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Blue Oyster Cult: Blue Oyster Cult - Album Of The Week Club review

Blue Oyster Cult's debut album: the first forays into sonic exploration from the thinking man’s rock band

Blue Oyster Cult: Blue Oyster Cult
Blue Oyster Cult: Blue Oyster Cult

Transmaniacon MC
I'm On The Lamb But I Ain't No Sheep
Then Came The Last Days Of May
Stairway To The Stars
Before The Kiss, A Redcap
Screams
She's As Beautiful As A Foot
Cities On Flame With Rock And Roll
Workshop Of The Telescopes
Redeemed

 

Cast in the mould of biker rock, and inspired by a combination of Black Sabbath, Steppenwolf and Canned Heat – plus a healthy dose of esoteric lyrical slants – Blue Oyster Cult's debut quickly established the band’s credentials.

There’s a real menace about the sound, with Sandy Pearlman’s production outflanking their garage pretensions with something more distant and ephemeral. Not only could these guys play up a storm, but they also possessed an indefatigable charisma.

"They had this brilliant mix of adventurous stoner rock smashed together with pop songs," says Halestorm's Lzzy Hale. "They had guts and tunes. They were real underdogs, too – they never got the credit they deserved compared to Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin. 

"But honestly, the main thing is their songs make me feel good. Blue Oyster Cult are just quintessentially cool."

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Background

BÖC spent the early 70s honing their craft on stage. “Our first tour ever was opening for The Byrds and the Mahavishnu Orchestra,” frontman Eric Bloom remembers. “You could not have had a more eclectic show. 

"We did not do very well at all. We had to regroup and think of a new image, a new way of thinking and a new way of playing if we were going to succeed at all. We had a period of about six months where we just tore down the band and built it back up again. 

"We put more of an edge on everything and that paid off. In mid-72 we got offered to do a run with Alice Cooper. Our first album was just about to come out. Alice liked us and off we went. We ‘broke’ on that tour.”

Other albums released in January 1972

  • Jamming with Edward! - The Rolling Stones, Nicky Hopkins, Ry Cooder
  • Garcia - Jerry Garcia
  • Cass Elliot - Cass Elliot
  • Coven - Coven
  • Hands of Jack the Ripper - Screaming Lord Sutch
  • Hendrix in the West - Jimi Hendrix
  • Into the Purple Valley - Ry Cooder
  • Keep the Faith - Black Oak Arkansas
  • Loose - Crazy Horse
  • Rockpile - Dave Edmunds
  • The Spotlight Kid - Captain Beefheart
  • Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mine - The Doors

What they said...

"The band's debut relied heavily on the lyrics of Pearlman and rock critic Richard Meltzer, as well as Pearlman's pioneering production that layered guitars in staggered sheets of sound over a muddy mix that kept Eric Bloom's delivery in the middle of the mix and made it tough to decipher. This was on purpose - to draw the listener into the songs cryptically and ambiguously. From the opener, Transmaniacon MC, the listener knew something very different was afoot." (AllMusic)

"Warning: critics' band, managed by Sandy Pearlman with occasional lyrics by R. Meltzer. Reassurance: the most musical hard rock album since Who's Next. (Well, that's less than six months, and this is not a great time for hard rock albums.) The style is technocratic psychedelic, a distanced, decisively post-Altamont reworking of the hallucinogenic guitar patterns of yore, with lots of heavy trappings. Not that they don't have a lyrical side. In Then Came the Last Days of May, for instance, four young men ride out to seek their fortune in the dope biz and one makes his by wasting the other three." (Robert Christgau)

"For a long time I figured this the ultimate BOC album - it boasts a hard rock density they'd never recapture again, with each riff drilling itself straight into your cranium like a trepanner's tool. For my money, they never got any better than on their first time out. However, I've revised that belief lately after comparing this to Agents of Fortune. BOC have a real problem coming up with enough good songs to carry an entire album - the peaks are pretty scrumptious peaks, but there are only two great songs on side one." (Creative Noise)

What you said...

Graham Tarry: The first three BOC albums are just sublime, from the iconic art work to the strange lyrics and wondrous music. Though this lacks the killer production of albums two and three, the strength of the songs is enough, and I still enjoy listening to this all these decades later. Those who are only familiar with Reaper onwards need to search back to this era, and marvel at the imagination and playing...

Steve Jestico: People who know me will know how much I love BOC and this album. Well, I keep hearing about the greatest debut album, and this is surely the most underrated greatest debut album of all time. Every track is a winner, and who else could get away with a track called She's As Beautiful As A Foot. Brilliant album, 10/10

Michael Dean: Great selection! Like so many people, for years I thought BOC started with Don't Fear The Reaper and ended with Burning For You. Those songs, as good as they are. do not represent BOC. You have to go back to their early catalog and this record is a great place to start!

