Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Don’t: (Don’t Fear) The Reaper

Blue Öyster Cult: (Don’t Fear) The Reaper

For the second post in a row, I’m writing about a band that I know pretty much nothing about, although unlike Thunderclap Newman, Blue Öyster Cult had a career that spanned decades. Before I started to write this piece, literally the only song of theirs that I could name was our featured song, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” but after reading a little about the band, I realized that I also knew the song “Burning For You,” although I didn’t know that it was by BOC. 

If you are still reading this, despite the fact that I’ve basically told you that I’m ignorant about the subject, I appreciate your sticking with me. I’ll try to make it interesting and fun. 

Blue Öyster Cult was formed in 1967(!) at Stony Brook University, when critic, producer, music business executive, poet, college professor, and manager Sandy Pearlman heard a jam session and offered to manage the band. For what it is worth, Pearlman seems like a fascinating figure in music, and probably deserves his own post. Originally named Soft White Underbelly, the band’s sound started off psychedelic, but gradually moved toward hard rock. After cycling through a number of pretty bad names, they ended up as Blue Öyster Cult in 1971, derived from one of Pearlman’s poems. The umlaut was added later, but who came up with using the much-imitated diacritic is a matter of dispute. 

After recording two albums of material that was not released at the time, except for a small promo release of a single, the band’s self-titled debut album was released in 1972. They released an album a year, with increasing success, until 1976’s Agents of Fortune spawned “Reaper,” the single version of which reached 12 on the Billboard chart and was a fixture on the radio when I was in high school. The song was written and sung by lead guitarist Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser, and not the band’s main singer, Eric Bloom. 

If you’ve made it this far, I’m pretty sure that you know what the song sounds like—you’ve probably heard it a million times. Because it is a great song. I remember someone at WPRB trying to convince me to listen to and play other Blue Öyster Cult songs on the radio, but I never really tried hard to listen to them (honestly, there were so many other artists, old and new, that grabbed my attention in those days). 

As Dharma explained, 

I felt that I had just achieved some kind of resonance with the psychology of people when I came up with that, I was actually kind of appalled when I first realized that some people were seeing it as an advertisement for suicide or something that was not my intention at all. It is, like, not to be afraid of [death] (as opposed to actively bring it about). It's basically a love song where the love transcends the actual physical existence of the partners. 

So, let’s talk about the cowbell. 

It was overdubbed on the original recording, and it is credited to drummer Albert Bouchard, although at least two other people have claimed to have played it. Whoever actually did, there’s no question that, as bassist Joe Bouchard (Albert’s brother) recalled, “It really pulled the track together.” And, of course, it became more famous in a 2000 Saturday Night Live sketch, in which Christopher Walken, portraying producer Bruce Dickenson (an actual record producer, but who had nothing to do with the song) demanded “more cowbell.” Apparently, the band loved the sketch. (As do my friends in the Princeton Class of 1983, who have adopted “More Cowbell” as an unofficial motto). 

Blue Öyster Cult has continued to tour and release music, with some personnel changes, to the present day, and currently includes both Dharma and Bloom in its lineup.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022


Me, I bloody loathe Eurovision. Eh, say a whole continent across the pond, Eurovision? OK, the Eurovision Song Contest, to give it the full title, that yearly schmooze through all that's camp and kitsch, all the pop you can possibly bear, the pop that puts the pap in europop. It, like Strictly Come Dancing, a TV show about celebrities learning to dance, is now a very big thing in the UK, as we devolve further and further away from the continent. It hasn't always ben this way: a respectable and somewhat middle of the road song competition, wherein the countries of Europe compete for the honour of the best popular song their best writers can come up with, ballgowns and tuxedos required, an orchestra de rigeur. Pop music, 1950's style, that is. (Mind you, in those days Britain was far less the scourge it is seen by the rest of the continent, even winning from time to time.)

