Featured Album – Blue Öyster Cult

Two years before Kiss roared out of Long Island with its self-titled debut, Blue Öyster Cult… issued its dark, eponymously-titled heavy rock monolith. [The album} rode the hot, hellbound rails of blistering hard rock as pioneered by Steppenwolf, fierce mutated biker blues, and a kind of dark psychedelia that could have only come out New York. – Allmusic.

As a general rule, I never buy an album unless A) I’ve heard it a few times and 2) it’s really good. I’ve broken the “heard it a few times” rule only rarely. I knew no one at the time who had heard of Blue Öyster Cult nor were they playing them on the radio.

I bought BOC’s first album entirely on the strength of a review in Rolling Stone, a review I now know (thanks to Wikpedia) was written by none other than the late gonzo madman rock critic, Lester Bangs. (So famous he’s name-checked in “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It.”) I think he indicated it was the thinking man’s heavy metal. Doubt that. More like the stoner teenager’s. But still.

Was I disappointed? Not even a little bit. Heavy metal is not my main musical meat and potatoes. But when I like it, I really like it. They used to introduce the band as The Amazing Blue Öyster Cult. Saw ’em once. With Slade. Loudest concert of all time. Every single guy in BOC came out at the end and played raucous guitar. Who does that? Nobody!

This album (which I think should have been called “Roaring Out from Hell”) kicks into gear with the guitar attack of “Transmaniacon MC,” MC being a motorcycle club, apparently on its way from the ill-fated Altamont concert. The evil permeates the air, the opening lick – nasty!

With satan’s hog no pig at all, and the weather getting dry
We’ll head south from Altamont in a cold-blooded traveled trance
So clear the road my bully boys and let some thunder pass
We’re pain, we’re steel, a plot of knives,
We’re transmaniacon MC

Spotify link

Even though all the guys play guitar, the band’s ace is guitarist Donald Roeser, AKA Buck Dharma. Their manager wanted the guys all to have cool stage names. Most of them resisted, Buck dug his. It stuck. He rocked. This was the era when guitar was king. (Please let it come back.)

Buck wrote a song called “Then Came The Last Days of May,” supposedly a true story about a drug deal gone horribly wrong. I find this song to be sad and at the same time, understated and beautifully evocative:

Spotify link

My favorite song on the album is a great tune called “Before the Kiss, a Redcap” about a real, now-defunct place called Conry’s bar where the band used to play. Sounds like a joint you probably wouldn’t want to hang out in unless you’re carrying a piece. I had always come to believe that a redcap was a bit of the old tongue. But apparently, it’s a way to pass barbituates to someone.

Anyway, love the way this song just hammers along, shifts gears, and goes into a jazzy thing, all the while spouting the world’s most outrageous lyrics. And the revved-up ending always gives me goosebumps:

And the owners’ boys act most cheerfully
Back home at Conry’s bar
When their patrons’ thoughts at last
Grow too big for their skulls

And awful things are happening
We’ve let this drama fold
And now the time has come at last
To crush the motif of the rose.

Whatever the fuck THAT means:

Spotify link

BOC started out life as a Long Island band called Soft White Underbelly. Their manager wanted them to be the “American answer to Black Sabbath.” I think that yeah, sometimes they were. Sabbath’s got nothin’ on “Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll,” which has an even nastier riff than the first tune:

Spotify link

I bought BOC’s 2nd and maybe 3rd albums but never thought any of their hits (“Don’t Fear the Reaper,” “Burnin’ for You”) were as good as the best of this album. I hadn’t listened to Blue Öyster Cult all the way through for years and enjoyed it as much as I ever did. Blue Öyster Cult, the band, is still out there touring, including original members Buck Dharma and Eric Bloom.

PLAY. IT. LOUD

15 thoughts on “Featured Album – Blue Öyster Cult

  1. Love this band. To start with, what a cool name! I also saw them last year in a small local theater and thought they still sounded pretty cool!

    As for this particular album, I think “Cities on Flame” is my favorite. “Transmaniacom” and “Then Came the Last Days of May” are terrific songs too.

    As long as it’s not noise and guitar solos that are just high-speed, soulless finger technique, I don’t mind listening to heavy rock. In BOC’s case it’s very well executed guitar rock. And, yes, I couldn’t agree more, let’s bring it back, please!

    In general, I long for the times when music was true craftsmanship, involving real instruments and real singing, as opposed to the mediocre generic computer-generated crap that mostly dominates the charts these days!

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  2. I was listening to this album again as I was working on the post and there aren’t too many songs I don’t love. They really nailed their sound on this record and set the template for a certain kind of hard rock/heavy metal. I was looking at the Legacy section of their Wikipedia page and they’ve been covered by everyone from Metallica to Evanescence to Wilco to Smashing Pumpkins to jam band moe. I’m going to fewer concerts these days, more because of the outrageous rip-off VIP charges, etc. But if BOC is playing the smaller venues, yeah I’d consider going to see them, sure.

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  3. I just downloaded some BOC about 2 weeks ago. Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll is great, didn’t know that was BOC until then.

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  4. Oh, yeah. Give this album a spin on Spotify if you get a chance. There’s a lot of good stuff. They’re not, I think, as “heavy” as Metallica. if it’s even possible to be a hard rock band with a light touch, they accomplish it.

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  5. BTW. in WordPress there is a setting that allows it to automatically pick three of your older posts they deem to be relevant and list them at the bottom of the current post. Usually, they’re spot on. So I find myself amused that one of the listings on the bottom of this post is Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. Wha?

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  6. I’ll put this on the pile and give ita go. I missed the whole ‘BOC’ thing. So because I trust the Doctor I will be indulge. I’m with you on your Metal opinion but there are definite treasures in the music. And I did hear the two hits you mentioned and liked them. After spinning this record chances are I’ might have heard a bit.

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  7. Yeah I had heard a couple of these. Buck does some real wicked playing and i like the hard rock riffs. I’m still chuckling at your comment on the lyric. There were a lot of those in the day. Big Earl went to see them about 10 years ago with a buddy’s dad. He liked the concert.

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  8. Not a fan, I’m afraid. They do what they do really well but on the whole it’s just not my thing. I did like Last Days of May (and Don’t Fear the Reaper) but I couldn’t listen to Cities On Flame for long. Too much like Black Sabbath …

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    1. It’s funny. I have an option to re-post my posts over on the Reddit music site. I sometimes do that. I did that with BOC. Five minutes ago someone over there said, “I love this album!” Then your comment arrives. No accounting for taste, eh? Anyway, hey, at least you gave it a shot. I know this kind of music is not in your sweet spot.

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  9. I never really thought of BOC as heavy metal but this album sure rocks. There playing for free (need to only pay admission to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk) this summer and even though I hate Santa Cruz was thinking about taking the 2 1/2 hour drive down there to see them. I last saw them a couple years ago like 76 or 77. Great album choice for your post. To me it’s their best one too.

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      1. I think we will just drive down and watch the show and screw around the boardwalk then drive home. My issue is just staying the night there. The wife might go for that idea.

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