Vinyl Dust-off: Blue Oyster Cult’s Blue Oyster Cult

Lliam Easterbrook brings you his latest finds from ancient record bins only on Vinyl Dust-off.

Lliam Easterbrook – sonic archaeologist – brings you his latest finds from excursions into ancient record bins. Every week – only on Vinyl Dust-off.

By Lliam Easterbrook
[senior features writer]

According to music critic Sandy Pearlman, Blue Oyster Cult was supposed to be America’s answer to Britain’s Black Sabbath. Simply put, such expectations were  lofty, and would only serve to pigeonhole the band in a similar category. Although their riffs weren’t as heavy, their lyrics not as dark, their hooks not as jagged and menacing, BOC found their stride. Instead of becoming another notch on the sledgehammer of early 1970s metal, the Cult worked hard to find their own sound, a blend of metal, psychedelia, pop, rockabilly, blues, and folk. And they were the first band to adopt the umlaut. A band with a workhorse ethic, BOC toured relentlessly and gradually gained notoriety from an increasingly devout fan base.

Hailing from New York City, BOC began in the mid 1960s, touring small bars under the name Soft White Underbelly. After a slew of monikers — Oaxaca, Stalk-Forrest Group, and the Santos Sisters respectively — the band settled on Blue Oyster Cult, inspired by a poem by (then) manager Sandy Pearlman. Part of his “imaginos” poetry, the Blue Oyster Cult was “a group of aliens who had assembled to secretly guide Earth’s history.”

The symbol for Kronos — a sickle underpinning a cross – was featured on their first LP, and has become synonymous with the band, having been featured in the artwork for all fifteen of BOC’s studio albums. Also called the “cross of confusion,” the symbol takes many meanings, including an anti-religious and anti-authoritarian function. According to BOC’s website, the cross was adopted by the band for its “metaphysical, alchemical and mythological connotations  . . .  [which] gave it a flair of decadence and mystery — perfect for rock and roll, and perfect for the kind of music Blue Oyster Cult was creating.”

BOC’s eponymous first album was released in January of 1972, but failed to garner commercial success despite favourable reviews, forcing the band to tour extensively in support of the album. Beginning with the psychedelic “Transmaniacon MC” (a song that would later inspire John Shirley’s novel under the same name), BOC quickly sets the tone for an album of dynamic highs and lows. From the upbeat rockabilly-influenced “I’m on the Lamb But I Ain’t No Sheep” to the ambient blues of “Then Came the Last Days of May”, BOC effortlessly craft a first side that commercially rivals anything of the era.

But it’s the album’s second side that really shines. “Screams” is an airy psychedelic whir, foreshadowing the sound the band would later master on its most well known song, 1976’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper”. The song’s final notes continue into the album’s most eclectic track, the hypnotic “She’s as Beautiful as a Foot” — a too-short ethereal oddity that seamlessly evokes the dreamscape image of the album’s cover. Next is the hard-blues of “Cities on Flame With Rock and Roll”, the loose jam of  “Workshop of the Telescopes, and finally the stripped down folkiness of “Redeemed”.

Blue Oyster Cult is a strong, cohesive album that relies on Donald Roeser’s solid lead guitar and Eric Bloom’s throaty vocal delivery and strange and poetic lyrical syntax. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but what it may lack in ingenuity, it makes up for in earnest, straightforward rock and roll.

Play it loud. Play it proud.