In my last article, I introduced you to some of Rock’s Greatest Song Titles – all by Blue Oyster Cult.
1988’s Imaginos was my first full BÖC album – an entirely bonkers concept album about… I have no idea – twenty five years later. It’s proper barking. We’re talking Katie Price levels of madness here. I read the sleeve notes and quite a reasonable explanation on Wikipedia. It’s still a mystery, and I’m not sure I have the patience or inclination to find out more. The eyes glaze over and the brow furrows somewhat when sci-fi concept albums get wheeled out I’m afraid. Picture in your mind a sheep that has just had it’s wallet stolen and you’ll have a decent idea of the look on my face. (It’s time travel, vampires, Dracula – basically a mix of The Time Traveller’s Wife and Twilight, but not awful).
After a friend lent me the superb single-live album Some Enchanted Evening, I then truffled through Blue Öyster Cult’s back catalogue like a famished pig.
There is much to love – in the first four studio albums in particular – but I thought I would highlight my favourite two records for the first time listener. One is a gentle song for the Django Django lovers amongst you, the other turns up the volume a bit.
Blue Öyster Cult’s Then Came The Last Days of May is one of my favourite songs and is a great example of a BÖC song. It conjures up an Ennio Morricone film. From their first album, it is sad, wistful and quite beautiful. I can picture Neil Young singing it…
The opening line sets the scene: Parched sand on desert land / The sun is just a dot…
It goes on – like a murder ballad – to tell the story of three friends who are killed when a drug deal turns bad.
Outside of BÖC’s fan base, and particularly in the UK, this song appears practically unknown. What a pity.
The second song to recommend is Dominance and Submission – a song that is either about the loss of innocence in America when the British Invasion brought new sounds across the Atlantic, or a very sordid tale of a brother and sister doing things that brothers and sisters ought not to be doing. The fact that no-one is entirely sure which of these two explanations is correct tells you something. I’m not sure what exactly, mind you.
The album Secret Treaties is probably BÖC’s best, and Dominance and Submission is my favourite track off what is a truly classic record.
From the opening lines of Career of Evil (co-written by Patti Smith) to Subhuman and then on to Dominance and Submission this is clearly a record of joyful loopiness and rather odd imagery. It all ends with Astronomy – BÖC’s Stairway To Heaven if you will (and covered lamentably by Metallica) – but do take a listen to Dominance and Submission – it’s a corker…
Well – I think I have lauded BÖC enough to hopefully make you want to listen to one of their records. Let’s get back to the deriding…
The other thing to know about Blue Öyster Cult is that, despite the aggressive, macho, rock n roll leather-and-studs image they cultivated, they are apparently somewhat diminutive.
This is best explained in Tony Tyler‘s book I Hate Rock n Roll. Tyler was a former assistant editor of the NME (and co-author of The Beatles: An Illustrated Record) and the book is a hilarious prod in the ribs of the pomposity of rock. There’s a great anecdote in there about Bryan Ferry dressing as a Gaucho which is reminiscent of Noel Gallagher‘s description of Jack White looking like “Zorro on Doughnuts” but I won’t spoil it for you…
Tyler’s observation about Blue Öyster Cult’s physical stature highlights the contrast between image and physical presence:
“It’s an odd thing when you come to think of it” he says, “Here we have a group whose themes are relentlessly masculine, phallic and powerful…and yet all five are so conspicuously restricted in growth that they are commonly known, among the more cynical hacks, you understand, as “Happy”, “Dozy”, “Barmy”, “Turgid” and “Stupid”.
Tyler goes on to describe when a colleague, himself very short, and a fan of the band, came back from an interview with them “radiant with pleasure. All five of his interviewees had been shorter than him!”
“How must it be for the simple punter…who goes..to one of their concerts…as five menacing midgets stalk moodily from the wings, don enormous guitars whose dimensions only serve to underscore their own and then launch into machismo motifs at high volume?”
Brilliant stuff. I strongly recommend you buy the book.
I saw BÖC in ’89 – at Hammersmith Odeon. I was very impressed – they had a real musicality to them and their songs combine everything that’s good about rock music with an almost orchestral construction at times. They shared vocals – a rarity in a genre where a Golden God lead singer rules the roost – and sounded great.
And for the record I failed to notice their diminutive stature. Albeit I was watching from the balcony…
Record #128: Blue Oyster Cult – Dominance and Submission
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