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Blue Oyster Cult is an American rock band formed in 1967 and still active in 2007. The group is probably best known for three songs: The 1976 single "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" from the album Agents of Fortune (featured in the movie Halloween, and in the TV movie The Stand based on Stephen King's novel of the same name, and in the credits of Peter Jackson's 1996 movie The Frighteners as covered by The Mutton Birds); the 1981 single "Burnin' for You" from the album Fire of Unknown Origin and "Godzilla" (1977) from Spectres. The song "Veteran of the Psychic Wars," with lyrics penned by Michael Moorcock, appeared in the soundtrack of the movie Heavy Metal and "Astronomy" (1974) from Secret Treaties was covered by Metallica on 1998's Garage Inc.. The band has sold over 14 million albums worldwide.
Live staples from the band's vast catalog include "Cities On Flame With Rock And Roll," from the debut album, and "E.T.I. (Extra Terrestrial Intelligence)," also from Agents of Fortune. Other singles, many of which the band still plays live, include "Dr. Music," "In Thee," (both from 1979's Mirrors), "Take Me Away," "Shooting Shark" (both from 1983's The Revlution by Night), "Dancing In The Ruins" and "Pocket."
The band was formed under the name Soft White Underbelly in 1967 in the vicinity of State University of New York at Stony Brook on Long Island, New York, at the prompting of critic and manager Sandy Pearlman. Pearlman was very important to the bandhe was able to get them gigs, recording contracts with Elektra and Columbia, and he provided them with his poetry for use as lyrics for many of their songs, including "Astronomy". Writer Richard Meltzer also provided the band with lyrics from their early days up through their most recent studio album. The band (with original lead vocalist Les Braunstein and bassist Andrew Winters) recorded an album's worth of material for Elektra Records in 1968. When Braunstein departed in early 1969, Elektra shelved the album.
Eric Bloom (formerly the band's acoustic engineer) replaced Braunstein, and the band continued to perform as Soft White Underbelly. However, a bad review of a 1969 Fillmore East show caused Pearlman to change the name of the band - first to Oaxaca, then to the Stalk-Forrest Group. The band recorded yet another album's worth of material for Elektra, but only one single ("What Is Quicksand?" b/w "Arthur Comics") was released (and only in a promo edition of 300 copies) on Elektra Records. (This album was eventually released, with additional outtakes, by Rhino Handmade Records as St. Cecilia: The Elektra Recordings in 2001). After a few more temporary band names, including the Santos Sisters, the band settled on Blue Öyster Cult in 1970 (see "Band Name" section below for its origin).
The Black & White years:
Their debut album Blue Öyster Cult was released in January of 1972, with a black and white cover designed by artist Bill Gawlik. The album featured the songs "Cities on Flame With Rock and Roll," "Stairway to the Stars," and "Then Came the Last Days of May." The album sold well, and BOC began touring with artists such as the Byrds, Alice Cooper and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Their next album was written while touring for the first, and Tyranny and Mutation had more of a Black Sabbath feel, with songs such as "The Red and The Black" (an ode to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police), and "Baby Ice Dog", a song co-written by punk singer Patti Smith who was at the time in a relationship with Lanier, though she usually wrote with drummer Albert Bouchard.
The next album, Secret Treaties (1974) received positive reviews, featuring songs such as "Career of Evil" (also co-written by Patti Smith), "Dominance and Submission" and "Astronomy."
The band's first live album On Your Feet or on Your Knees achieved greater success and went gold, and was followed up by one of their first platinum albums, Agents of Fortune. It contained the hit single "(Don't Fear) The Reaper", written and sung by Buck Dharma, which reached #12 on the Billboard charts. Other major songs on the album were "(This Ain't) The Summer of Love," "E.T.I. (Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence)," and "The Revenge of Vera Gemini." For the tour, the band added lasers to their light show, which they became known for.
Their next album, Spectres, had the cult hit "Godzilla", but its sales were not as strong as the previous album. So for the next work, they released another live album, Some Enchanted Evening, followed by the studio album Mirrors. For Mirrors, instead of working with previous producers Pearlman (who instead went on to manage Black Sabbath) and Krugman, BOC chose Tom Werman, who had worked with acts such as Cheap Trick and Ted Nugent. However, the resulting album was criticized as being too commercial, and did not sell well.
Pearlman's association with Black Sabbath was tapped for the next BOC album, which resulted in Sabbath's Heaven and Hell producer Martin Birch being hired for the next BÖC record. The result was positive, with Cultösaurus Erectus receiving positive reviews. The album went to #14 in the UK, but did not do as well in the U.S. One of the notable songs on the album was the song "Black Blade," which was written by Bloom and sci-fi author Michael Moorcock. The band also did a co-headlining tour with Black Sabbath in support of the album, calling it the "Black and Blue Tour."
