Leave it up to two music critics to create a band that knows how to rock and be smart about it, too. Over several decades, Blue Oyster Cult has earned its fans by challenging them. Their cryptic lyrics have kept listeners guessing as to what their true meaning is, all the while entrancing them with the quality of the writing.
The band formed in 1967 in Long Island, where several students with a common interest in prog-rock and heavy metal decided to start jamming together. The band would go through numerous incarnations over the years, with a constantly rotating lineup and several name changes. Sandy Pearlman and Richard Meltzer were the two founding members, however, and they were also a constant presence in the band. Pearlman managed the band while Meltzer wrote lyrics; both would go on to be well-known and respected music critics.
They changed the band’s name several times before finally settling on Blue Oyster Cult (previous names included Soft White Underbelly and Oaxaca, and their first single was issued as the Stalk-Forrest Group. The band’s first two records didn’t attract much attention, but once they signed to Elektra as BOC, they began to attract some notice among more high-minded rock listeners. Their lyrics were captivating, and fit the trippy images on their album covers perfectly.
“With Satan’s hog no pig at all, and the weather getting dry/We’ll head south from Altamont in a cold-blooded travelled 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,” go the lyrics to the opening song on their self-titled debut.
Though only a few people noticed their first two records, it was their third, 1974’s Secret Treaties, that established a wide-reaching fan base. It would eventually turn gold, and set the stage for their successful live album the following year. 1976’s Agents of Fortune was their breakthrough, with the classic song “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” receiving an enormous amount of airplay.
“Romeo and Juliet/Are together in eternity (Romeo and Juliet)/40,000 men and women everyday (Like Romeo and Juliet)/40,000 men and women everyday (Redefine happiness)/Another 40,000 coming everyday (We can be like they are)/Come on baby (Don’t fear the reaper),” the song goes. Its haunting lyrics still entrance listeners today. It would help that album turn platinum in time, and make BOC one of the biggest arena-rock acts of the late-’70s.
The band would continue to earn major hits as they released some of their most successful record, including 1977’s Spectres and 1978’s Enchanted Evening. Past that point, record sales started to dive, though their tours continued to sell out. As the ’80s wore on, punk and New Wave replaced arena rock completely, and BOC was found out of step with the public taste. The band’s output slowed to a trickle.