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Blue Öyster Cult

Blue Öyster Cult

Review by Scott Prinzing

The debut of any band is always interesting to go back to for a second look.  Blue Öyster Cult were launched in 1972 with a eponymous album that featured a pen-and-ink illustration that was part astrological, part architectural and part alchemical.  It perfectly represented the music within.  The cryptic symbol (representing either Saturn or the very ’eavy metal, lead) became an enigmatic logo for the band on its own.  Often touted as an American response to Black Sabbath, the bands complemented each other enough to eventually share management, a producer (Martin Birch), and once traveled America as the “Black and Blue” tour. 

This album sounds better to me forty years on than I remember it sounding in the late-70s when I started tracking down BÖC’s back catalogue.  Several of these songs are still performed by BÖC today.  And while none of them really ever made an impact on the charts, “Cities On Flame with Rock and Roll” can still be heard late night on classic rock radio on occasion.  The core of this band, guitarist/vocalists Eric Bloom and Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser are still touring and have continued to put out some very fine albums over the years.  While I don’t think this is an essential album, it is a classic of progressive hard rock and heavy metal that no serious BÖC or serious HR/HM devotee should be without.  This 2001 edition features extensive liner notes and four demos by the band recorded in 1969 after Soft White Underbelly became the Stalk-Forrest Group.  Aren’t you glad they changed their name to Blue Öyster Cult in the nick of time?

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2012  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Transmaniacon MC
If this had been the first song I’d ever heard by BÖC, I would’ve been hooked.  Starting off with a song that name checks the Altamont disaster is a bold way to introduce a band to the public, but here it is: “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.”
I'm on the Lamb but I Ain't No Sheep
This song has become a BÖC classic, but after it was renamed “The Red & the Black.” That tighter, more metallic version opened their next album.  The new title makes more sense, as the song is about “Canadian Mounties, baby / Red and black / That’s their color scheme.”
Then Came the Last Days of May
This is a mellow ballad written and sung by Buck Dharma that would sound cozy up next to The Doors’ “Riders On the Storm.”  Its subject matter is a drug deal gone awry in the desert: “Three good buddies were laughing and smoking in the back / Of a rented Ford / They couldn't know they weren't going far.”
Stairway to the Stars
On first listen this BÖC standard would seem to have sci-fi theme, but it’s more down-to-earth.  The stars being discussed are rock stars: “You can have my autograph / I think I’ll sign good health to you.” 
Before the Kiss, a Redcap
Buck Dharma sings this rocker that leads into a bit of a jump blues.  It shows once again how BÖC are difficult to pigeonhole as a heavy metal band.  The lyric concerns the passing of a pill from one lover’s mouth to the other: “Their lips apart like a swollen rose / Their tongues extend, and then retract / A redcap, a redcap, before the kiss, before the kiss.”
Screams
This spacey song written and sung by Joe Bouchard sounds like an early Alice Cooper tune.  And it adds more fuel to the fire of those who feel BOC are definitely pawns of the devil: “Screams in the night, sirens delight / Heat, broken glass, Satan's bred trash.”
She's as Beautiful as a Foot
“Screams” runs right into this song, which sounds like someone might have a foot fetish.  It’s a pretty cool tune, though.  It has an instrumental section that invokes The Doors.  That should come as no surprise since Doors guitarist Robbie Kreiger has appeared as a BÖC guest both onstage and in the studio. 
Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll
This song is one of the BÖC classics, although it’s more of a live standard than a radio one.  Originally sung by the sometimes pitch-challenged Albert Bouchard, it can be heard on Extra-terrestrial Live, sung with greater authority by Bloom.  This is not the first time that the band could have tried to get reimbursement for product placement: “Gardens of nocturne, forbidden delights / Reins of steel, and it's alright / Cities on flame, with rock and roll / Marshall will buoy, but Fender control.”
Workshop of the Telescopes
This song is one of the few that is credited to the entire band, plus Pearlman.  It is classic early BÖC with lyrics that reflect the sci-fi/occult influence of Pearlman: “By silverfish imperetrix, whose incorrupted eye / Sees through the charms of doctors and their wives / By salamander, drake, and the power that was undine / Rise to claim Saturn, ring and sky / By those who see with their eyes closed / you'll know me by my black telescope.”  Boil, simmer, repeat.
Redeemed
This mellower song has a slight country sound to it.  This might have some connection to the lyric: “Redeemed by virtue, of a country song / And I believe that lord, it won't be long.”
Donovan's Monkey
Sounding right out of the late-60s Psychedelic era it was recorded in, this is actually a pretty cool song. The first of the 2001 CD reissue bonus tracks, I’m surprised that it never resurfaced in an updated version.
What is Quicksand
Bloom’s distinctive voice is about the only thing that makes this sound like a BÖC song at all.  It also has a psychedelic folk sound to it. 
A Fact About Sneakers
This song sounds the most likely candidate to have been included on this album.  It’s more psychedelic folk, with vocals by both Bloom and Dharma.  It was probably considered as single material, as it clocks in at exactly 2:50.
Betty Lou's Got a New Pair of Shoes
With all these songs about feet, sneakers and shoes, I’m convinced someone in the BÖC organization had/has a foot fetish.  This is a cover by Bobby Freeman that reflects the 1950s nostalgia of the era – at least with rock bands. 
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