joe Satriani and Aldo Nova, lead vocals on some tracks from people never in the proper band, and a spoken introduction by Stephen King. Despite its troubled history, it stands out as one of the band's most consistent works in terms of quality, and serves to bring the band back full circle to its arcane beginnings.
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Old 10-10-2013, 02:15 AM   #2
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I will post more detailed write-ups of individual albums, but in the meantime I've created this compilation which I hope adequately illustrates the strange journey taken by the band between 1972 and 1988. It is arranged by "era", with the chronology of songs mixed within those sections. If something isn't your cup of tea, skip around! It's unlikely that many people will like everything on here.

I. The Early Years ('72-'74)
1. The Red And The Black (Tyranny And Mutation)
2. Career Of Evil (Secret Treaties)*
3. Flaming Telepaths (Secret Treaties)
4. Redeemed (Blue Öyster Cult)
5. Buck's Boogie (Tyranny And Mutation)
6. Before The Kiss, A Redcap (Blue Öyster Cult)

II. The "Pop" Years ('75-'79)
7. The Revenge Of Vera Gemini (Agents Of Fortune)*
8. Goin' Through The Motions (Spectres)
9. In Thee (Mirrors)
10. Debbie Denise (Agents Of Fortune)*
11. Fireworks (Spectres)
12. You're Not The One I Was Looking For (Mirrors)
13. Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (Agents Of Fortune)
14. Godzilla (Spectres)
15. Lonely Teardrops (Mirrors)

III. The Eighties ('80-'88)
16. Shooting Shark (The Revolution By Night)*
17. Astronomy (Imaginos)
18. Black Blade (Cultösaurus Erectus)
19. Les Invisibles (Imaginos)
20. Fire Of Unknown Origin (Fire Of Unknown Origin)*
21. Veins (The Revolution By Night)
22. Blue Öyster Cult (Imaginos)

*lyrics by Patti Smith


Please PM me if you're interested in a link for this compilation.
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Old 10-10-2013, 02:20 AM   #3
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And to whet your appetites, here's some of their pretty damned cool album covers:













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Old 10-10-2013, 03:26 AM   #4
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I saw a few Patti Smith Group shows, the first one I saw was at the Santa Monica Civic Aud, always great, I have all of her catalogue on vinyl

Saw BOC a few times, pretty good live show, I remember one show at the Inglewood Forum, I had 2nd or 3rd row floor seats, PS was holding one of her kids, standing on a chair and dancing, security came over and ejected her, she put up one hell of a fight
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Old 10-10-2013, 04:37 AM   #5
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Spectres might be my favorite of their albums. Wore the vinyl out on that one! I saw them live in 1979.

For a song recommendation that's fun and kind of out there, give Joan Crawford a listen (from Fire of Unknown Origin)
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Old 10-10-2013, 07:36 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lazarus View Post
I've spent about a month exploring a box set of this band's Columbia Records discography, and I'm very pleased with what I've heard. So I've created this in the hopes of sharing my findings with some of you.

When most Gen-Xers hear "Blue Öyster Cult", they're most likely to think of their two biggest radio hits "Don't Fear The Reaper" and "Burning For You", and the subsequent generation probably recalls the famous "More cowbell!" skit from Saturday Night Live that poked fun at the recording of the former track. But in their initial 15-year run as recording artists, BÖC covered an impressive amount of musical terrain, and in a perfect world would have found "crossover" chart success with a good number of songs. Making their reputation more as a ferocious live act, the band's studio albums never seemed to receive the proper promotion from Columbia Records that would have achieved this goal. Regardless, the band did go on to sell 20+ million albums worldwide and influence many later acts.

Classified (incorrectly) as "heavy metal" for much of their career, the band's origins suggest a geekier version of the history behind The Velvet Underground or Sex Pistols: music critic and aspiring promoter Sandy Pearlman collected together a group of young musicians, and along with fellow critic Richard Metzler contributed lyrics to most of the band's songs for the first few years. In Pearlman's case, most of his writing came from The Soft Doctrines of Imaginos, his collection of poetry and script excerpts from a long-gestating project that blended Lovecraftian horror, science fiction, and a secret world history spanning centuries. A young Patti Smith (girlfriend of Cult keyboardist Allen Lanier) also lent her poetry to the band's songs, a collaboration that would last for over ten years. And while the band may have been the brainchild of Pearlman, all five members contributed to the songwriting process on almost every album, with four of them contributing lead vocals at one time or another. Musically, the early days of BÖC draw comparisons to harder acts like Black Sabbath and Steppenwolf, but also psychedelic bands like early Pink Floyd and Grateful Dead.

