Blue Öyster Cult was considered a "cult" band, somewhere in the realm of heavy metal with complex and often baffling lyrics dealing with the supernatural. Those inside the cult took the time to understand that like Black Sabbath, BÖC combined outstanding musicianship with fantasy lyrics, and they weren't for everyone. Most music critics appreciated the band, and some worked for them: Their manager/producer Sandy Pearlman wrote for the music magazine Crawdaddy!
, as did Richard Meltzer, who contributed some lyrics to the Cult. Patti Smith (yes, that Patti Smith) even wrote some lyrics for the band when she was better known as a music journalist than a musician (she was BÖC keyboard player Allen Lanier's girlfriend).
Signed to Columbia Records, their first three albums sold a few hundred thousand each, but with no hit singles. "Don't Fear The Reaper" changed all that. Released as the lead single from their fourth album, Agents Of Fortune
, it exposed them to a much wider audience, which was good for business but bad for art. On their next album, Spectres
, they felt pressure to write another hit, and the results were disappointing. "The Cult is never destined to be successful at a format," Buck Dharma said in a 1980 interview with NME
. "To be a singles band you have to win the casual buyer."
Their resurgence came in 1981 with the MTV hit "Burnin' For You
," but "Reaper" will always be their defining song.