Thursday, October 6, 2011

Dungeonspiration: Blue Öyster Cult

One crisp autumn day back in high school I found myself at a German Language Club get-together in the house of the school's German teacher.  The subtitled version of Das Boot was playing in the other room and I was talking to a cute girl in a cozy alcove while we sipped on thick, chewy German lager that Herr Lehrer swore would disavow all knowledge of if any parents found out.

Ahh - the eighties.

"So who is your favorite musician?" she asked.

"Oh - that's easy," I smiled.  "BÖC."

"Oh, I like Bach too," she nodded.  "And other classics like Mozart and Beethoven"

I chuckled.  "While Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor and the Brandenburg Concerto Number Three are just spiffy, that's not what I'm talking about.  I'm talking about Blue Öyster Cult."

She looked at me blankly.

"You know - Blue Öyster Cult.  Heavy Metal?  Burning For You?"

She stared.

"Don't Fear the Reaper? No?"

"Veteran of the Psychic Wars? Dominance and Submission?"

"She's as Beautiful as a Foot? Hot Rail to Hell?"

Her nose had been crinkling up like she smelled something bad and she excused herself from my presence.  She didn't come back.

Okay, there was a valid - and probably scientific - reason that I stayed a virgin until 19 - and the conversation above probably exemplifies that reason very well.  But boy did I love me some Blue Öyster Cult.

Blue Öyster Cult had a lot more going for it than just 'more cowbell.'  They were arguably the first band to gratuitously use the heavy metal umlaut.  And they had Michael Moorcock - the Michael frikkin Moorcock - writing lyrics for three of their songs.  One of those songs, "Veteran of the Psychic Wars" was featured in the movie - the movie - Heavy Metal.

I was poking around on Spotify a few days ago and found what appears to be Blue Öyster Cult complete discography.  I was excited and nervous - nervously mainly because I figured my memories of  BÖC would probably be shattered by listening to them again after all these decades - and I'd walk away depressed that I had liked such a lame band as a teenager.

Hooboy - I was in for a pleasant surprise.  Blue Öyster Cult still rocks!  And after listening to them all over again, my favorite album of theirs is still Fire of Unknown Origin.

  • "Fire of Unknown Origin" - with lyrics by punk rocker Patti Smith
  • "Burnin' For You" - a song other people have actually heard of!
  • "Veteran of the Psychic Wars" - lyrics by Elric of Melniboné dad!  used in the Heavy Metal movie
  • "Sole Survivor" - completely awesome Post-Apocalyptic Gamma World song
  • "Heavy Metal: the Black and Silver" - probably intended for the Heavy Metal movie, but never made it
  • "Vengeance (The Pact)" - definitely intended for Heavy Metal, and tells the entire story of Taarna - which is probably why it didn't make it
  • "After Dark" - undead vampire kind of thing
  • "Joan Crawford" - Joan Crawford has risen from the grave!
  • "Don't Turn Your Back" - did someone order a dose of paranoia with vermouth and an olive?

I was also surprised about how much my early years of role playing were influenced by the band.  Tolkien was kind of the ideal - the 'theory' of what Dungeons and Dragons should be, but Moorcock and his Eternal Champions - Corum, Hawkmoon, Jerry Cornelius, and Elric - were what my campaigns would subconsciously evolve into - all to the soundtrack of Blue Öyster Cult.

Just thinking about the band and the songs puts and smile of my face, reminds me of how I used to run games, and makes me itch to run games influence by Blue Öyster Cult again.

So go dust off those old albums, or take a stroll through Spotify, and listen to some music you haven't listen to in ages - music that inspired your games back in the day - music that inspired you to write crappy stories and poems in your youth about the things you loved.  Go forth and stick monsters in your ears.

In closing, I'll point you to some more Blue Öyster Cult you should give a listen to:

"Tattoo Vampire," Agents of Fortune
"Black Blade," Cultosaurus Erectus
"The Great Sun Jester," Mirrors
"Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll," Blue Öyster Cult
"(Don't Fear) The Reaper," Agents of Fortune - significantly less cowbell than you remember!
"Godzilla," Specters
"The Red and The Black," Extraterrestrial Live

- Ark


  1. Man, was I mocked in junior high for having a big BOC drawn on my notebook. The 'cool kids' (who are probably selling real estate now, or have chocked to death on someone else's vomit) immediately assumed it was a reference to the "Blue Oyster Club" of the Police Academy movies. I kid you not. Kansas, circa 1985.

    When they saw all the Black Sabbath doodles they STFU, though, and probably thought I was going sacrifice them to Baphomet. :)

  2. Now, I know squat about music really, and the only BOC album I own is Fire of Unknown Origin, but are they really heavy metal? I'd tend to class them, and Hawkwind, Pink Floyd, Yes etc, as prog rock. But what do I know?

    Great article - really must get round to watching the Heavy Metal movie some day!

