Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Blue Öyster Cult - On Your Feet Or On Your Knees

A band’s best music is not necessarily their most commercially successful.  Few bands have proven that adage better than Blue Öyster Cult.

There’s a long history to this ear-splitting, thunderous, arena rock group.  They started off life trying to be the American answer to Black Sabbath and for me, growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, they were. The band first hit the scene in New York under the name Soft White Underbelly, found a modicum of success and an interested major record label. Unfortunately, in 1969 their lead singer left during the recording of their first album and the label shelved the project.  The band continued to perform live as Soft White Underbelly until it received a bad review of a 1969 concert at Fillmore East.  Instead of letting the band slog through the critical review in order to find redemption their manager decided they should just rename the band.  For two long years the band changed names nearly every six months.  Then, in 1971, the band settled on Blue Öyster Cult which was based on their manager’s poem about a group of aliens who had assembled to secretly guide Earth's history.  Under the new name the band landed a recording contract with Columbia Records.

The band toiled in relative obscurity, sometimes even playing small venues as Soft White Underbelly, through 1975.  They had released a self-titled album in 1972 containing some of the hardest rocking hard rock of the day, that found a small loyal following, and followed it up with a 1973 release entitled Tyranny and Mutation that contained the first of many of the band’s collaborations with Patti Smith. In 1974 they released a third album, Secret Treaties, that earned them faint praise.  However, it was their constant touring that lured in a fan base.  Blue Öyster Cult live shows became legendary.

In 1975, the band released On Your Feet or On Your Knees, a live album that went gold.  It captured the essence of their live shows.  Here were band members Eric Bloom, Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser, Allen Lanier, and Joe and Albert Bouchard at their road-tested best  and earning their first taste of super stardom.   To this day I rank this effort as one of the best live albums ever produced.

The album cover sports an old ghostly stone gothic church in a murky fog fronted by a 1970’s black Cadillac stretch limousine. The back of the album has a photograph of hands in medieval gloves of an executioner holding a bible-like volume with the symbol of the band amongst the text.  The double album has two sleeves and the fold-out inside is festooned with a picture of an ornate gothic stage with a row of full stack Marshall amplifiers from stage right to stage left fronted by the band jumping into space playing electric guitars over the heads of their audiience.

The first disk starts with a live audience and a mysterious announcement to the gathered crowd - “On your feet or on your knees.  It is the amazing Blue Öyster Cult.” Then the band  immediately dives in to some of the hottest guitar rock leather band live performances of the decade.

The recording is comprised of three songs from each of the band’s first three studio albums and two cover songs. A dizzying array of guitar leads, pounding drums, electric bass and vocals permeate the rockers and ballads and leave the listener amped and asking for more.  "Subhuman," then "Harvester of Eyes," lead to “Hot Rails to Hell" followed by scorching versions of "The Red and the Black" and “Screaming Diz-Busters."  Then comes “Buck's Boogie," a veritable ear bleeding break the speed barrier bopper. A smooth arena rock ballad "(Then Came The) Last Days of May" slows the pace but only long enough for the band to reboot the sustain with “Cities on Flame," "ME 262," and the heart pounding "Before the Kiss (A Redcap)."  The album concludes with two cover songs - “I Ain’t Got You” (with modified lyrics) and the best version of “Born To Be Wild” you have ever heard.

Blue Öyster Cult’s greatest commercial success still was to come when On Your Feet Or On Your Knees was released.  Their biggest hit singles “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” and “Godzilla” did not chart until 1976 and 1977, respectively,and, to be honest, are watered down versions of the band’s music tuned to appeal to a wider audience.

Blue Öyster Cult is still around and occasionally records and tours under that name.  However, if you really want to experience the music like it was, when they produced cutting edge rock and roll and not AM hits for mass consumption, look for a small notice printed on the back of a local throwaway free press newspaper that says that Soft White Underbelly is playing at a small bar venue. Go.  You won’t be disappointed whether you have to watch on your feet or on your knees.

- Old School

Buy here: On Your Feet Or on Your Knees
buy here mp3: On Your Feet Or On Your Knees



2 comments:

Woody said...

Great album. The Live 1972 bootleg EP is also a must have.

Penfold said...

Another group I'm embarrassed to say that I don't own anything by...yet. I was going to check them out sooner or later, but thanks to this post it's definitely going to be sooner.

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