The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #261: Don’t Fear the Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult (RS)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #261: Don’t Fear the Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult.

If you tune into “Classic Rock” radio even a little bit, chances are that you will catch “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult being played. This song is easily one of the signature songs in the soundtrack of classic rock songs from the 1970s. The funny thing about “Don’t Fear the Reaper” is how misunderstood it was upon its release and how influential it became, in a cultural sense, as time went by in the 1980s and 90s. When Blue Oyster Cult first thought of this song, their classic lineup consisted of Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser on lead guitar and vocals, Eric Bloom, also on guitar and vocals, Allen Lanier on keyboards, Joe Bouchard on bass and Albert Bouchard on drums.

The band went through many iterations when it came to their name before starting to achieve success as “Blue Oyster Cult”. Their sound was heavy and hard; causing them to be associated with other US rockers such as Alice Cooper and Ted Nugent. In the mid-1970s, they released “Don’t Fear the Reaper” which, although it never reached #1, it became their signature song and has gone on to be one pf the most popular classic rock songs of all time.

The song was written by “Buck Dharma” Roeser and was meant to talk about true love being something that goes on for infinity; even after death. The song was never meant as a love song per se but, instead, it was meant to discuess the eternal power of Love. However, “Don’t Fear the Reaper”, with its lines about “Romeo and Juliet” spawned a belief that the band was actually promoting suicide pacts as a way to make Love eternal for couples. During the backlash that followed, many Christian organizations, along with various government officials all took their turns accusing the band of promoting suicide with their music and, as such, sought to have them banned from the airwaves. It was only after much push-back from Roeser and the band that folks began to see the song differently and the tempest subsided.

In the years that followed, “Don’t Fear the Reaper” cast a long shadow over the cultural affairs of the US in two very profound yet, unique ways. The first instance came with the release of the book, “The Stand” by prolific author, Stephen King. If you have that book, open it to the front and you will see the lyrics posted there. There was something about the concept of the infinite nature of Love that helped King come up with the idea for, arguably, his most famous book.

The second time “Don’t Fear the Reaper” became a cutural touchstone was the result of the fact that it is one of the very few successful songs in modern music history to prominently feature the use of a cowbell. The use of a cowbell became the focal point in one of the most memorable sktetches ever on Saturday Night Live, in which comedian, Will Ferrell plays the cowbell player from Blue Oyster Cult who is continuously exhorted to “Play more cowbell”, much to the chagrin of the band as they attempt to play the song. I will include that clip in the videos below.

“Don’t Fear the Reaper” contains one of the most recognizable opening riffs in all of rock. Please enjoy every second of it as it plays and, of course, keep your ears tuned for that cowbell! Here is Blue Oyster Cult with “Don’t Fear the Reaper”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult, can be found here.

The link to the video for the Saturday Night Live comedy sketch, “More Cowbell”, can be found here.

The link to official website for Blue Oyster Cult, can be found here.

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

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