  3. I would also toss in:
    Club Ninja:
    Spy In The House of the Night
    When the War Comes

    Death Valley Nights
    Celestial the Queen

    I am the storm

    I also love BOC and have met them a couple of times. I also know like their biggest fan ever who really doesn't consider any other bands and hangs out with them whenever they tour out west.

  4. @Mike - Oh yeah - the Blue Oyster Bar - haven't thought about that in years. Funny. :) I never could figure out if the guys at the bar listened to BOC or not. ;)

    @Tim - Over the years, Heavy Metal has come to mean a very specific - almost cartoonishly stereotypical - sound and image. I'm not sure what the exact definition of heavy metal is, but it was definitely looser in the 70s. If Led Zeppelin was considered heavy metal back then - Blue Oyster Cult would be a shoe-in. Actually, I think the only classification method for 'heavy metal' in the 70s was if the music would kill plants and if it appeared that some of the band members could possibly be Satanists. :)

    @Ancient - DUDE! How could I forget CLUB FRIKKIN NINJA! Yes, everything you mentioned on that album - and White Flags and Madness to the Method - and - oh - everything else on that album too. Tons of good stuff all over their discography.

    If you see BOC again, tell 'em I said hi and that I'm rolling a d20 for them.

    Oh crap - NAT TWENTY. Funny how coincidence works. ;)

    - Ark

  5. I will certainly mention you, Arkhein! I have mentioned their inspiring my D&D games over the years and how i feel that a lot of their music still holds up. They have made some pretty weird songs over the years and I love them all.

  6. You have me smile with reminisce ,
    Don’t even need to click on the link regarding “more cowbell””

    Luved Christopher Walkin in TRUE ROMANCE …
    “ I am the Angel of Death”

    BOC is one of the rare bands,
    that the more you listen to their music,
    the more u appreciate their genius,

    sorry about the lack of posting .. .
    BLOGGER has decided to eat all my new posts ..
    Any ideas??

  7. @Ancient - Thanks!

    @Clovis - Yeah, I've been listing to their stuff for several days now - straight. Still not tired of it.

    Regarding the eating of post - no idea - but I've heard that the type of browser may be a problem - specifically Firefox. I use Chrome these days and have never had a problem with it. Go figure.

    - Ark

  8. I love BÖC. They've been making good music for years, even into this millennium.

    Also, the song "The Old Gods Return" (on Curse of the Hidden Mirror from 2001) has lyrics written by John Shirley. It covers pretty much the same thematic territory as "Godzilla", but is still really good.

  9. Thank you.

    I've been suffering from Non-Epileptic Attack Disorder for a couple of years. As a side effect of these I have patchy amnesia. Sometimes I come to minus long and short term memories and sometimes, rarely, lost memories return.

    After a recent day wherein I had two major seizures in the space of an hour I came to still trembling from the ataxia.

    In my minds eye I had the image of a thousand pale faces standing on a desolate plain beneath a dark starless sky. I knew these people were veterans from some conflict and I knew that Michael Moorcock was connected somehow. Music played but I couldn't catch it.

    So I went looking. I searched for Hawkwind, for whom I know Moorcock drummed and wrote, and the word "Veterans" but I found nothing.

    But now, by sheer chance, you've reconnected me to a lost part of myself. I do't recall ever hearing of the Blue Oyster Cult but then I also don't recall anything from the early 90's either.

    Time for some rediscovery :)

  10. I'm not seeing much love for their first three studio albums; Blue Oyster Cult, Tyranny and Mutation, and Secret Treaties. Neither for their first live album, On your feet or on your knees. There is some great songs like Cities on Flame with Rock n' Roll, Hot Rails to Hell, and Astronomy.

    If you are a BOC fan and haven't sampled the early work you are missing out. The production work is less smooth, but it has more rough energy.


  11. Barad: I don't think that anyone is forgetting those. It's just that they are so obviously excellent that it doesn't even need to be said. The Black and White albums are still the greatest height of BÖC, though they remain great.

  12. It does my heart good to hear someone say the 'Black & White' Albums.

    Someday I'll run the adventure based on some of the images in Astronomy.

  13. I, uh, I might have included an establishment called the Tavern of the Four Winds in a game world.


  14. @faoladh - Yeah, I noticed that one - it's quite cool and Cthullicky!

    @PlanetNiles - That is quite a story. I'm glad you reconnected with some of your past. BOC has reconnected my with my earlier self too - albeit in a less dramatic way. Have a good ride down memory lane!

    @Barad - Oh, It's all wonderfully good - I just didn't have access to the earlier BOC albums back when I was a teenager, so they don't have the air of nostalgia their middle years have on me - except the few I heard from an ancient mix tape - sraped together by a friend of a friend who had a 8-track to die for, or so they said. :)

    @Theo - Yay!

    - Ark