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Main Category: Hard Rock
Also applicable: Arena Rock, Art Rock, Meta-Rock
Starting Period: The Interim Years
Also active in: The Punk/New Wave Years, The Divided Eighties,

From Grunge To The Present Day



Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Blue Oyster Cult fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Blue Oyster Cult fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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As usual, coming soon (sometime during the next two hundred years), and PLEASE spare me the silly umlaut. I don't want people with user defined codings to have the page so gruesomely muddled up just because some guys decided at one time that putting two dots over one letter would be a good mystical marketing gimmick.



Year Of Release: 1972
Overall rating =

Rock'n'roll has never been so disgustingly, masochistically - sweetly masochistically! - "intellectual" as it was here.


Track listing: 1) Transmaniacon MC; 2) I'm On The Lamb But I Ain't No Sheep; 3) Then Came The Last Days Of May; 4) Stairway To The Stars; 5) Before The Kiss, A Redcap; 6) Screams; 07) She's As Beautiful As A Foot; 8) Cities On Flame With Rock And Roll; 9) Workshop Of The Telescopes; 10) Redeemed.

Throw on a handful of points for sheer weirdness, if you like. Granted, though, for those armed with a little historic background Blue Oyster Cult's debut is not nearly as unpredictable as one might sometimes put it. Most people fairly point out the Black Sabbath connection, but it is, in fact, in the self-consciously "curious" hard rock of Budgie that we should seek out the main roots of Blue Oyster Cult. Unless, of course, it was just coincidence, which is possible, but improbable. The heavy-yet-mild guitar tones, the "goofy" lead vocalist, the alternation of hard-rocking numbers with half-folk, half-medieval balladry, and, of course, the weirdass song titles - these all were pioneered by Budgie, so let's give credit where credit is due.

That said, Blue Oyster Cult take "mock-hard" rock a few steps forward, oh yes they do by all means. These guys weren't trying to impress the chicks by how lean and mean they could be. Nor were they taking themselves really seriously and trying to use their heavy energy as a tool to ravage the masses, a la Thin Lizzy. What they're trying to do is... how do you say that... well... I don't know the heck what they're trying to do.

I guess if you ask Richard Meltzer, who now hates rock'n'roll and only listens to twelfth century Vietnamese rice farmers' lullabies, or Sandy Pearlman, unless he's busy giving some more rope to some pretentious punk outfit, they could probably explain to you the whole conception of this album and the ones that followed, but for now I'll have to be on my own. Let's put it this way. Blue Oyster Cult - the album - is very much a construct, or, if you wish, a project. If you tell me that it's "rock'n'roll", well, no. It's not rock'n'roll. It's a rock'n'roll utopia - rock'n'roll as filtered through the brains of several modern-thinking people and adjusted to their vision. Meltzer is probably the one who's really behind everything, and you can really tell that this is a rock'n'roll album with serious contributions from a rock'n'roll critic: the kind of guy who doesn't have much in the way of a rock'n'roll heart, but a-plenty in the way of a rock'n'roll mind. Or, to put it less categorically, whose rock'n'roll heart is always checked and restricted by his rock'n'roll mind.

It's no coincidence that, apart from Budgie, the one thing this album really reeks of is the Nuggets compilation. (Is it a coincidence that the first volume was released that same year by Lenny Kaye? No, wait. Let me rephrase that. Is it a coincidence that Lenny Kaye actually wrote the liner notes to the remastered CD version of Blue Oyster Cult?). I'm a-hearin' these echoes everywhere, right from the opening melody of 'Transmaniacon MC', which is based on 'Shapes Of Things To Come' and suchlike. Blue Oyster Cult may have been doing their hard rock schtick in the Seventies, but their sound - on this record, at least - was deeply mired down in the mid- and late-Sixties. However, the important thing was not just recreate the garage and occasional psychedelia of the previous decade, but to artsify them exactly the way that could suit rock-critic mentality. And they managed to do that. And the Lord smiled upon them.

Descending from theory into practice, Blue Oyster Cult consists of two types of songs. One type is the "heavy rocker". The heavy rocker is usually not very heavy, at best maybe employing Sabbath-esque guitar tones but with the decibel level around the one of Led Zeppelin. It is, however, usually titled akin to a, er, Captain Beefheart song or something, for instance, 'Before The Kiss, A Redcap'. It is usually also good, sometimes with a truly kickass riff or two. (Well, not even a highly intellectualized heavy rocker can do without ass-kicking, it just needs to be able to do this like a classic-era James Bond - without getting too much dust on your cuff links).