Hugh Lynch: I have never heard an album by BOC before. I fear I am beginning to sound like the proverbial 'broken record' in these reviews, for which I apologise, but again, I like everything apart from the rather characterless vocals. With a singer more to my taste, a Fee Waybill, a Bobby Kimball, a Jack Bruce, I'd really like this stuff. I mean, on Cities On Flame... he goes out of tune on the chorus! Not a band I will re-visit soon.

Uli Hassinger: The first three records of BÖC (the black and white series) are outstanding. The best period of their career. Their best album by far to me is Secret Treaties. Compared to that album this one is more unpolished. You can hear that BÖC have not found their musical style completely. Nevertheless, it contains all time classics like Last Days Of May and Cities On Flame

But even slightly weird songs like Screams and She's As Beautiful As A Foot have their charm. It's the rawest album from BÖC and I love it for that. Behind Secret Treaties it's  their second best studio album, together with Fire of Unknown Origin

Jonathan Louis: Blue Oyster Cult's debut is a misunderstood, overlooked, yet original album. I believe the weakest part of the album is the production and the strongest part is Buck Dharma's bluesy guitar leads. Although Blue Oyster Cult had a better-developed sound by the time Agents Of Fortune and Spectres came out, there is always something special and important in a band's debut album, in general, because it is their thesis statement as well as a representation of how much a band is serious about "making it big." 

Blue Oyster Cult's "thinking man's hard rock" slogan makes them stand out amongst their Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin peers, especially with Allen Lainer's subtle keyboard textures and humorously witty lyrics written with the help of Sandy Pearlman. In summary, this is a wonderful debut album that demonstrates that Americans can rock with the best of the hard rock bands coming out of Great Britain at the time.

Bill Griffin: My biggest issue with most BOC albums is that they have a strong, sometimes even brilliant, side one and a mediocre at best side two. This album is more consistent but, except for Cities On Flame, never quite gets slightly better than mediocre. So better overall than almost any side two in their discography but nowhere near as good as any side one.

The production is terrible. This album could sound so much better (and the songs do sound much better performed live).

Mike Knoop: Blue Öyster Cult were an utterly unique and intriguing band. Each of the five members a songwriter plus regular input from outside collaborators, four singers who traded lead vocals; yet all with a unified sinister purpose. Lots of classic rock bands have a certain mythos surrounding them but few cultivated it (pun not intended) as diligently as BÖC. From the unsettling cover art to the cryptic lyrics, BÖC seemed to delight in both fascinating and discomfiting their fans.

And they did so right from the beginning. Kicking off with a motorcycle gang leaving the infamous Altamont in Transmaniacom MC, the debut album only gets more menacing from there. The beautiful music of murder ballad, Then Came The Last Days Of May, belies the dark lyrical content. Same with She's as Beautiful As A Foot, which may or may not be a tender ballad. Even a straight-ahead rocker like Cities On Flame With Rock And Roll, has foreboding lyrics like "Three thousand guitars they seem to cry, my ears will melt and then my eyes" and “Gardens of Nocturne, forbidden delight.” And I don’t even know where to start with Workshop Of The Telescopes!

All in all, a great and ominous album to kick off, you might say, a career of evil. Pun fully intended.

John Davidson: I bought a few BOC albums in the 70s and 80s but this wasn't one that appealed very much at the time. i was mostly interested in Agents Of Fortune, Cultosaurus Erectus, Fire of Unknown Origin and Club Ninja.

I had heard the odd song older song like Astronomy (but not their oddest songs clearly) and this album is almost entirely about the guitars, and the weirdness.

The songs are pretty much one-paced back drops for some decent guitar licks and B-movie lyrics. it's all tongue in cheek but, apart from Cities On Fire, they haven't quite cracked the ability to make you sing along yet. 

There's plenty to enjoy but its a foretaste of the greatness to come rather than a banquet in itself. 6/10

I saw them on tour in 2017 and while they may only be the burning embers of a once great band, they are still hot enough keep cities on fire with rock'n'roll.

Jeff Tweeter: I only got turned on to this album like 12 - 13 years ago. And for one thing, they never considered themselves an American Sabbath - they modelled themselves after what was going on during San Francisco's heyday. I don't know if "modelled themselves" is the right term but you know what I'm saying. 

They are so genuinely unique! Goddam shame they aren't getting the credit that is theirs. I had been a fan of Fire Of Unknown Origin since that came out. So when I decided to dive into their back catalog, I inevitably felt like I'd been living under a fucking rock. As much as I love this album (and sides three and four aka Tyranny & Mutation); I have to say that Secret Treaties, Spectres and Cultosaurus Erectus were the ones that I got as much as they got me. But this first album is where it all started. Grandly.

