Friday, September 27, 2013

Blue Oyster Cult

In my early youth, I was into buying 45s because we were dirt poor and couldn't afford albums but once I got a job peddling those free newspapers The Penny Saver, I managed to earn a few dollars to buy an album or two per year.  Penny Saver paid something like a penny delivered to house and these fuckers were heavy.  The good old days, now they just mail them off every Wednesday.

I think it was 1974 when Mom took me down to Woolworth's in downtown Cedar Rapids and they had Blue Oyster Cult's first album for something like 5 dollars thereabouts, BOC was played on the FM stations before The Reaper came out a couple years later but KLWW FM played Cities On Flame and Red And The Black from time to time.   First time I ever played the first BOC album on the stereo it sounded much different than anything beforehand.  The guitars sounded sinister, the vocalist evil and the sound recording opened up a new door of hearing music as it sounded back then.  My ears weren't subjected to all the big cymbal crashes of my band and I could hear it all.  The first record from BOC was original hard rock in the hushed vocals of Eric Bloom or countered sadder sounding Buck Dharma on Then Came The Last Days Of May or Albert Bouchard doing the original Cities On Flame or the 4th vocalist in Joe Bouchard on Screams, this was a thinking man's rock band and everybody helped out and still remains one of the best debuts in rock history rivaling only that of Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin (IMO).  But BOC goes back further, going under the name of the Soft White Underbelly or Stalk Forrest Group which made a one off single for Elektra and an album that didn't get released till about 30 years down the road but odes more to The Grateful Dead in sound rather than the radical change that was Blue Oyster Cult, the first album.

The next two albums BOC took a page from the Tony Clarke/Moody Blues albums and Tyranny And Mutation and Secret Treaties the song segmented into the next one.  Took me years to really warm to Tyranny (especially on 7 Screaming Diz Busters) and although they maintained the odd William Gralik cover art, the recording wasn't as mysterious as the first one.  Side 1 remains a keeper with the scathing Red And Black, OD on Life Itself and Hot Rails To Hell with the epic 7 Screaming Diz Busters riding the band and the listener into hell itself.  Side 2, there are moments like Mistress Of The Salmon Salt (Quicklime Girl) and Teen Archer but the record feels a bit rushed, like the record label ordering them back into the studio.  Secret Treaties is better where concert faves like Harvester Of Eyes and ME 262 can be found.  And of course Astronomy.   On Your Feet Or On Your Knees is a 1975 live document and the first of many many live albums out there, to which when I saw them play in Cedar Rapids in 1979, they were still using many of the songs that they don't now (I Ain't Got You) and the five guitars segment of ME 262 which is better seen live than heard.  The original BOC of Eric Bloom, Don Roeser, Alan Lanier (RIP) and Joe & Al Bouchard  were the best lineup and once the Bouchard boys would leave, the albums would become less and less satisfying.

The best albums remain Agents Of Fortune and Spectres, two album that defined my high school years since I played both of them a lot but liked the latter album better despite the familiar Don't Fear The Reaper is on the former.  Returning to that forbidden sound of the first album Agents is perhaps the most democratic of all BOC albums, even Alan Lanier signs on True Confessions (the first and only time Alan ever sung in the band). Faves remain the big hit, This Ain't The Summer Of Love (Which bombed as a single), E.T.I and Albert Bouchard engages in a duet to the death with Patti Smith on Revenge Of Vera Gemini. And to further prove another point Albert leads off side two with I'll love you like sin but won't be your pigeon line to Sinful Love. Debbie Denise, originally thought to be the worst BOC ever, isn't that; it's somewhat tongue in cheek. I can probably listen to that one better than say, 7 Screaming Diz Busters or anything of Revolution By Night.  Spectres on the other hand, to me was better leading with FM hit Godzilla, The Golden Age Of Leather which could be a followup to Then Came The Last Days Of May.  Other faves are R U Ready 2 Rock but more often it's Albert again on Death Valley Nights and Don Roeser's I Love The Night, another vampire song so to speak.   Their second live album in three years Some Enchanted Evening came out and although I have yet to hear the expanded version, I can say that the single album version was slightly better soundwise than On Your Feet.., but at that time it was product for the label to ship out.  Perhaps someday I'll spring the big bucks to get the expended edition but as they say so little time so much music to hear.  Moving on.

