The Columbia Albums Collection

Blue Öyster Cult

There is big and then there is huge (that's what she said). Blue Öyster Cult's The Columbia Albums Collection set is huge. BÖC (or Soft White Underbelly as they were known when they initially formed in Long Island, New York in 1967) is a band who created a distinctive slightly scary mystique as well as hard and tight guitar-driven sound. It's all evident on this 17-CD collection celebrating their 40th anniversary. Spanning the band's eponymous debut from 1972 all the way to 1988's Imaginos, The Columbia Albums Collection also includes two CDs filled with extras.

Blue Öyster Cult starts us off with the quick riffery of "Transmaniacon MC" and the solid driving bass playing of Joe Bouchard. We get the first real hint of lead guitarist Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser's ability on "Then Came The Last Days Of May." This is also the first use of some distinct backing vocals with four out of five members singing. As with many of the CDs in this set, this one features bonus tracks - four Soft White Underbelly demos to be exact, all recorded back in 1969.

Tyranny & Mutation boasts two sides, The Black and The Red and opens with the song "The Red & The Black" a re-titled, rerecorded "I'm On The Lamb But I Ain't No Sheep" from their first album. This album also marks the band's first co-writing with Patti Smith on "Baby Ice Dog, which" opens a nastier 'Red' second side of what was the original record with a howling dog and rather upfront piano.

Secret Treaties opens with Lanier's blaring organ and Eric Bloom steeping out as lead vocalist. Led by Allen Lanier's piano, "Astronomy" is arguably the first great Blue Öyster Cult track. Telepaths" features some great drive with cool backing vocals and Bloom truly coming into his own.

BÖC's first live album On Your Feet Or On Your Knees is here, as is 1976's Agents Of Fortune, featuring the mega-hit "(Don't Fear) The Reaper," along with bits of lighter fare like "This Is The Summer Of Love" and heavier fare like "The Revenge Of Vera Gemini" to keep the whole thing in balance for mainstream America. The bonus tracks are three demos from this period.

What would soon turn into a monster hit, "Godzilla" opens Spectres. Tunes like "R.U. Ready 2 Rock" and "Death Valley Nights" reaffirm BÖC as a hard rockin' band. The infectious "Goin' Through The Motions" is here too.

The band's second live album, the super popular Some Enchanted Evening is a rather powerful statement being as it is only a single disc. Here it is given the full treatment with seven bonus live tracks, including "ME 262," "Harvester Of Eyes," "Hot Rails To Hell," and "Born To Be Wild." There's also a DVD in this collection of the band performing 11 songs.

By the end of the 70s, BÖC released Mirrors. This is the album where the band began to collaborate with sci-fi writer Michael Moorcock, who co-wrote "The Great Sun Jester." You can certainly hear the full sheen of this album's high-end production (not something ever BÖC fan took to) and Dharma wails.

Cultösaurus Erectus opens the 80s for BÖC and "Black Blade, the first tune here might be one of their best, real quick and snappy, with a organ blaring chorus and the staccato. A slightly too long "Monsters," with some sax played by Mark Rivera, and the nearly Knack-ish "Hungry Boys" are on this album.

"Burnin' For You," from Fire Of Unknown Origin catapulted BÖC into superstardom. Another staple, "Joan Crawford" with more lyrics from Patti Smith, is also here. Many of the songs from this album were intended for the animated film Heavy Metal, but didn't make the cut. On the tour behind the album, drummer Albert Bouchard was fired.

Yet another live album, 1982's Extraterrestrial Live, is a sprawling document recorded mainly on the Fire tour, plus two tracks recorded in 1980 when the band toured with Black Sabbath on the infamous historical "Black and Blue" tour. Originally a double record set, we get songs like "The Red And The Black," "Burnin' for You," "Godzilla" and a nine-minute cover of "Roadhouse Blues" featuring Doors guitarist Robby Krieger.

The Revolution By Night, Club Ninja and Imaginos round-out the studio BÖC albums, all re-mastered. Then there the two extra CDs - Rarities and Radios Appear: The Best of the Broadcasts - which should prove to be a real treat for Blue Öyster Cult completists. Rarities has live versions of songs like "Buck's Boogie," "Workshop Of The Telescopes" (originally released only on a 1972 promo EP) and demos of "I'm On The Lamb But I Ain't No Sheep and "John L. Sullivan."

Radios has broadcast recordings from BÖC's history of live shows recorded in the 80s. There are tracks from a 1980 San Francisco show broadcast on KSAN. You also get "Take Me Away" and "Wings of Mercury" from a 1986 King Biscuit Flower Hour Show. Apparently, the powers that be couldn't mine earlier broadcast stuff. A 40-page booklet with extensive liner notes and an online code for even more music is also included…as if you need it with all these CDs. If you're a Blue Öyster Cult fan, then The Columbia Album Collection will pretty much finish you off.

~ Ralph Greco. Jr.

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