As the 1970s continued, the band drifted increasingly further from the obscure subject matter of their mentors, and branched out musically as well. While continuing to prove their hard rock chops (often seeming to parody the metal genre while doing so), one can hear the classic influences of Phil Spector and Frankie Valli, and contemporaries like The Cars and Steely Dan. Their peak of popularity came with the platinum-selling 1975's Agents Of Fortune, which featured the aforementioned Top 20 hit Reaper. As the band attempted to embrace pop in its various forms more fully, their fanbase objected with lower album sales even while their live shows still drew bigger and bigger crowds, and three live albums were released in less than a decade.

The 1980s saw BÖC return to a heavier sound (while paradoxically using more synthesizers and horns on some tracks) and deeper genre writing, including collaborations with fantasy writers Michael Moorcock and Eric V. Lustbader. Martin Birch (producer of Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, and Iron Maiden albums) worked for the band on two releases. Lineup changes and a termination of their record contract eventually put the band on a ten-year hiatus between studio albums, but not before Pearlman essentially used the band members as session musicians to complete his Imaginos project, originally planned as a three-album rock opera. Recorded over a period of seven years, a mutated and condensed version was finally released in 1988, featuring contributions from former Doors member Robbie Krieger, metal guitarists Joe Satriani and Aldo Nova, lead vocals on some tracks from people never in the proper band, and a spoken introduction by Stephen King. Despite its troubled history, it stands out as one of the band's most consistent works in terms of quality, and serves to bring the band back full circle to its arcane beginnings.
What the hell? What's with the essay style write up? Are you hoping Christgau stumbles across this and invites you over for schnapps?
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Old 10-10-2013, 10:46 AM   #7
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Spectres might be my favorite of their albums. Wore the vinyl out on that one! I saw them live in 1979.

For a song recommendation that's fun and kind of out there, give Joan Crawford a listen (from Fire of Unknown Origin)
Spectres is a great one. I easily could have included a couple more tracks from that (like I Love The Night). For some reason the album I've been spending the most time with is Mirror, which oddly enough is viewed as a misstep by many fans because of its slick production and pop aspirations. I don't find much of a difference in that regard between it and Spectres. Like, this is pretty damned poppy:

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Old 10-10-2013, 04:07 PM   #8
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I remember when I tried to get into this band some 10 years or so back and went and got a single disc Best Of. Liked a handful of tracks on there including Reaper, Burnin' For You, Godzilla and a few others. But mostly I thought they kinda sucked, to be honest. I much prefer Metallica's cover of Astronomy to their original.

Btw, what's with the umlaut over the O in Oyster? If it was put there just to look cool, well that's lame.

They have some cool album covers though.
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Old 10-10-2013, 06:10 PM   #9
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I'm not sure which Best Of you heard, but I had a similar experience way back when. After enjoying Imaginos so much back in the late 80s, I also tried getting deeper into their stuff but the classic/psych rock style wasn't to my liking at the time. 10 years, 20 years can make a difference.

There are also two versions of Astronomy. I much prefer the remake on Imaginos, but both are better than Metallica's IMO.

The umlaut was added as a joke from what I remember. As I said, their flirtation with the heavy metal culture often came off as tongue-in-cheek. Christgau for one seemed to be in on the joke. He did a pretty great job of estimating their unique approach. My favorite part is when he calls Agents Of Fortune "the Fleetwood Mac of heavy metal".

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Blue Oyster Cult [Columbia, 1972]
Warning: critics' band, managed by Sandy Pearlman with occasional lyrics by R. Meltzer. Reassurance: the most musical hard rock album since Who's Next. (Well, that's less than six months, and this is not a great time for hard rock albums.) The style is technocratic psychedelic, a distanced, decisively post-Altamont reworking of the hallucinogenic guitar patterns of yore, with lots of heavy trappings. Not that they don't have a lyrical side. In "Then Came the Last Days of May," for instance, four young men ride out to seek their fortune in the dope biz and one makes his by wasting the other three. B+

Tyranny and Mutation [Columbia, 1973]
Says S. Pearlman: "We want to be disgusting, not trans-repulsive." Says R. Meltzer: "This is really hard rock comedy." Musically, Long Island's only underground band impales the entire heavy ethos on a finely-honed guitar neck, often at high speed, which is the punch line. And the lyrics aren't inaudible, just unbelievable--a parody-surreal refraction of the abysmal "poetry" of heavy, with its evil women and gods of hellfire. Which is not to suggest that it doesn't become what it takes off from. But is that bad or good? B+

