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Don’t Fear The Reaper
Blue Öyster Cult #halloween👻
“Don’t Fear The Reaper” was Blue Öyster Cult’s first hit. Written by lead guitarist Donald Roeser, also known as “Buck Dharma” and released on their 1976 album, Agents of Fortune. The song was on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for 20 weeks, reaching number 12 in 1976 making it BÖC’s highest-charting U.S. song.
Blue Öyster Cult was considered a “cult” band at the time and categorized along with bands like Ozzie Osborne’s Black Sabbath, Montrose, and UFO — a transitional band between the rock of Led Zeppelin and British Metal. They played heavy rock with mystical lyrics and lush harmonies that touched on the supernatural and bizarre. BÖC was not exactly your average Top 40 Band in 1976 but “Don’t Fear The Reaper” broke into the mainstream and exposed BÖC to a broader audience with its catchy hook, cowbell clang, and haunting lyrics.
The lyrics were inspired by Shakespeare’s, “Romeo And Juliet” leading many people to believe the song was about suicide. Buck Dharma clarified on several occasions saying that he was thinking of Romeo and Juliet as a couple who had faith that they would be together even after death and that the song deals with the inevitability of death and the belief that we should not fear it.
Dharma explained in a 1995 interview with College Music Journal: “I felt that I had just achieved some kind of resonance with the psychology of people when I came up with that, I was actually kind of appalled when I first realized that some people were seeing it as an advertisement for suicide or something that was not my intention at all. It is, like, not to be afraid of it (as opposed to actively bring it about). It’s basically a love song where the love transcends the actual physical existence of the partners.”
While commercial success was good for management and the record company, it became a real negative for the creativity of the artists. Management never really knew how to promote BÖC without one distinctive voice and the pressure to repeat that success was constant and ultimately unattainable.
Dharma was interviewed with NME in 1980 and said: “Ever since ‘The Reaper’ was a hit we’ve been under pressure to duplicate that success; the body of our work failed. Even on (1977 album) Spectres everyone tried to write a hit single and that’s a bad mistake. The Cult is never destined to be successful at a format. To be a singles band you have to win the casual buyer.”
“Don’t Fear The Reaper” was Rolling Stone Magazine’s song of the year for 1976 and will be forever memorialized in pop-culture history with Will Farrell’s very funny cowbell parody on SNL. It’s been used in several horror movies, including Halloween, The Frighteners and Scream (the version used in Scream is an acoustic cover by Gus Black). It was used in the 1982 NBC made for TV movie – “The Executioners Song” starring Tommy Lee Jones and a very young Roseanna Arquette. It was also used in a very non-horror capacity in the party scene of the Disney movie Miracle, which is about the US Hockey team beating the USSR at the 1980 Olympic Games. Stephen King quoted the lyrics to this song in his novel “The Stand” and used it in the miniseries of the same name during a gruesome montage.
If the purpose of music is to move your heart mind and soul, then ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper” is as good as it gets. It’s Blue Öyster Cult’s masterpiece and one to add to your Halloween playlist.