BOC said goodbye to Sandy Pearlman and ushered in a new era with pop master producer Tom Werman to produce Mirrors and in the result became their most pop sounding album ever. The Great Sun Jester would have benefited more from Pearlman's production but in this setting something seems missing, still a good song but one that could have been better with a harder production.  Dr. Music, Mirrors and the beautiful goodbye to Patti Smith from Alan Lanier called In Thee are the standouts.  Alas, side 2 has not held up very well over time.  Al Bouchard's You're Not The One I Was Looking For, borrows a lot of the melody from The Cars Just What I Need and the James Gang Tend My Garden and turns BOC into power pop.  The Vigil sounds uninspired.

The next two albums are considered the last good BOC efforts, this time hooking up with Martin Birch (Deep Purple, Iron Maiden) to make the prog rock sounding Cultosaurus Erectus, the last great album.  Working with Mike Moorcock (Hawkwind) they came up with Black Blade, another guitar rock Lips In The Hills has great guitar work from Don Roeser but the lyrics are ultra silly.  They even go jazz on Monsters! My other faves would be Hungry Boys and Fallen Angel.  Fire Of Unknown Origin brings their second and final hit in the overplayed Burnin For You but also the sinister Joan Crawford and Veteran Of The Physic Wars, which would be used in the Heavy Metal movie as well.  But this would be the end of the original BOC.  Albert Bouchard would leave soon after and CBS issued yet another live album ETI Live which has Albert playing on only two tracks (the best ones Black Blade and Dominance And Submission to which he usually sang didn't by this time) and the rest by Rick Downey (later managing Anthrax).

And then the lost years.  Revolution By Night (1983) which the late Bruce Fairbairn produced showed a band that lost its identity and although I have it on record I didn't like it enough to buy on CD.  Take Me Away (co written with Aldo Nova) was the failed hit and best song, Shooting Shark the other decent song.  The rest was forgettible.  Club Ninja (1986) is a even bigger mess to which Joe Bourchard left after the Revolution By Night fiasco and although Sandy Pearlman is back in the producer's chair, the outside song doctors didn't help much, nor did the borrowed rhythm section.  Dancing In The Ruins was the failed hit and best song.  The strange Imaginos (1988)  has Albert Bouchard coming back to write the lyrics and music and although Joe Bouchard is credited as a player here it sounds a bit too much like Club Ninja.  This is one record that I can like one minute and hate the next.  The namesake song Blue Oyster Cult is very bizarre sounding, while the backing vocals say We understand, I don't.  Not in this context.  And they do a disco version of Astronomy as well too.  Imaginos the album has been reissued four times in its history and as a curio should be heard as least one time.

With that in mind, Columbia/CBS bid adios to the cult with the half assed Career Of Evil, which is a contractual obligation upon itself with inferior live versions of their hits.  Since then, Sony Music has reissued many a best of Blue Oyster Cult album and the most practical one and cheapest was On Flame With Rock And Roll. Workshop Of The Telescopes is a 2 CD effort that takes sections off all the CBS albums and adds a few obscure ones as well.  Later on Sony Music reissued the first five BOC albums with bonus tracks and if you're a fan like me you have them all now (the ones being the first album up to Spectres). The Essential Blue Oyster Cult is Workshop Of The Telescopes renamed.

BOC was not done yet; in the 1998, they signed up with CMC to release their best album in years in Heaven Forbid and had some airplay with Harvest Moon.  Heaven Forbid is their most metal sounding record with See You In Black and Power Underneath Despair.  Curse Of The Hidden Mirror (2001) was a decent followup. A Long's Day Night was a credible live album.  BOC hasn't recorded much since then if they ever did but still remain one of the hardest working bands touring to this day.

In 2003, Sony Music finally reissued the first five studio albums with bonus tracks and finally the lyrics (except Spectres), for the first time people can actually read the lyrics but turns out the lyrics may have been the least worthy, and why hardly anybody ventures out of covering The Reaper or Godzilla, they're much harder to sing to.  The notes to Spectres are half assed and the lyrics not even printed on this one.  Club Ninja and Imaginos have been deleted by Sony, with Koch Records reissuing them for a time and then American Beat taking over and doing a bared bones reissue (at least the Columbia version had the printed lyrics and story line).  Real Gone Music is now the third reissue label for that. Lemon Records in the UK still has Club Ninja in print.

