Good things come to those who wait, they say. Not a bad way to describe Blue Öyster Cult’s career arc, after 5 years scrabbling around as Soft White Underbelly and Oaxaca* they found themselves about to launch something unique into the world in January 1972**; Blue Öyster Cult.
Heavy things come to those who wait, they say. Not a bad way to describe my very own arc of snark with Blue Öyster Cult. When I was first introduced to them at 15 I simply didn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t understand – this lot were supposed to be heavy metal?! Man, forget it, stick AC/DC back on. Now I think, just how damnably HEAVY do you want your music? Altamont, fatally botched drug deals, copious amounts of pills, fugitives … Blue Öyster Cult, has it all, filtered through a slightly bemused icy detachment.
Mean, slinky tricked-out-in-leather things come to those who wait, they say. Not a bad way to describe my own voyage through the nifty unsettled geometric grooves of Blue Öyster Cult. I bought it on eBay^ on 08.08.08 – a numerically propitious date. So far it has only taken me eleven years to fully grok it.
Ladies and gentlemen, from New York city – Blue Öyster Cult.
There’s more than an echo or two of Steppenwolf lurking in the opening few bars of BÖC’s own biker anthem ‘Transmaniacon MC’, which takes us on the hellride back from Altamont. These bully boys weren’t born to be wild, they were spawned to be far darker than that. I love the way it just cuts, it’s mean:
With Satan's hog no pig at all And the weather's getting dry We'll head south from Altamont In a cold-blood traveled trance So clear the road, my bully boys And let some thunder pass We're pain, we're steel, a plot of knives We're Transmaniacon MC
It rocks, it rolls (south on blood-spattered wheels) but what seals the deal for me is the general air of cynicism and laissez-faire, a lesser band would have hit the volume harder and had the opposite affect. The interplay and weaving of the band’s three guitars drive this superbly and accurately, right between your ribs. I watched Gimme Shelter a couple of weeks ago, ‘Transmaniacon MC’ just sounds like the end of the 60’s^^.
And surely we did offer up Behind that stage at dawn Beers and barracuda, reds and monocaine, yeah Pure nectar of antipathy Behind that stage at dawn To those who would resign their souls To Transmaniacon MC
Obviously the very thing to chase a nectar of antipathy*^ is a tale of a fugitive running from the Canadian mounties, just because that’s the unwritten rock and roll law. The best thing about ‘I’m On The Lamb, But I Ain’t No Sheep’ is its’ title, which is no dig at all when you can coin one that fricking great. The song rocks with some fine spiky guitar courtesy of Buck Dharma and an early sighting of the band’s S&M predilictions ‘Got a whip in my hand baby / And a girl or a husky at leather’s end’.
From the single snare shot that starts it, next up is the Blue Öyster Cult and the band’s crowning moment^*, woven from the tale of two students and friends of Dharma’s at Stony Brook University in a drug deal gone wrong. ‘Then Came The Last Days Of May’ is an incredible song. From the single snare shot that starts it, the band play the music with utter empathy and feeling, Dharma’s soloing is liquid and exquisite. The really clever bit is the deadpan lyrics, no emotion, just a cold retelling of the facts. The whole affect is akin to Truman Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood‘ in musical form and it never fails to stop me in my tracks.
The cynical fuckers really break cover on the boogie-tastic ‘Stairway To The Stars’, a wince-inducing tale of band fan interaction that never fails to amuse me. Did they ever become this numb? were they just lampooning it? predicting it? you never really know with these guys, a smirk and some black leather is all you really get. Plus I can’t resist songs with handclaps in, I just can’t.
More druggy boogie vicar? try ‘Before The Kiss, A Redcap’ with a great set of lyrics from Sandy Pearlman, written after watching a couple passing pills in a barroom kiss; it all starts to sound like a numbed up bad sex scene. The all Bouchard rhythm section really earn their corn here, it swings. Joe Bouchard’s track ‘Screams’ is up next, desperate atmospheric and just very odd indeed, quite Alice Cooper.
‘Screams’ segues stunningly well into ‘She’s As Beautiful As A Foot’*^^, a decidedly odd trip ‘Her face changing now, a guernsey cow’, indeed. The raga edged tune is superb, Allan Lanier putting in some excellently understated key work in the background. Blue Öyster Cult then takes it up a notch with rocker ‘Cities On Flame With Rock And Roll’, which plays with some great riffs and the space in between BUT always sounded best in its various live iterations.
Sandy Pearlman’s bonkerzoid ‘Workshop of The Telescopes’ , which sounds like it is being sung through clenched teeth and the less-than remarkable ‘Redeemed’ end Blue Öyster Cult with a bit of a puncture; nobody needs a song referencing ‘goblins of surcease’ do they? they reignite the debate over whether BÖC gained or lost by allowing so many outside lyricists in their early years, hell even Allan Lanier’s girlfriend got into the act later – imagine!
Okay so there you have it in a nutshell, in a dream, in an overlong review, wrapped in a telescopic Guernsey cow from Altamont. I love how lean and mean, leathery and diffident the whole LP is, peering through the gaps in the fabric of society, observing us like an ant farm. They were like nobody else at the time, they understood their times, how rotten the windfall apples in the Garden of Eden really were. The cynics were ready to seize control and whip the 70’s into shape. Good news is their next two LPs were even better than Blue Öyster Cult, after all heavy things come to those who wait.
Cry the cable, cry the word Unknown terror's here And won't you try this tasty snack Behind the scene or but the back Which was the stage at Altamont My humble boys of listless power We're pain, we're steel, a plot of knives We're Transmaniacon...
*amongst others, almost all suggested by producer, Svengali, mystic advisor and amanuensis, Sandy Pearlman.
**much like my own parents.
^remember when it used to just be normal folk selling things to each other? before it all went to shite.
^^‘And things ain’t like what they used to be / And this ain’t the summer of love’ as the BÖC boys would write four years later.
*^which is what I am going to call my next homebrew.
*^yup, even more so that the one about hearing the repo.
*^^they always had a wicked way with titles, Budgie were definitely taking notes.