Thursday, 14 April 2011

12: Blue Oyster Cult, “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper” (no.16, 1978)

From a group originally launched and marketed as “America’s answer to Black Sabbath”, and it’s entirely possible the rest of the Cult’s output was hoary, derivative 70s rock tosh. (There was, after all, an umlaut on the “O” in Oyster, never an especially propitious sign.) “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” has stuck with us, though, perhaps because - unlike the output of so many Goth and metal acts since - it actively appears to be thinking about death, rather than merely rocking out to it, or co-opting the imagery for an eye-catching record sleeve. It’s read the books, and done the research, and is unusually well-informed on the topic. How many people met their maker back in 1978? “40,000 men and women every day”, comes the response - singer Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser perhaps eyeing a second career for himself as a statistician, or claims analyst, should this heavy rock lark not work out for him. It remains a beguilingly odd piece of work, forever keen to practise what it preaches: the song dies an early death itself a minute in, and then again around the 2:30 mark, before reincarnating itself in new and strange and interesting ways. In our contemporary culture of fear, I’m not so sure we can take its advice to heart so easily, but it casts a spell, sure enough, and it’d be one hell of a hip tune to having playing in the background at your funeral. It’s your funeral, after all.

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