Then Came The Last Days Of May – Blue Öyster Cult
They’re OK, the last days of May, but I’ll be breathing dry air
I’m leaving soon, the others are already there
You wouldn’t be interested in coming along ? Instead of staying here…
It’s said the west is nice this time of year, it’s what they say…
One of the towering theme songs of my adolescence, Blue Öyster Cult‘s Then Came The Last Days Of May seems an appropriate choice on May 31 2015 as I write this blog at 5.00am. Evocative, stirring, tragic and beautiful, it is the last track on BÖC’s first self-titled LP. I carried this LP around the competitive corridors of the Lower Sixth when taste began to carve out the cliques. New kid Andy Shand had introduced Andy Holmes (“Sherlock”) to the Cult as he was a Seaford clan member, taking the train into Lewes for school. Andy Shand was also the bass player in Rough Justice, the band I had joined who rehearsed at Waterlilies, Conrad Ryle‘s place in Kingston. I’ll save the mighty Rough Justice for another post, but suffice it to say that Andy Shand (he never did have a nickname) and I were so enamoured of this LP that we included a section of “Before The Kiss, A Redcap” (at 1.39 it’s a bass riff naturally enough) in a Rough Justice song that had a nice indulgent instrumental middle section (and also featured the riff from You Really Got Me), which I think guitarist Andrew Taylor (Tat – ) had suggested, with Conrad’s approval.
We all walked around school with little badges on, the cross and hook symbol that the band used on all their LPs – there were 3 LPs out already in 1974 – in Greek mythology the sign of Kronus, King of Titan and Father of Zeus – and furthermore, symbol of the chemical element for lead, the heaviest of metals. For Blue Öyster Cult were a very streamlined and polished heavy metal band, one of the first. They were the first band to use an umlaut (ö) over one of the letters in their name (Motörhead, Queensrÿche, Mötley Crüe would follow) – and as any German speaker or Arsenal fan would know, an umlaut changes an Oh into an Er. Özil – the German international World Cup winner who currently plays for the Arsenal and won the FA Cup yesterday v Aston Villa – is pronounced Erzil. But at school we never went around saying Blue Erster Cult. Sounds stupid right? Manager Sandy Pearlman came up with the name, thought it conjured up Wagner. What it all meant was that we thought we were the grooviest kids in the school, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary. We were pretentious twerps. But the band was undoubtedly great, and many many years later, the records still hold up as crisp riff-laden metallic shiny rock craftsmanship. Really metal is not my thing – nor is rock – I never took a shine to Deep Purple (except for the incredible Fireball) or Black Sabbath, and the bluesey side of guitar rock never grabbed me much either (Stones, Zepp, Free etc). I was a pop tart awaiting my conversion to soul and dub reggae. And hip hop. But these days I can listen to anything and find joy in it – classical, country, metal, folk, electro-pop, balkan gypsy, trad jazz, disco, soukous, mbaquanga, samba, salsa, son. Bring me your music !
This song is tragically a true story. Then Came The Last Days Of May was written by lead guitarist Donald Roeser – known as Buck Dharma – it tells the tale of a group of lads going west to score a huge dope deal, : “each one had the money in his pocket to go out and buy himself a brand new car” crossing the border to Mexico in a rented Ford and being murdered for their money. The tragedy is played out in the guitar solos which open and close the song, and comment on the story throughout. The playing is impeccable, the song immense. Of course, being the only ballad on that great first LP, it’s the one I hold dearest to my heart. You should know me by now ! It still plays a part in the band’s live shows today. We worshipped at the altar of this song in the mid-seventies. Like a biblical tale of temptation in the desert and the one who turned down the chance to go with them, and survived to write a song about it. The rest of the band – the classic 70s line-up – were Eric Bloom on lead vocals, brothers Albert and Joe Bouchard on drums and bass, and Allen Lanier on rhythm guitar.
They hailed from Long Island and had a long gestation – from The Soft White Underbelly in the late 60s through The Stalk Forrest Group who issued one sought-after single What Is Quicksand? (which of course I have) before settling at Pearlman’s insistence on Blue Öyster Cult. The name stuck and so did the music.
Their 2nd LP is called Tyranny and Mutation and is more of the same tight dark melodic tremendosity:
Their 3rd LP is probably my favourite – Secret Treaties – a proto-metal manifesto with strange lyrics and twisted muscular riffs :
Their 4th LP was a mighty live album called On Your Feet Or On Your Knees which is a stunning testimony to their tightness and power:
then came the mighty Agents Of Fortune in 1976 with the huge sound and big hit “Don’t Fear The Reaper“. One of Jenny’s favourite songs. Rifftastic!
I’ve never seen them live, but one day perhaps I will be granted that treat. There was a period when they were my absolute favourite band in the universe. I still like them. But I didn’t follow their followers into metal – although I have soft spots for Metallica and Slipknot – most of those bands don’t have the softer melodic side that the Cult have. They wrote great songs. I followed them through albums 5 and 6 : Spectres and Mirrors and then they faded as I grew into Stax and Channel One, DefJam and Blue Note.
This time of year is my favourite. We’ve already moved into Gemini, my sign but we’re not quite in June. They’re OK the last days of May. Hats off to Blue Öyster Cult.