Lead guitarist Don "Buck Dharma" Roeser wrote this with Richard Meltzer, a rock writer who often contributed lyrics to the band. Dharma initially planned to release this song on his solo album, Flat Out, but was later convinced to include it on Blue Öyster Cult's Fire Of Unknown Origin." Dharma sang lead, as he did on many of BÖC's songs.
When Richard Meltzer wrote the lyrics, he titled the song "Burn Out The Night," a reference to an evening of rock and roll. Blue Öyster Cult had a "band house" where their band members and associates (including their manager, Sandy Pearlman would bring in song ideas and lyrics.
Joe Bouchard, who was their bass player at the time, told the metal magazine Chips & Beer that he and Buck Dharma came across Meltzer's lyrics at the same time, and each wrote their own song around it. Dharma's version, with the title changed to "Burnin' For You," was the one that got recorded.
Along with Black Sabbath, Blue Öyster Cult was one of the first heavy metal bands. They issued their first album in 1972 and grew a modest following before scoring a hit with "(Don't Fear) The Reaper
" (also written by Buck Dharma) from their 1976 album Agents of Fortune
, which hit #12 and became embedded on rock playlists.
Their next (and last) Top 40 hit came with "Burnin' For You," which was a #1 hit on Billboard
's Mainstream Rock chart.
In the book MTV Ruled the World - The Early Years of Music Video, frontman Eric Bloom tells the story of the "Burnin' For You" video: "We went out to California, and our management found a video company, and we did two videos in 24 hours - 'Burnin' For You' and 'Joan Crawford.' MTV wouldn't show the 'Joan Crawford' video, because there was something about it that was too racy for them. But 'Burnin' For You' got a ton of airplay on MTV in 1981 and 1982."
Bloom continues: "We made it in the storm drains of LA. If anyone has seen the movie about giant ants, called Them!, with James Whitmore, it was filmed in the same place." Later he adds: "We thought the car on fire was very Hollywood, very cool. They had to have a Hollywood film/pyro guy there, who was licensed to burn s--t up. He had propane tanks, and he had to have a hunk of car to burn."
These videos were directed by Richard Casey, who directed the 1985 movie Horror House on Highway Five.
The first eight lines of this song all contain the word "home," which makes up the first verse:
Home in the valley
Home in the city
Home isn't pretty
Ain't no home for me
Home in the darkness
Home on the highway
Home isn't my way
Home will never be
Later, the theme switches to "time," which appears in every line of the second verse:
Time is the essence
Time is the season
Time ain't no reason
Got no time to slow
Time to play B-sides
Time ain't on my side
Time I'll never know
These verses both build into a fiery chorus, where Dharma is "living for giving the devil his due."
You can tell this song was written in part by a rock writer from the line, "Time to play B-sides," which back in the days of 45 RPM vinyl records, were the tracks that came on the flip sides of the hits. These were often junk, but sometimes gems. Music writers loved looking for these.
Blue Öyster Cult was one of the few American rock bands that was making videos when MTV launched in 1981. The single was released in July that year, and when MTV went on the air on August 1, they were happy to put it in rotation since they wanted to push a rock format but had little to choose from. Thanks to exposure on the network, the song rose up the charts, reaching #40 in October.
Blue Öyster Cult, who didn't even appear on their first four album covers, were not destined to be video stars. The videos they made for their 1983 follow-up album The Revölution by Night
- "Shooting Shark
" and "Take Me Away
" - were ignored by the network, which had become enamored with more visually intriguing bands like Duran Duran and Culture Club.