It doesn’t matter that it was 50 years ago; Blue Öyster Cult remains one of the most underrated bands in rock music.
Here we have a strong collective where democracy has been a driving force (at least at times) as all five members had a hand – and a literal voice – in creating songs and albums. The New York-based group would fuse science fiction, monster madness, and stories of valor and heroism to give bands like Black Sabbath and Deep Purple a run for their money. Why the band’s first three albums – Blue Oyster Cult, Tyranny and mutation, and Secret Treaties – Didn’t do much damage on the charts is still mind-boggling to me. Maybe people hear “She’s as beautiful as a foot” or “I’m an eye collector” and they get put off. I just hear poetry.
Then of course comes Agents of happiness and its two standout features: the vocal presence of a Patti Smith and what was to become a huge hit (and meme masterpiece), “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”. Suddenly the BÖC went platinum and jumped from the clubs to the stadiums, bringing crowds of loyal fans to their feet (and on their knees). But as big as the rise may have been, with the band’s next three albums there is also an inevitable decline in the commercialization slide: Ghosts, mirrors, and Cultosaurus Erectus. It was the fans who kept the band’s fire burning, as the live album proves An enchanted evening.
“We had these three subsequent albums – there was a lot of pressure from the record company. When we did Cultosaurus Erectus, we just wanted to tell them to fuck off, ”original drummer Albert Bouchard recently told me. “We tried to find the most uncommercial songs we could record because we had to take a step back from this whole hunt for the hit idea. And it worked – all of a sudden the fans were like, ‘Oh, they finally made a real Blue Öyster Cult record’ which was cool. “
“Our live shows never wavered a bit. We had quite a few sold out every night wherever we played from Agents of happiness on, ”adds Bouchard. “Even though Ghosts didn’t sell that well, we had the lasers. We played in huge stadiums. The fans never really gave up on us. “
With the dawn of the 1980s and the advent of music television, the band suddenly saw that their fan and commercial skills were intertwined again. In July 1981 BÖC released their eighth studio album, Fire of unknown origin. Developed as tracks for the cult film Heavy metal, the album would reveal the band’s second (and final) Top 40 hit, win gold, and prove BÖC’s dynamism, even though it would be the last work with the group’s original line-up.
Coproduced by Bouchard and Martin Birch, FOUO (now 40) is also one of the best in the band considering their entire discography.
“I think … one of the differences between this album and all of the other albums was that I was more involved in the production,” said Bouchard. “I’ve always been involved in arranging the songs; of course that was all. We brought in all of the ideas about what was one of the strengths of the group. There was a lot of collaboration, especially on the first three albums and the last two albums. “
It should be the gentler track “Burnin ‘For You” that led the onslaught. Following a somewhat similar compositional format to “Reaper” (which also includes Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser as lead vocals), the track would claim the top spot on Billboard’s mainstream rock charts. According to Bouchard, the song was not composed specifically for this album, but was initially beaten around during the sessions in the 1980s Cultosaurus Erectus.
“We decided it wasn’t the time to do it, even though it was a great song,” said Bouchard. “So we postponed it to the next one. We didn’t chase the hit. “
The song began as lyrics in a letter from longtime bandmate Richard Meltzer and was originally titled “Burn Out the Night,” adds Bouchard.
“He said, ‘Look at Burn Out the Night. I think this is the first thing I’ve ever written that could be a hit, ‘”he said. The iterative track went through various forms and was eventually shaped by the entire band to make it the hit we know today.
“It was like everyone had their hands on the console to mix it up. It was a great experience. It’s turned out great and a hit, ”said Bouchard. “It took some time to finish. I think it was about 10 hours to mix it up. “
The accompanying video for the song would make the rounds on MTV. It would be the band’s second, after one for their songs “The Marshall Plan”.
“We made this video and we thought, ‘Well, the video isn’t great, but it’s decent.’ We did it pretty quickly for under $ 10,000. It was very cheap, ”said Bouchard. “So we decided that for Burnin ‘for You the movie had to get better. We spent a lot more money on it. We went to LA; we had a union team; we had extras; and we burned a car. We pulled out all the stops because we already knew it was going to be a hit, so we had to have something that would last. “
While BÖC believed the songs on the album would take the brunt of the Heavy metal Soundtrack, only one – “Veteran Of The Psychic Wars” – would make the final cut. It turned out to be one of the biggest in the band – right at the top with “Reaper”, “Astronomy” and “The Red & The Black” / “I’m On The Lamb But I Ain’t No Sheep”. If you need proof, just check out live recordings of the band playing the song, especially when Roeser’s mighty guitar solo starts howling halfway through.