Secret Treaties [Columbia, 1974]
Sometime over the past year, while I wasn't playing their records, I began to wonder whether a cross between the Velvet Underground and Uriah Heep was my idea of a good time. The driving, effortless wit and density of Buck Dharma's guitar flourish in this cold climate, but Eric Bloom couldn't project emotion if they let him, and I'm square enough to find his pseudo-pseudospade cynicism less than funny. Subject of "Dominance and Submission": New Year's 1964 in Times Square. B

On Your Feet or on Your Knees [Columbia, 1975]
This live double, proof that they've earned the right to issue cheapo product, is a fitting testament. The packaging makes their ominoso joke more explicit than it's ever been, and if the music is humdrum more often than searing, maybe that means these closet intellectuals have finally achieved the transubstantiation of their most baroque fantasies. C+

Agents of Fortune [Columbia, 1976]
Just when I figured they were doomed to repeat themselves until the breakup, they come up with the Fleetwood Mac of heavy metal, not as fast as Tyranny and Mutation but longer on momentum, with MOR tongue-in-cheek replacing the black-leather posturing and future games. I wonder how long it took them to do the la-la-las on "Debbie Denise" without cracking up. B+

Spectres [Columbia, 1977]
Although Sandy Pearlman used to say the Cult's audience couldn't tolerate any suggestion that the band's laser-and-leathers fooforaw was funny, their parodic side has become progressively more overt. What do today's Cultists think of "Godzilla" ("Oh no there goes Tokyo") or the beerhall intro to "Golden Age of Leather"? I bet some of 'em like laughing at laser-and-leathers, and good. I also bet some of 'em are so zonked they wouldn't get it if John Belushi emceed, and to, er, hell with them. B
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Old 10-13-2013, 12:06 AM   #10
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Surprised that Ashley and El Mel haven't commented in here. I think there's a lot they would like from this band.

Anyway, not giving up yet. Here's another curveball, one that sounds very close to The Cars, who were just getting started around this time.

Pop gem for sure.

Blue Oyster Cult: You're Not The One - YouTube
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Old 10-13-2013, 01:27 AM   #11
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I have heard Secret Treaties and the self titled and really enjoyed them but only the singles really stand out to me at this point. I need to spend more time with them.
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Old 10-13-2013, 05:21 AM   #12
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Spectres is a great one. I easily could have included a couple more tracks from that (like I Love The Night). For some reason the album I've been spending the most time with is Mirror, which oddly enough is viewed as a misstep by many fans because of its slick production and pop aspirations. I don't find much of a difference in that regard between it and Spectres. Like, this is pretty damned poppy:


Joan Crawford almost made the cut on my compilation, but I decided to go with the title track from that album instead because it was a little stranger.

Fire of Unknown Origin (the song) is strange, but there's just something about a song about Joan Crawford rising to join (or lead ) the zombie apocalypse that I really dig.

I must admit though, the opening verse of Fire of Unknown Origin has long been one of my favorite lyrics ever.

I got into their music around 1978, so Mirrors was their first album I looked forward to the release of. I loved it. I think In Thee was and still is my favorite on the album. When Cultosaurus came out, I just couldn't get into it, and never did. However Fire of Unknown Origin came along and I loved it. After that I totally lost track of them.
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Old 10-13-2013, 10:38 AM   #13
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I have heard Secret Treaties and the self titled and really enjoyed them but only the singles really stand out to me at this point. I need to spend more time with them.
Yeah. Obviously you'd want to fill in the gap with Tyranny And Mutation (which I prefer slightly to the other two, despite the high points on Secret Treaties), you'll definitely have to move on to the more pop stuff. Agents Of Fortune is their fourth album and many believe it to be their best.

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I must admit though, the opening verse of Fire of Unknown Origin has long been one of my favorite lyrics ever.

I got into their music around 1978, so Mirrors was their first album I looked forward to the release of. I loved it. I think In Thee was and still is my favorite on the album. When Cultosaurus came out, I just couldn't get into it, and never did. However Fire of Unknown Origin came along and I loved it. After that I totally lost track of them.
Patti Smith wrote the lyrics to FOUO as well, another reason I wanted to include it. I think it dates back to the mid-70s as she wrote it as a poem.

As I mentioned earlier, the hardcore fanbase was pretty down on Mirrors, and actually viewed Cultosaurus as a return to form. I've had the same problem as you; IMO it doesn't have anywhere near the standout tracks that Mirrors does.