We used to watch it home, en famille, as a child, it's true, so I know all the smash hits from Cliff, Lulu and that ilk. Even good old Clodagh. It went on for hours, as the individual nations, "Good Evening from Helsinki", took ages to deliberate over the selection of tawdry songs. But one year I remember well. 1998. Hosted by the Irish in Dublin, as Johnny Logan had won the previous year, and they put on some craic for  the viewers waiting for the scores. A raggle taggle of ne'er-do-wells lurched onstage and played the best song of the night, a prime example of Celtic soul, with a pounding piano, some raw sawbones sax and a rousing chorus. "Don't Go", the singer pleaded and I didn't. I was glued.

Hothouse Flowers were already a thing in their homeland by that time, their debut release having been the then swiftest selling album in Irish chart history. I confess that, back then, I was too busy with Cowboy Junkies and The Men They Couldn't Hang to notice them at first. (Although, with it being also the year of Van working with the Chieftains and Mike Scott relocating to Spiddal for Fisherman's Blues, I should have had my ear closer to Irish turf.) But, once I heard them play that song at Eurovision, the second single from that first album, I was in. The band, based around singer and pianist, Liam Ò'Maonlai and guitarist, Fiachna Ò'Braonàin, two schoolfriends from an Irish speaking school in Dublin, and Peter O'Toole, not that one, a busker they met in the city and busking is how the band started their career.

For the next year or so they were everywhere, no summer music festival complete without their presence. A second album, not as successful but still worthwhile. Despite no shortage of original material, the best known song from it was a cover, a well received version of the Johnny Nash song, I Can See Clearly Now. They also, unbeknownst to many, contributed to and featured on the Indigo Girls' Closer To Fine. (Unbeknownst? Read uncredited!)

A third record and a bruising touring schedule had them pause for breath, in 1994, taking a collective year out. Or that was the plan, that year extending into four, the band shedding manager and additional members, the core three regrouping in 1998 for a different style, incorporating elements both of electronica and effects to an overall more organic and folkie based feel. 

Since then, and like many bands, they have never formally dissolved, reconvening sporadically, whilst undertaking separate projects apart, Ò'Maonlai having some solo success, particularly with more traditional fare. O'Toole officially left and later rejoined the band, and all three were present, in 2015, when I caught the band at Birmingham's Symphony Hall,  on a tour that took in the UK. Their distinctive tone was all the more characteristic as O'Toole, now playing as much guitar and bouzouki as bass, necessitated the addition of a second bassist, this time on stand up double bass. When both bassists play alongside, the assault is wonderful, as audiences at various festivals this summer, Glastonbury included, were able to affirm. Below is an interesting interview that gives an idea of their modus operandi.

And a taster for how they now sound. And look.

Don't go!!

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Thunder & Lightning: Some Loud Thunder


purchase- from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah- [Some Loud Thunder ]

Another quickie. 

Due to the fact that - on the road - I have no access to my email sent folder, there's still time to put up one more donner und blitzen post. (We'll have the new theme up as soon as we get imminent support from Mr Becker.)

When I first heard "In This Home on Ice" from their first album, I was struck by the relentless drive/energy the band projected. I thought it was on The Late Show that I first saw Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, but YouTube clips of what I think was that Jay Leno show have them playing a different song that night. And I cannot be sure that the year was as far back as 2005/6, when the song first came out.

I also cannot claim rabid following of the band's output since then (despite thoroughly appreciating the driving style I note), so it wasn't until today that I discovered that their 2nd album (of apparently 6) is titled specifically for our theme: Some Loud Thunder.

The Internet tells us that the title song from the album was inspired by front man Alec Ounsworth's wife. All songs from the album were penned by Ounsworth. A look at (a section of) the lyrics is informative and worth your time:

At the end of the quarry

I have dug a hole for all the world to see

A cannonball as big as the ocean could come from the sky and slap us all on the feet

But there's always more unless I'm mistaken

Tell me when do mouths close

And people gracefully retreat?

Home on Ice, studio version