Blue Oyster Cult continues to tour with Eric Bloom and Donald Roeser still the band. On occasion Joe and Albert Bouchard will pop up on stage for a special guest appearance.  Many years of smoking Allen Lanier paid the price, dying from COPD in 2013. 

Most recently, BOC has signed with Frontier Records and have reissued a few things including Cult Classic and a Agents Of Fortune 40 Year Anniversary live album. I can live without both albums. There's a promise of a new BOC album before the year is out. It would be wonderful to see Joe and Albert Bouchard back on board but that won't happen.


Blue Oyster Cult (Columbia 1971) A
Tyranny And Mutation (Columbia 1973) B+
Secret Treaties (Columbia 1974) A
On Your Feet Or On Your Knees (Columbia 1975) B
Live 1976 (Griffin 1976) B-
Agents Of Fortune (Columbia 1976) A-
Spectres (Columbia 1977) A
Some Enchanted Evening (Columbia 1978) C+  (Grade for the single LP only)
Mirrors (Columbia 1979) C+
Cultosaurus Erectus (Columbia 1980) A-
Fire Of Unknown Origin (Columbia 1981) B+
Extraterrestrial Live (Columbia 1982) B+
The Revolution By Night (Columbia 1983) C
Club Ninja (Columbia 1986) C
Imaginos (Columbia 1988) B-
Career Of Evil (Columbia 1989) C
On Flame With Rock N Roll (CBS Special Products 1990) A-
Cult Classic (Frontiers 1992)  C+
Bad Channels S/T (Frontiers 1994) C
Workshop Of The Telescopes (Columbia 1995) B+
Heaven Forbid (Frontiers 1998) B+
Best Of Blue Oyster Cult-Don't Fear The Reaper (Legacy 1999) B+
Curse Of The Hidden Mirror (Frontiers 2001) B
A Long Day's Night (Sanctuary 2002) B+
Setlist: Live Hits (Legacy 2010) NR
Playlist (Sony/Legacy 2015) B

Update: There are now three compilations of BOC best known songs.  I've included On Flame With Rock And Roll among the reissues simply of the fact, that the hits are there.  Career Of Evil remains a half assed effort and Sony Music has deleted it out of the catalog in favor of Don't Fear The Reaper or Playlist.  Workshop Of The Telescopes was renamed The Essential Blue Oyster Cult, same songs, different title.  Don't Fear The Reaper is the better of the single best ofs, but Essential BOC is a good anthology, which packs a few b sides and rarities.  Sony Music did remastered the original albums up to Spectres with bonus tracks, some do enhance the albums for sure, especially the first album and of course Agents Of Fortune   While critics maintain Spectres was the weakest followup to Agents, I thought Spectres was better, at least we were spared of Debbie Denise, perhaps the worst song BOC wrote up to Revolution By Night or Club Ninja.  Once Albert Bouchard left the band, BOC was never quite the same and became a parody of themselves.  Not even Joe could rescue the band and then he finally left the band.  Imaginos had everybody returning to the studios to help out and the music was more heavy metal than Club Ninja, but it's all over the place with guest guitar players and lack of focus.

As mentioned Frontiers reissued the Herald and CMC International albums and without the Bouchard brothers around, it's the Eric and Buck Dharma show.  Heaven Forbid showed BOC going further into thrash metal but a lot of people didn't care for that album.  Curse Of The Hidden Mirror is more streamlined, it's better than the mid 80s albums but to these ears I didn't care much for it.  Since then, Frontiers has issued a few live BOC albums of the 2000s and 2010's but at this point, they are a nostalgic band.  I went as far as picking Long Day's Night as a cutout and while it's not On Your Feet or On Your Needs or ET live, it shows BOC on a pretty good night.  Setlist is interesting for the inclusion of The Vigil and a 1977 live Godzilla which was the B side to (ahem) Godzilla and Flaming Telepaths a live UK B side. For completeists only.

In the end, I'll pass on the BOC concerts in favor of the new BOC album when it comes out.  If and when that happens.   I'll cherish the days of seeing BOC tear up the Five Seasons center in 1979 and the 1981 return engagement with Foghat, to which by then Rick Downey replaced Albert on drums.  If n when Buck and Eric return to a casino near me, I'll go watch.