Carl Black: Two things before I start my review, you can not say Blue Oyster Cult without mentioning "that song", so I will not mention it. Secondly, BOC refused to give Motorhead a sound check when Lemmy and Co. supported them at Hammersmith Odeon. Us Moterheadbangers have never forgiven them since. However, for the sake of the club I'll park that to one side. 

What a superb album. It flip flops between rock roll, blues, rock and space rock. All the songs have definite sound signature running through them with all songs sounding completely different. Stand out songs for me were stairway to the stars, before the kiss a recap and Transmaniacon MC

I've spun it a couple of times and it's growing on me, I'll listen to it a few more times before the vote as I'm really getting into it. And that's the end of my review, still not forgiven and not a Don't Fear The Reaper in sight... d'oh!

Shane Reho: As good of a debut as anyone could hope for. While it's not a perfect album (they nailed that down two years later on Secret Treaties), everything great about BOC is here. Whether they're rocking hard on songs like Transmaniacon MC or Cities on Flame (which is way better live from On Your Feet or On Your Knees), mellowing out on She's as Beautiful As A Foot and Then Came the Last Days of May, or a combination of both such as Screams, they sound like a band that had been at it a long time (they were) and knew every trick. 

The production could've been better, but then again, maybe the murky sound is what makes this what it is. The only weak cut for me is Redeemed, which seems a little contrived. Other than that, you can't go wrong with this album. 9/10. Track picks: Then Came the Last Days of May, Before the Kiss (A Redcap), Screams.

Iain Macaulay: Blue Oyster Cult have always been ‘that’ song to me, along with the one record of theirs I own, Some Enchanted Evening. So, this was basically a completely new listening experience, the first studio album by a band I’d only heard through a live album. Hmmm... 

So, on first listen.... 

While there is a lot to like about this record there is also a lot to dislike. Unfortunately all the stuff i like keeps reminding me of Bob Calvert era Hawkwind and, as a big Hawkwind fan, comes across as sounding second best. I don’t get the "American Black Sabbath" description or hear them as very heavy. The production is quite limited and to some extent more ‘lo-if’ than balls out Metal. I do see the psychedelia edge but find it very derivative. 

The fist song, which really sounds like Hawkwind with Mr Calvert singing is great but the subsequent tracks on side one just taper off for me. Side two however I liked, other than the Grateful Dead sounding Redeemed. She’s As Beautiful... could be The Doors if the voice was crooning. Cities On Flame... Okay, that could be Iommi on guitar but... no Sabbath. Workshops...  There’s Calvert again but with the Hawklords this time. 

Yes, it’s possibly not the best thing to do, that is, listen to a debut album of a band after only knowing them for a kick ass live set but it worked with me for Hawkwind. Blue Oyster Cult? Not so much. All it did was get me listening to Hawkwind. Now there’s a band with a couple of albums worthy of this club.

Brian Carr Just a couple of weeks ago, I told my daughter that I knew, at most, five BOC songs. American radio only plays three and I have never listened to a full album. Because I can’t do bullet points, here’s a completely random paragraph of observations.

I’m curious if all of their releases suffer from the identity crisis of their debut. They really seem to vary in tone and style from song to song. Did Paul Di’Anno sing for BOC? (That’s a joke - I thought one of their vocalists sounded like him.) 

The low-fi production and snotty vocals (on many of the songs, anyway) made me think of pre-punk bands, though this has better guitar playing. Last Days Of May is a nice tune, probably by itself earning most of the rating I gave it. I plan on checking out some other BOC albums, but doubt I’ll jump back on this one.

Roland Bearne: I really don't know BOC. Godzilla is cool and there's that other one... I know they are highly regarded in some quarters and by friends who's musical taste and integrity I totally respect. I listened to this a few times waiting for it to open up. The absolutely most frustrating week of CRAOTW yet! I wanted so much to love it yet... but barely even liked it. 

There were some lovely sounds on guitar and keys, some great bass lines and moments where I thought "here we go"... But no. It felt like a band trying to be clever but failing, I mean even the song titles are just terrible. I spoke sharply to myself after giggling inappropriately on a crowded tube as that "foot" song came on again. 

Based on a snippet of (presumably stoned) conversation, and determined I should knuckle down and find the merit in this. I don't know what it is, I think that the likes of Floyd or Hawkind would always imbue their psych prog pub-rock spacey explorations with just enough of a sense of irony to carry you through. 

This material seems to be devoid of that sense of irony, delivered so earnestly that it just didn't work for me e.g. If you're going to state that a woman is "as beautiful as a foot" don't explain the circumstances in every chorus, let me just get it! Explaining a joke ruins it. I really wanted to like this. Didn't. Sorry.

Final Score: 7.81 ⁄10 (232 votes cast, with a total score of 1812)

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