Back when I was just getting into music, and my record collection could have been played in its entirety on a lazy Sunday afternoon (now, according to iTunes, it would take 26 days, 8 hours and 9 minutes), Garen went up to London one day and I asked if he could buy me a couple of records — anything by Hawkwind and the Blue Öyster Cult. He brought back two of the best albums I’ve ever heard. The Hawkwind LP was Angels of Death (1986), a compilation of the rockier numbers from their early-80s RCA releases, and it was pretty stonking, but Secret Treaties (1974) by BÖC just blew me away, and is still one of my favourite albums. I’d already heard most of the songs, as the first BÖC record I bought was their fourth, the live double On Your Feet Or On Your Knees (1975), which as well as providing a sort of coda to their first (and, to me, best) era, was responsible for me deciding to learn to play the guitar — I just had to play the riff to Harvester of Eyes, which sounded impossibly complex to my then-untrained ears, but which is actually made up of two separate but simple, rhythmically different, guitar parts.
That riff, though, is the key to what I love about early BÖC. With two, sometimes three, guitars going off at once, there’s the manic feel of a musical explosion barely contained by its song structure, as if five wild musos are ricocheting off in separate directions, but have been captured on vinyl just at that moment before they leave each other’s gravitational influence. Contained power. That’s what good rock music is all about. Add to that the weirdness of the lyrics (sometimes a little too obscure for my tastes, but often surreally suggestive enough to attain a sort of dark poetry), plus those bizarre covers by Gawlick, and the early BÖC seems to exist in a world of its own — so much so that, with their most famous album, Agents of Fortune (1976), which of course contains (Don’t Fear) The Reaper, and all the following albums seem to be to by a separate band. And in a sense they were, as, with the proceeds of On Your Feet the band members each bought a four-track recorder and went off to make song demos on their own. No longer having to contain the electrical explosion of five colliding talents, subsequent albums did still have their finely-crafted highs with some excellent songs, but never again had that raw power where the band’s talents were forcibly, and alchemically, mixed.
Spectres (1977) and the live album Some Enchanted Evening (1978) have just been remastered and re-released. Both have some great moments (Godzilla, Golden Age of Leather and Nosferatu on Spectres, Astronomy on Some Enchanted Evening), but the main thing I remember from when I first bought Spectres (from Beanos in Crodyon) — aside from the lead singer Eric Bloom on the cover looking like a well-suited hamster with cheek pouches full — was that the LP, when I first put it on, must be playing at the wrong speed. But no, that’s the start of Godzilla! Some Enchanted Evening, which always seemed rather like a half-measure as a single live album after the incredible double of On Your Feet, has been boosted to double-album length, and now comes with a bonus live DVD!