The other type is the "dark creepy ballad". The dark creepy ballad is usually not very creepy, at best maybe employing Doors-like atmosphere-building techniques but with the convincibility level around the one of Jefferson Airplane. It is, however, usually titled akin to a, er, Can/Faust song or something, for instance, 'She's As Beautiful As A Foot'. It is usually also good, sometimes with a truly impressive vocal melody or two. (Well, not even a highly intellectualized dark creepy ballad can do without conveying emotion; it just needs to be able to do this like a good Coen Bros. movie - without making you feel like a goshdarn sissy).

So, you say, where's the mean dirty bastard in that? The mean dirty bastard, like in the case of Steely Dan, is in the lyrics. These lyrics - not all of them, but some - are, well, supposed to be listened to. You wake Richard Meltzer up in the middle of the night and that's what he'll tell you, although he might probably have to kill you after that (well, he didn't seem to be a very nice guy based on the interviews I've read, but then again, I've been known to be wrong). It's somewhat of a pity that you have to listen to them as articulated by the band's lead vocalist Eric Bloom, because the guy's got about as much vocal power as Keith Richards and none of that man's soul that sometimes redeems for that. Then again, Blue Oyster Cult, at their best, were essentially a "concept" and they didn't need a super-duper vocalist with vocal cords strong enough to support the Brooklyn Bridge, I guess.

Anyway, I feel that I'm kinda leading you out and about, but that's because I just can't seem to find that trusty phrase to summarize the record. It's really strange, because these songs don't make me experience the usual emotions you'd expect to experience by listening to a record like this. It's a weird record - the lyrics, the titles, the goofy melodic mix and all - and yet it isn't weird, because it's supposed to rock yer boat. But it doesn't rock my boat! And when my boat ain't a-rockin', I begin getting all nervous and fidgety and wondering about whether the question of rock critics collaborating with rock bands should be taken to the United Nations or maybe we should just take the law into our hands and...

Okay, okay, 'Cities On Flame With Rock And Roll' does rock my boat. It starts with one of those classy all-time notorious guitar riffs worthy of a Tony Iommi and proceeds well with a poppy chorus that later crashes us back to the mighty riff, and the guitar solo is melodic and all. It was deservedly chosen as a single, too. But 'Before The Kiss, A Redcap' is more like a metallized barroom rocker - with an unpredictable fast-chuggin' Fifties-like mid-section inserted because, hey, there's nothing like merging generic Fifties' rock with generic Seventies' rock and producing a doggone plus out of two goshdarn minuses. And 'Stairway To The Stars' is just way too self-consciously Spinal Tappish to rock the already mentioned boat. It's times like these when I begin secretly yearning for my AC/DC and Judas Priest records - before the brains actually kick in and start protesting.

Oh boy, I got bogged down again. Okay, here it comes: the only boring songs on the album are 'I'm On The Lamb, But I Ain't No Sheep' (cool title, but the melody is kinda, uh, non-defined, and the lyrics are a bit too whacky even in comparison with all the rest), and probably 'Workshop Of The Telescopes', another really sub-standard midtempo rocker that doesn't do much for yours truly (despite some really fabulous guitar parts which are quite 'telescopic' indeed). Elsewhere, highlights abound, though: 'Transmaniacon MC' takes a standard catchy pop melody, dresses it up in a heavy arrangement, adds lyrics with references to Altamont and other horrors, and creates a great introduction to the album; the ballad 'Then Came The Last Days Of May', about three runaway outlaws being butchered by a fourth one, will make you neither laugh nor cry but rather keep on wondering which one of the two you're actually going to do long after the song is over; 'Screams', with ridiculous "surreptitiously evil" phased out vocals, is supposedly about Anne Rice and looks like it - yet still manages to incorporate a fast, poppy, Nuggets-like mid-section or two; 'She's As Beautiful As Foot' employs Eastern overtones to add to the mystique of the song (also about vampires, right?); and while the album closer, 'Redeemed', would be just a stupid redneckish country-folk ballad in a different context, it serves as a suitably silly conclusion to this suitably silly album.

You may not enjoy it, of course, but I guess it's basically just supposed to put a big fat question mark in your head. You know how it goes - sometimes it's better to have a question than an answer. Imagine the cool perspective of wasting your entire life on guessing the meaning of a Blue Oyster Cult album! Ain't it grand? Me, I'd never dare to do that, but the very realization that such a thing is theoretically possible somehow keeps me warm at night.


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