Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Blue Öyster Cult - s/t (1972)

And you may be wondering to yourself why you should give this a chance. A reader of this fine blog, obviously worldly and well-schooled by their choice of internet diversion, probably thinks they know the score. But seriously, forget whatever associations you may have picked up over the years. Forget “Godzilla”. Forget the accrued distaste classic rock can leave in a young punk or metalhead in the middle of nowhere, when such things are deemed normative and your Morbid Angel or Dead Kennedys t-shirt is seen as an indicator of the worst sin imaginable: that of difference. And for fuck's sake, forget Christopher Walken and cowbells. Forget all these things and the genius of the first Blue Öyster Cult record can make its grandeur known to you (well, really any BÖC from the '70s is pretty killer, but the first one is heads and tails beyond any of 'em).


Consider:
  • The use of umlauts in a band name – How many rock bands did this before BÖC? I can count on a closed fist. How many did it after? Couldn't count on all the fingers in the world.
  • The band's name itself – taken from a poem by manager Sandy Pearlman referencing a group of aliens who secretly control Earth's affairs.
  • The band's logo – taken from an alchemical symbol denoting lead (the heaviest of metals).
  • The (unsubstantiated but hopefully true) rumor that, during the early '90s the band's popularity had plunged to the point where their show guarantee was $200. I've seen bands play living rooms and get paid more than that. Meaning, that at one point in time, it was conceivable that Blue Öyster Cult could have played your living room. They didn't. And probably wouldn't. But it's closer to the realm of possibility than with many comparable bands.


Alchemy? Aliens guiding mankind's destiny? Umlauts? I'm actually surprised this record hasn't gotten any coverage on Illcon before. Theirs is a weird shadow world, a world of Satanic biker gangs (“Transmaniacon MC”), of drug deals gone fatally wrong (“Then Came The Last Days Of May” - apparently based on the murder of three of singer Buck Dharma's friends [and let's consider that name for a minute – how many rock and roll frontmen had a name that was a play on words regarding the transcendence of several religions' concept of universal harmony and balance? It's fucking brilliant in a way that such showbiz rechristenings pretty much never are]), of the power of music as destroyer (“Cities On Flame With Rock And Roll”) and redeemer (“Redeemed”). And then along the way a few detours into bondage-inclined Canadian Mounties, astrological/alchemical musings, and what seems to be a paean to violent foot fetishism.

This.

It can be difficult to understand how to take this weird cross-pollination of ideas. It could be that they were simply trying to move past the initial era when rock and roll had to mean something (maaaaan), before the conceptual side of the music that had started so innocently bloated up into prog rock's worst excesses. But I like to think that there was a more unified vision at work, a manifestation of the dark turn that the era of peace and love had taken by 1972. Perhaps not exactly a literal representation (though much of the drug-related material seems to have had some basis in the tangible world) but an extrapolated vision of star-crossed losers, the ones who had cast their lot with the aspiring world-changers and had come up radically short. It's an almost Pynchonian narrative, a nebulous cluster of ideas in which connecting lines are not drawn for the listener, one that might seem like a forced, inchoate melange of weird-for-weird's-sake iconography if it weren't for the fact that it's treated with some degree of gravity.

Not this. Never this.

While BÖC was intended to be the American Black Sabbath, rarely did their debut album indulge in that kind of heaviness (“Cities On Flame...” is about as close as it comes). Instead, the band showcases a musical versatility that their later albums lack. There are a few musical detours, some jaunty, syncopated lounge jazz rhythmic devices, some lead guitar work that almost sounds like it could've come from a Buck Owens song – but the real heaviness is a sort of slow and eerie atmosphere that sounds like the sonic equivalent of a lava lamp and a black light, Sabbathian only in the sense that it's not far removed from “Planet Caravan.”


So let the good name of Blue Öyster Cult be clearly understood. Scour the dollar bins for copies of this record (but don't pay more than five dollars, if you do you're almost as foolish as somebody who doesn't own the album at all). Let rock and roll raze our cities and let the messages of lust and derangement guide our puny lives as our alien overlords had so obviously intended.

--

Blue Öyster Cult -s/t

13 comments:

Prof. Grewbeard said...

Thanx loads for this post, I have all the records (up to Spectres) but it's just great to read something about this band that isn't a joke (funny thing is, they collaborated with SNL on that skit...). Back in the day you could write and request their lyrics and they'd send 'em to you on a long computer printout, looking very shadow-governmentesque...

I still like Godzilla.

Cory said...

beautiful post.

purplerainingblood said...

I like "Godzilla" too, but it's pretty far from their best song and definitely not the best representation of the band, though it's the one most people are aware of.

And as far as the SNL thing, it was pretty funny the first time I saw it but after about the millionth "more cowbell" reference I kinda started wishing that skit had a face so I could punch it.

Silver Ferox Design said...

I've only heard Cultosaurus Erectus, which I adore, so will def be spinning this now, thanks. The symbol for the heaviest metal and umlouts (sp?)= fucking incredible.

Daniel said...

Well, Radio Birdman named their first album Radios Appear after the lyric from the song dominance and submission by BOC. That alone should have you downloading,however that song is not on this album. Church of Misery also covers Cities on flame with wok and woll. Watch the Dogtown and Z boys doc. and try and tell me when their surfing and Godzilla comes on that's not crushing!!!!!

Steven said...

Copious kudos to you PRB for this lovely post. I've been a confirmed Cultist since 1983. "Cultösaurus Erectus" was my first taste. The cover was irresistible...

I think that the second and third albums have even more uncomfortable weirdnesses on them. A few choice examples:

"Flights of black horsemen soar over churches, pursued by an army of birds in the rain."

"So don't you fear the trade in lives. Life loves force and force loves lives."

"And when you've gone and choked to death, with laughter and a little step, I'll prepare the quicklime, friend, for your ripe and ready grave."

"I'm after rebellion, I'll settle for lies."

purplerainingblood said...

They definitely had their way with the turn of a phrase. It's no coincidence that writers like Richard Meltzer and Jim Carroll collaborated with them.

Shelby Cobras said...

Bobby Rondanelli, current (I think) drummer for BOC and former drummer of Sabbath (in their desrvingly "lost" late 80's/early 90's period), tried to run off with my ex-(then current)girlfriend after a show in Santa Cruz around 2004. perhaps I never forgave this transgression, and perhaps this is why I've never given them their due here on IC...?

Either way, well done.

Manslaughter said...

HELL YEAH LOVE BOC!!!

Erik Del Tigre said...

Shelby, I was there that night, remember? I totally took a picture of Bobby hanging out with your girlfriend. Jealous much?

kevinass said...

tyranny and mutation for my money is the scariest and meanest of their lps..."blackened out eyes scratched on the wall"...thems some creepy lyrics...so great that at the tail end of hippy times they showed up with short hair, mirror sun glasses and leather jackets...they were BAD NEWS

purplerainingblood said...

Damn, Bobby Rondanelli looks exactly what I would imagine somebody named Bobby Rondanelli would look like.

gooniestorm said...

oh hey the file appears to have been taken down...