The Blue Öyster Cult is primarily known as the band that gave us the SNL skit that demanded more cowbell, but in reality the Stony Brook based band is so much more. Their progressive and unique style of rock and mystical symbolism were on striking display on the band’s debut album, as their sound combines elements of rock, jazz and the blues, pumps it up with some distortion and provides something new entirely.
The BÖC’s debut album, properly named Blue Öyster Cult, dropped 49 years ago today. The technical ability of the band is apparent, but more so than that the band displays a wide variety of different sounds and styles, while at the same time asserting their own unique sound. The use of blues riffs and distortion combined with high level musicianship, music understanding and cryptic lyricism is a rare combination, and the BÖC has them in ample supply.
The band shows off their high level talent right off of the bat of the album, as “Transmaniacon MC” and “I’m On the Lamb but I Ain’t No Sheep” highlight the band’s technical abilities as musicians. Singer/guitarist Donald Roeser not only provides endless blues riffs and striking precision on the guitar, but his lyrics are as mysterious as they are compelling, as the story of the “transmaniacon MC” stems from an underground concert headlined by the Rolling Stones in which the Hells Angles were controversially hired as security. Albert Bouchhard’s drumming, as quick and fluid as it is, stays consistently in the pocket and keeps the groove going, while brother Joe Bouchard holds down the bottom on the bass. Just as the band displays their talent as musicians, the third song of the album sees a rapid shift in tone and tempo, as the band shows off their psychedelic style, only to immediately follow up with another blues-driven, distortion heavy rock song. “Stairway to the Stars” continues to show Roeser’s abilities on the guitar, as his solo adds a jolt of energy to the track.
As the album transitions into “Before the Kiss, a Redcap,” one might think they have the BÖC figured out; a band that incorporates the blues, uses distortion and has the talent to match with nearly any other major rock band. But “Before the Kiss, a Redcap” shows the high level of musical understanding that the band possesses, as the song shifts from a blues-rock feel into a quick, jazzy groove complete with a walking bass line and guitar chords on every downbeat. Although the song isn’t swinging, the change in groove shows just how musically diverse the band can get, as well as how the can combine elements of the blues and hard rock with elements of jazz. The level of musical knowledge on display cannot be understated, and “Screams” further shows off the band’s musical capabilities. The song opens in an extremely psychedelic fashion, before picking up tempo and introducing distortion into the song, while still maintaining the musical effects and elements that give the song its psychedelic feel. The vocal harmonies highly juxtapose the gritty guitar riff, and both elements of the song help to give it its diverse and unique sound. “She’s as Beautiful as a Foot” continues to highlight the band’s propensity for psychedelic rock (while continuing to insert curiously intriguing lyricism and symbolism into the album), while the chorus mimics the same chord progression used by English giner/guitarist Peter Frampton on his popular song “Do You Feel Like We Do.” The song continues to show off the band’s musical understanding, and shows that the band doesn’t need to rely on heavy distortion and blues riffs in order to make music.
However, that does not mean the BÖC isn’t privy to blues riffs and distortion, as “Cities On Flame with Rock and Roll” demonstrates. The guitar riff is a blues riff infused with a jazzy feel, and its both awesome and beautiful. Despite the song’s heavy opening, the chorus is somewhat lighter, and is a nice counter to the heaviness of the heavy guitar riff. Of course, this song would be incomplete without an electric guitar solo, and Roeser provides just that in grand fashion. The song contains one more surprise toward the end via a groove change, as keyboardist Richie Castellano harmonizes with Roeser to provide a psychedelic riff before entering into a high tempo, swinging groove (although not quite jazz, the groove definitely swings). The final two songs of the album are quite different than the opening two songs of the album, indicating the vast musical journey that the band has taken the listener on throughout the album. “Workshop of the Telescopes” provides a blend of psychedelic and folk rock, while continuing to prove lyrics that are both mysterious and captivating. The song also contains more musical elements that are unique to the BÖC, such as their use of harmonic minor scales during solos and instrumental breaks. The album’s final song, “Redeemed,” leans further into a folk feel, as the sound of the album truly has come full circle since the start and now features clean, acoustic instruments rather than distorted electric ones. Of course, not every instrument is acoustic (Roeser provides a final solo on his electric guitar), but the clean, folk feel highly contrasts the heavy, bluesy opening of the album. The musical journey that the band takes the listener on is truly amazing, and the various forms of rock, along with the wide variety of different musical elements and styles the band employs is stunning. Blue Öyster Cult succeeds in providing fresh, unique sounds not just as a complete album, but also in terms of the individual songs
Few albums contain as much musical variety as the Blue Öyster Cult does. While the music is all based on rock, different styles, sub-genres and elements of music all give the BÖC’s brand of rock a particularly unique color; the band borrows elements of jazz and the blues, combines the musical elements with different instruments, and uses different music and sound effects to provide an entirely different and new sound. As a result, the band makes music that can be described as jazzy, hard, metal, blues, psychedelic and folk all on the same album. This level of musical variety needs to continue to be celebrated and admired, as few artists and bands are capable of making such wide ranging music on the same project. Let’s not forget to give the BÖC the credit they deserve.
Listen to the Blue Öyster Cult below:
I have just completed my senior year at the University of Michigan majoring in international studies with an emphasis in political economics and development, with a minor in Chinese language and culture, and I have recently been accepted into the Berklee School of Music’s masters of music business program. Although economics, politics and history are all academic interests of mine, I consider music to be my true passion.
Music has always been my passion, and it is a driving force for the way I think, act, and conduct myself on a daily basis. I have been playing the clarinet and saxophone since the age of ten, and the ability to play music at a high level has allowed me to embrace music on a multitude of levels. I am both an avid player and listener of music, and I find myself constantly in search of new artists who bring something new and different to the art form, and writing about new music has become a new outlet for me to explore what is going on in the musical world.