Birch produced the band's next album as well, Fire of Unknown Origin. The biggest hit on this album was the Top 40 hit "Burnin For You," a song Buck had written with a Richard Meltzer lyric, intending to use it on his solo album, but he was instead convinced to use it on the BOC album instead. The album went platinum, and launched other hits such as "Joan Crawford" (inspired by the book and film Mommie Dearest) and "Veterans of Psychic Wars", another song co-written by Moorcock. Some of the songs had been written for the animated film Heavy Metal, which ended up using only Moorcock and Bloom's "Veterans of Psychic Wars". After this album, Albert Bouchard left the band, being replaced by lighting designer Rick Downey on drums during the tour.
Decline and fall:
After leaving the band, Albert spent five years working on a solo album based on Sandy Pearlman's poem "Imaginos." BOC released the live album Extraterrestrial Live, and then went to the studio for their next album, with Bruce Fairbairn as producer, the 1983 release The Revölution by Night. Its highest single was "Shooting Shark", again co-written by Patti Smith, which reached #83 on the charts. After Revolution, another band member left, Rick Downey, leaving BOC without a drummer. They attempted to re-unite with Albert for a California tour, but the animosity returned, and he left after the end of the tour. Allen Lanier also quit the band shortly thereafter, leaving the band without a keyboardist as well. BOC hired Jimmy Wilcox and Tommy Zvonchek to finish the Club Ninja album, which was moderately well-received. The band toured in Germany, after which Joe Bouchard left as well, leaving only two original members, Eric Bloom and Buck Dharma. Jon Rogers was hired to replace Joe, and this version of the band finished out the 1986-87 tour, after which the band was really considered to be "broken up."
Imaginos and continued touring:
When BOC received an offer to tour in Greece, Allen Lanier rejoined the band. Albert, for his part, found that he no longer had support for his Imaginos project, so Pearlman arranged for it to be released in 1988 by Columbia as a BOC album, with some new additions from the other members of BOC. Columbia Records was purchased by Sony Music, and the BOC contract was dropped.
The band spent the next 10 years touring without releasing an album, and underwent several changes in lineup. Initially, Ron Riddle played drums, and Jon Rogers was on bass. Riddle quit in 1991, and was followed a series of other drummers including Chuck Burgi and Bobby Rondinelli. Rogers left in 1995, being replaced by other bassists, notably Danny Miranda, until 2004 when Richie Castellano took over, who has remained on bass to present. Castellano also has performed guitar and keyboards for the group, and on at least one occasion in 2005 took over lead guitar and vocals while Buck Dharma was ill. (Miranda now tours with Queen + Paul Rodgers, and has occasionally rejoined BÖC onstage during its 2007 tour.) In June 2007, it was announced that Rudy Sarzo (ex-Quiet Riot, ex-Ozzy Osbourne, ex-Whitesnake) would be joining BOC on bass for the remainder of the year.
In the late 1990s, BÖC secured a recording contract with CMC Records, and are continuing to perform into the 21st century. Two studio albums have been released, 1998's Heaven Forbid and Curse of the Hidden Mirror from 2001. Both albums featured songs co-written by cyberpunk/horror novelist John Shirley. Another live record, A Long Day's Night and DVD (same title), followed in 2002, both drawn from one concert in Chicago.
Sony Legacy remasters:
In 2001, Sony/Columbia's reissue arm, Legacy Records issued expanded versions of the first four BÖC studio albums, including some previously unreleased demos and outtakes from album sessions, live recordings (from the Live 72 ep), and post-St. Cecilia tunes from the Stalk-Forrest Group era. In February 2007, the Sony Legacy remaster series continued, releasing expanded versions of studio album Spectres and live album Some Enchanted Evening, leaving the first live album On Your Feet Or On Your Knees still without the treatment. However, the liner notes for the second round of remasters differ from the photos and in-depth analysis of the first four releases, and did not include lyrics as the earlier releases had.
The name "Blue Öyster Cult" came from a 1960s poem written by manager Sandy Pearlman. It was part of his "Imaginos" poetry, later used more extensively in their 1988 album Imaginos. Pearlman had also come up with the band's earlier name, "Soft White Underbelly", from a phrase used by Winston Churchill in describing Italy during World War II. In Pearlman's poetry, the "Blue Öyster Cult" was a collection of aliens who had collected to secretly guide Earth's history.
The addition of the umlaut was suggested by either Allen Lanier or Richard Meltzer. Other bands later copied the practice of using umlauts or diacritic marks in their own band logos (see Heavy metal umlaut), such as Motörhead, Mötley Crüe, Queensrÿche, and the parody band Spın̈al Tap, which, along with a dotless letter i, put an "umlaut" over the n (a symbol found only in the Jacaltec language of Guatemala and in some orthographies of Malagasy).
The hook-and-cross logo is that of Kronos, the king of the Titans and father of Zeus in Greek mythology, and is the alchemical symbol for lead, one of the heaviest of metals. Sandy Pearlman considered this, combined with the heavy and distorted guitar sound of the band and decided the description "heavy metal" would be aptly applied to Blue Öyster Cult's musical sound. It was designed by Bill Gawlik and appears on all of the band's albums.