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Blue Öyster Cult

Entry updated 16 January 2023. Tagged: Music.

Also known as BÖC. US rock band formed in New York in 1967 as "Soft White Underbelly", largely at the instigation of the record producer Sandy Pearlman (1943-2016), who, whilst he did not play in the band, did write some of their lyrics. BÖC's sound on their debut album, Blue Öyster Cult (1972) is blues-rock of an accomplished but traditional cast, although a left-field style with song lyrics often created a broadly fantastical mood even when the songs appear to be about mundane subjects. For instance "Workshops of the Telescopes", with deliberate lyrical opacity, evokes fantasy, if not sf, worlds in which the "rings of Saturn" are to be reached by "salamander" and "undine". The included song "Transmaniacon MC" provided the title of John Shirley's first novel, Transmaniacon (1979). Agents of Fortune (1976) includes two of the band's best songs: their most famous track "(Don't Fear) the Reaper", whose nicely modulated guitar arpeggios and harmonies gloss what is, at root, a rather creepy hymn to a lovers' Suicide pact; and "E.T.I. Extra Terrestrial Intelligence", concerning "men in black" who have forbidden the narrator from reporting his UFO experience. The follow-up album Spectres (1977) is a lesser work, and includes a couple of rather ho-hum songs about Gojira and Dracula ("Godzilla", "Nosferatu"). From a genre point of view BÖC's most interesting period began with Mirrors (1979), and the first of a series of collaborations with Michael Moorcock, who wrote the lyrics to the song "The Great Sun Jester" on that album. Cultosaurus Erectus (1980) begins with the splendidly stomping "Black Blade", about Elric of Melniboné's sword Stormbringer, with lyrics again by Moorcock. A third song with Moorcock lyrics, "Veteran of the Psychic Wars" (on Fire of Unknown Origin, 1981) concerns the Eternal Champion; the Fire of Unknown Origin album consists chiefly of songs written for the film Heavy Metal (1981). By the 1980s, however, most of the band's original members had left and the quality of the releases declined sharply. The concept album Imaginos (1988), a garbled and rather embarrassing narrative about an occult "secret history" of the twentieth century, marked an especial low point and a kind of terminus. After a decade-long hiatus the band returned with the better Heaven Forbid (1998), many of whose tracks were co-written with John Shirley; although the horror-influenced tone did not achieve commercial success. Shirley also collaborated with the band on Curse of the Hidden Mirror (2001).

A number of BÖC song titles look science-fictional but are actually not. "Stairway to the Stars" on the band's debut album is about autograph hunters; "Flaming Telepaths" (on Secret Treaties, 1974) includes no actual telepathy, and "Astronomy" on the same album is a love song, although one that is, musically, interestingly skewed with lyrics that are intriguingly barmy ("It's the nexus of the crisis ... and don't forget my dog, fixed and consequent"). "Light Years of Love" (on The Revolution by Night, 1983) is not only non-sf but rather sappy. [AR]


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