It was a bit difficult to write up a list narrowing down the ten best Blue Öyster Cult songs. The band has recorded 13 studio albums of original material since forming in the early' 70s and has a lot of great songs, so a Top 20 list would not even be out of the question. BÖC has always been more of an album band than a singles band; the radio hits are included here, though, and many other songs on this list would be great to hear on classic-rock radio in regular rotation as well, but I won’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen. This list can serve as a preview for those not familiar with BÖC and I would recommend picking up the Secret Treaties album as a starting point if you like what you hear.
10. “Godzilla” (1977)
“Godzilla” is a song about the fictional Japanese monster of the same name, obviously; the song became an FM radio hit upon its release and has been used in TV commercials, video games, movies and other media throughout the years ever since. Oddly, though, it's never made it onto a Godzilla movie soundtrack, not even that terrible one directed by Roland Emmerich in 1998. Honestly, “Godzilla” is not one of my personal favorite BÖC songs but I’ll defend including it on this list because of its popularity and iconic guitar riffs.
9. “Veteran of the Psychic Wars” (1981)
Several songs on BÖC’s Fire of Unknown Origin album were originally written for the soundtrack of the adult animated sci-fi-fantasy film Heavy Metal. Strangely, only the song “Veteran of the Psychic Wars,” co-written by British science fiction author Michael Moorcock, made it into the film and soundtrack, though it wasn’t even originally written for the film. Metallica covered the song at Neil and Pegi Young’s Bridge School Benefit in 2007.
8. “Harvester of Eyes” (1974)
Rock critic Richard Meltzer wrote the lyrics to “Harvester of Eyes” after seeing former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas’ Senate nomination hearings; when asked why he did not serve in the military during World War II, Fortas replied he had ocular tuberculosis. This led Meltzer to write the lyric, "I'm the eye-man of TV, with my ocular TB.” The rest of the song has little to do with Fortas, really, but this is just one of many examples of the strange topics BÖC covered. Fortas resigned from the Supreme Court in 1969 after questions of conflict of interest and questionable ethics arose.
7. "O.D.'d On Life Itself" (1973)
BÖC lead vocalist Eric Bloom said in an interview with Creem Magazine that "O.D.'d On Life Itself" is a song influenced by a real life incident when Sandy (Pearlman) met a young woman who was "totally out of it, a real asshole; she'd O.D.'d on life." Sandy Pearlman was the producer, manager and lyricist for Blue Öyster Cult from 1972-1988; he also produced the second album by the Clash, Give ’Em Enough Rope, in 1978 and claimed to have been the first writer to use the term “heavy metal” to describe rock music.
6. “Astronomy” (1974)
The lyrics to “Astronomy” were taken from a poem called "The Soft Doctrines of Imaginos" by Sandy Pearlman; it’s about aliens called Les Invisibles who guide an altered human named Imaginos through key roles in history, leading to the beginning of World War I. I told you these guys had some strange topics in their songs; longtime BÖC fan Stephen King recorded a spoken narration for a 1988 music video for the song released by Pearlman in the UK. Metallica also covered it on their 1998 Garage Inc. album.
5. “"E.T.I. (Extra Terrestrial Intelligence)" (1976)
“E.T.I. (Extra Terrestrial Intelligence)" is basically about aliens; the lyrics even mention three “men in black.” So BÖC beat Steven Spielberg and Will Smith in exposing these ideas about UFO conspiracy theories and government cover-ups to the pop-culture world; and, most importantly, the song rocks.
4. "Cities on Flame With Rock and Roll" (1972)
"Cities on Flame With Rock and Roll" is a song simply about rocking out, a theme BÖC returns to several times throughout their music catalog. With lyrics like, “My heart is black and my lips are cold/ Cities on flame with rock and roll/ Three thousand guitars/ They seem to cry/ My ears will melt and then my eyes,” the message of the song is pretty clear.
3. "ME 262" (1974)
The cover for Blue Öyster Cult’s Secret Treaties album features the band standing beside and sitting on a German Messerschmitt Me 262; this was the world’s first operational jet-powered fighter aircraft and the inspiration for the song "ME 262" which caused a little controversy for the band as the song is sung from the point of view of a German fighter pilot attacking English bombers during World War II. BÖC are certainly not Nazi sympathizers, though some stores in Germany refused to carry Secret Treaties. Sandy Pearlman, who is Jewish, wrote the song with BÖC guitarist Buck Dharma and lead singer Eric Bloom.
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2. "Burnin' for You" (1981)
The "Burnin' for You" single reached No. 1 on the Billboard Top Tracks chart, and spent three weeks in the Top 40 on the Hot 100; the song’s popularity was helped by an early MTV music video you can check out above. "Burnin” is obviously a little more radio-friendly than a large part of the BÖC catalog, but it’s still a great song.
1. “(Don't Fear) the Reaper” (1976)
“(Don't Fear) the Reaper” is a great song which reached No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 in late 1976 when released as an edited single; contrary to popular belief, the song is not about a murder-suicide pact, though some have misinterpreted the meaning of the lyrics "Romeo and Juliet are together in eternity" and thought so. Buck Dharma, singer and writer of the song, has explained that it’s simply a love song where the love lives on after the deaths of the partners. Some hardcore BÖC fans resent “Reaper” because they feel it overshadows the other work the band has done, work they feel is better. For myself, it introduced me to the band and set me on a path to discover the rest of their music, which I have enjoyed very much.
Blue Oyster Cult and special guests Mothership perform Saturday, July 29 at White Oak Music Hall. Doors open at 7 p.m.