“It was the third song we did with Michael Moorcock as lyricist, and I’ve worked on a number of other albums and songs since then. [Singer/guitarist] Eric [Bloom] wrote it with college bandmate John Trevors and we got it and sort of arranged it to the entire Marshall drum beat, ”Bouchard said. I think I was listening to Peter Gabriel’s third solo album and there was a song called ‘Intruder’ that was the beginning of those gated drums that hit the 80s. “
While FOUO Boasting synthesizers and sequencers as part of the group’s newfound sound, the group also takes time to return to the instrumental basics. “Heavy Metal: Black And Silver” is raw – Roeser on guitar, Bloom on bass and Bouchard on drums.
“That was all that was on this track. We tried to sound like Led Zeppelin, ”said Bouchard. “I think Joe for some reason [Bouchard] was not there; He had an emergency at home and had to leave, so Eric said, ‘I’ll play it.’ And he did. “
Another album highlight is the oh-so-subtle homage to screen connoisseur Joan Crawford. With Mama dearest well in the public eye, thanks to Faye Dunaway’s exaggerated portrayal of the Oscar-winning actress in the film of the same name, BÖC would include “Joan Crawford” on the album, with a curved, haunting piano opener.
“Really, it was a situation in which I had an argument with my wife at the time. The other boys – David Roter and Jack Rigg – we recorded at my house. I don’t remember why she was angry, but she came in and screamed and I had to go and calm her … Then I came back; We finished the song quickly because I thought folks, we’d do a rough mix and that’s it, ”Bouchard told me. “They talked about it on the way back to New York City. I think David Roter said, “As if Joan Crawford had risen from the grave. That was really tough. ‘ So Jack Rigg says, ‘Hey, that’s a song.’ So they wrote most of the song on the way back from my house to town. David called me the next day and said, ‘Jack and I wrote this song called’ Joan Crawford Has Risen From The Grave ‘,’ and I was like, ‘Wow, OK, that’s cool. Why is?'”
When releasing, FOUO would culminate in 24th place on the Billboard Top 200, the band’s highest ranking to date.
“I think (Columbia Records) was happy. They said, ‘See, it was good that we stayed with these guys even though they put out some disappointing albums.’ And so the strength of this record helped me get my solo deal with them Imaginos“Said Bouchard. “(BÖC) still has to make a record that was Revolution by night but that was disappointing. Then they got out Club ninja and that was disappointing. And then Imaginos and that was disappointing. And then Buck kicked Dharma out Full throttle, his solo album, and that was disappointing. So yes, we had quite a few in a row that didn’t have any hits. “
When asked if Bouchard could foresee the inevitable breakup of the band during filming FOUOHe told me, “In retrospect, yes, there was a lot of tension. I think everyone had problems. “
BÖC tours and publishes music to this day, with Roeser and Bloom still taking center stage. Bouchard, on the other hand, never rested on his laurels. After leaving BÖC, he would work on the transformation Imaginos into a solo record with band producer, lyricist and co-creator Sandy Perlman and a number of other players who are known outside of the BÖC sphere.
“When I left the group, I just turned around, ‘Okay, I’ll just do it as a solo album,’ and Sandy Perlman said, ‘Sounds great, maybe it should be. You can do this right now. ‘ And that’s what we did, ”said Bouchard. “As for the recording of this album, I mean, I’m proud of it. I think it’s a great sounding record; it really holds up. It doesn’t really sound out of date; maybe a little, but not like many of the other albums of the time.
After an earlier VintageRock.com piece, Imaginos has since been given a new version called. brought into the 21st century Re imaginos, released during the recent pandemic. Bouchard kept a promise Bouchard Perlman made shortly before his death in 2016 and released the album “the way you wanted it”.
Although Bouchard has left the band for four decades, relations with the other BÖC members are currently “better than ever,” he adds.
“There was a time when I was pretty upset that the whole thing was asked to go. And then there was an entirely different time when we were trying to get back to a normal relationship and it was still too much baggage. That all basically disappeared in 2016 – it was the 40th anniversary of Agents of happiness and they took me out on the street, ”he said. “That was nice because we spent long periods of time together, driving in the car, reminiscing and telling jokes and remembering the funny things we did. That was cool.”
He adds, “It was a process, but at this point it’s great.”
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