The Essential Blue Öyster Cult

Blue Öyster Cult

I know great fans of a particular band will argue over what exactly would be that band's essential songs, so I usually err on the side of caution when I review a "Best Of," a "Greatest Hits" or — in the case of NYC's own Blue Öyster Cult — the double-CD set, The Essential Blue Öyster Cult.

With over a dozen studio albums to choose from, the song choice here couldn't have been easy. The discs are separated in songs from the period before "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" (arguably the band's signature song, released in 1976) and after. Four of this quintet's early albums are represented across the selection of 15 tunes on the first CD, with the first four tunes alone from BÖC's eponymous 1972 album. Highlights include the staccato "Cities On Flame," sounding like Grand Funk Railroad, and "Stairway To The Stars," featuring a tickling piano and good singable chorus. There's a bunch of live stuff from 1974's On Your Feet Or On Your Knees, most notably Buck Dharma's signature octave multiplier guitar-affected assault of "ME 262," the slightly scary opener "Harvester Of Eyes," and their take of "Born To Be Wild."

The albums Secret Treaties and Tyranny & Mutation (their second and the one that began a songwriting relationship with Patti Smith) are represented here, notably with "O.D.'d On Life Itself" from Tyranny, a nice Foghat-like mutation with layers of organ and guitar, and the epic, ever-changing solo showcase "7 Screaming Diz-Busters" clocking-in at seven minutes. "Flaming Telepaths," with its truly silly lyric — BÖC was known for these story songs about sci-fi and horror — from 1974's Secret Treaties has a great piano drive, big bass and Dharma's fine lead. For me, it's really the band's infamous "Astronomy" from this album that's the best tune of the first CD. This song has an illustrious history among BÖC fans and is certainly what I would consider essential!

"Don't Fear The Reaper," with its perfectly plucked guitar, soft vocal and "more cowbell," opens the first CD. Even though this one is played to death, Dharma's lead mid-song is still masterfully perfect. From the same 1976 album Agents Of Fortune, there is "This Ain't The Summer Of Love," and Eric Bloom's low vocal tour de force, with its slightly '50s chorus, one of the lost classics from this band…I'm very glad to see its inclusion here.

There's also more live stuff, one from the band's 1978 Some Enchanted Evening, the fun and funky (slightly unusual for this band) "E.T.I. (Extra Terrestrial Intelligence)" and a near ten minute version of the Door's classic "Roadhouse Blues" from their Extra Terrestrial Live with the Door's guitar master Robby Krieger sitting in.

"Godzilla" stomps his way round here, complete with that fat bass and drum duet middle (I know it's slightly silly, but this is a great tune!). There's an ultra sweet, harmony laden "I Love The Night" and the truly poppy "Goin' Through The Motions," a hand-clapping tune Eric Bloom wrote with Ian Hunter; all of these are from 1977's Spectres. "In Thee" is the only song from 1979's Mirrors, one of the lighter compositions with acoustic guitar and piano leading, and again some great harmonies. For this album, the band admits to wanting to make a high-charting and glossy production, which led to a backlash and a not-so-high chart position.

Things would get better though…Rolling into the 80s with Cultosaurus Erectus and Fire Of Unknown Origin, things retained their commercial feel — there's "Marshall Plan," all big anthem-y, and "Black Blade," a tune penned with sci-fi writer Michael Moorcock; you might recall BÖC touring with this album co-headlining The Black and Blue Tour with Black Sabbath. The MTV staple and the band's biggest hit "Burnin' For You" here, of course, but somebody also had the good sense to get "Joan Crawford" included — one of my personal faves — with its great piano opening…it is all the best that Blue Öyster Cult ever was, Saturday horror movie sardonic lyrics, tight guitar and harmonies.

Personally, the last of the 16 here are just too poppy for my tastes, but of course represent what the band was about and saw them enjoying a definite popularity. The duo "Shooting Star" and "Take Me Away" from The Revolution By Night — the first album not to feature the classic band line-up since drummer Albert Bouchard had been fired — are full of power ballad-y productions and you can just imagine videos playing across your minds' eye.

Is this The Essential Blue Öyster Cult? I'll let you decide. Great music and a heavy collection representing the years of this band's existence? Most definitely!

~ Ralph Greco, Jr.

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