In Thee is easily my favorite BOC song at this point.

I'm surprised you didn't hear The Revolution By Night as it had a somewhat successful single in Shooting Shark (again, written with Patti Smith). If you can get past the dated synthesizers, it's a great song with a very memorable chorus. The rest of the album is uneven but does have a few good others.

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Old 10-24-2013, 02:45 PM   #14
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He's in the clear, guys.


Quote:
Originally Posted by lazarus View Post
Surprised that Ashley and El Mel haven't commented in here. I think there's a lot they would like from this band.
I missed my specific call-out in this thread, but I absolutely love BOC, what I've heard of them, at any rate, which is, admittedly, not much. I just hate reading long passages of text on this forum. Not because I don't like to read, but the blue-on-blue hurts my eyes, so I kinda just brushed by this thread, to be honest.

I'll give an album a listen as soon as Strangeways is over.
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Old 10-24-2013, 03:14 PM   #15
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WHEW.

My compilation is still available for download!

Quote:
Originally Posted by bono_212 View Post
I just hate reading long passages of text on this forum. Not because I don't like to read, but the blue-on-blue hurts my eyes, so I kinda just brushed by this thread, to be honest.

I've spent about a month exploring a box set of this band's Columbia Records discography, and I'm very pleased with what I've heard. So I've created this in the hopes of sharing my findings with some of you.

When most Gen-Xers hear "Blue Öyster Cult", they're most likely to think of their two biggest radio hits "Don't Fear The Reaper" and "Burning For You", and the subsequent generation probably recalls the famous "More cowbell!" skit from Saturday Night Live that poked fun at the recording of the former track. But in their initial 15-year run as recording artists, BÖC covered an impressive amount of musical terrain, and in a perfect world would have found "crossover" chart success with a good number of songs. Making their reputation more as a ferocious live act, the band's studio albums never seemed to receive the proper promotion from Columbia Records that would have achieved this goal. Regardless, the band did go on to sell 20+ million albums worldwide and influence many later acts.

Classified (incorrectly) as "heavy metal" for much of their career, the band's origins suggest a geekier version of the history behind The Velvet Underground or Sex Pistols: music critic and aspiring promoter Sandy Pearlman collected together a group of young musicians, and along with fellow critic Richard Metzler contributed lyrics to most of the band's songs for the first few years. In Pearlman's case, most of his writing came from The Soft Doctrines of Imaginos, his collection of poetry and script excerpts from a long-gestating project that blended Lovecraftian horror, science fiction, and a secret world history spanning centuries. A young Patti Smith (girlfriend of Cult keyboardist Allen Lanier) also lent her poetry to the band's songs, a collaboration that would last for over ten years. And while the band may have been the brainchild of Pearlman, all five members contributed to the songwriting process on almost every album, with four of them contributing lead vocals at one time or another. Musically, the early days of BÖC draw comparisons to harder acts like Black Sabbath and Steppenwolf, but also psychedelic bands like early Pink Floyd and Grateful Dead.

As the 1970s continued, the band drifted increasingly further from the obscure subject matter of their mentors, and branched out musically as well. While continuing to prove their hard rock chops (often seeming to parody the metal genre while doing so), one can hear the classic influences of Phil Spector and Frankie Valli, and contemporaries like The Cars and Steely Dan. Their peak of popularity came with the platinum-selling 1975's Agents Of Fortune, which featured the aforementioned Top 20 hit Reaper. As the band attempted to embrace pop in its various forms more fully, their fanbase objected with lower album sales even while their live shows still drew bigger and bigger crowds, and three live albums were released in less than a decade.

The 1980s saw BÖC return to a heavier sound (while paradoxically using more synthesizers and horns on some tracks) and deeper genre writing, including collaborations with fantasy writers Michael Moorcock and Eric V. Lustbader. Martin Birch (producer of Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, and Iron Maiden albums) worked for the band on two releases. Lineup changes and a termination of their record contract eventually put the band on a ten-year hiatus between studio albums, but not before Pearlman essentially used the band members as session musicians to complete his Imaginos project, originally planned as a three-album rock opera. Recorded over a period of seven years, a mutated and condensed version was finally released in 1988, featuring contributions from former Doors member Robbie Krieger, metal guitarists Joe Satriani and Aldo Nova, lead vocals on some tracks from people never in the proper band, and a spoken introduction by Stephen King. Despite its troubled history, it stands out as one of the band's most consistent works in terms of quality, and serves to bring the band back full circle to its arcane beginnings.
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