ON THIS DATE (36 YEARS AGO)
May 21, 1976 – Blue Öyster Cult: Agents of Fortune is released.
# ALL THINGS MUSIC PLUS+ 5/5
# Allmusic 4.5/5 stars
# Rolling Stone (see original review below)
Agents of Fortune is the fourth studio album by Blue Öyster Cult, released on this date in May, 1976 on Columbia Records. The platinum selling album peaked at No. 29 on Billboard’s Pop Albums chart, while the single “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” peaked at No. 12 on the Pop Singles chart, making it Blue Öyster Cult’s biggest hit.
Feted by heavy metal fans, this was a much broader album that put them in touch with AOR radio, and consequently took them out of their heavy rock ghetto. The ace in their tarot pack was the entrancing and enchanting “Don’t Fear The Reaper” – the greatest song that the original Byrds never wrote. Flowing and chiming it put the band in the pop charts with a song of rare quality and consequently pushed this album’s sales. The other tracks struggle to compete with the Reaper, but there are moments, especially with “The Revenge Of Vera Gemini,” on which Patti Smith narrates.
The band also became a larger concert attraction at this time – largely based on not only their stageshow, but aided by the airplay of “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” which to this day is a staple of FM rock station playlists. Concert venues became larger, the show became more intricate and BÖC was reaching its financial peak on the tour circuit.
ORIGINAL ROLLING STONE REVIEW
Agents of Fortune is a startlingly excellent album — startling because one does not expect Blue Oyster Cult to sound like this: loud but calm, manic but confident, melodic but rocking. Every song on the first side is commercially accessible without compromising the band’s malevolent stance.
One area of clear improvement is in the matter of lyrics; for the first time there is less emphasis on absurd, crypto-intellectual rambling and more of a coherent attack on a variety of subjects. The former had become simply tiresome; the latter opens up whole new areas for Cult investigation. “This Ain’t the Summer of Love,” for example, is a fresh approach to a subject one would expect to have been exhausted long ago.
The Cult is still loud (“Tattoo Vampire”), still mordant (“[Don’t Fear] The Reaper”), still obsessed with their peculiar brand of beery mysticism (“E.T.I. [Extra Terrestrial Intelligence]”). But by dropping the S&M angle and by inserting slivers of genuine rock & roll like “True Confessions,” their best song ever, the Cult is easing into maturity with integrity. Agents of Fortune’s comparative slickness even serves to enhance their dark image: the ominous villainy conveyed by Buck Dharma’s agile guitar lines on “Tenderloin” is far more effective than his heretofore standard thudding meanness.
Blue Oyster Cult has built its career on a series of brutal non sequiturs. Initially, these took the form of a group image of fascist hoodiness and “ugly” music detailed by AWOL rock critics’ wordplay. This time, it is Patti Smith’s presence, as cowriter of “Debbie Denise” and “The Revenge of Vera Gemini,” that provides the Cult with the aleatory motivation to seek success in the burgeoning commercial punk rock sweepstakes. Another central influence is Allen Lanier’s increasing importance, here evidenced by his authorship of “True Confessions” and “Morning Final,” an ambitious bomb.
In fact, former major-domos Sandy Pearlman and Murray Krugman seem to be barely keeping the boys in line, let alone under their aesthetic thumbs. Or maybe that’s just what they want us to think, since, with David Lewis, they are credited with producing the record. In any event, it works: Agents of Fortune is a very pleasant surprise, its first side containing some of the best rock released thus far this year. (RS 217)
~ KEN TUCKER (July 15, 1976)
“This Ain’t the Summer of Love” (Albert Bouchard, Murray Krugman, Don Waller) – 2:21
“True Confessions” (Allen Lanier) – 2:57
“(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” (Donald Roeser) – 5:08
“E.T.I. (Extra Terrestrial Intelligence)” (Roeser, Sandy Pearlman) – 3:43
“The Revenge of Vera Gemini” (A. Bouchard, Patti Smith) – 3:52
“Sinful Love” (A. Bouchard, Helen Wheels) – 3:29
“Tattoo Vampire” (A. Bouchard, Wheels) – 2:41
“Morning Final” (Joe Bouchard) – 4:30
“Tenderloin” (Lanier) – 3:40
“Debbie Denise” (A. Bouchard, Smith) – 4:13
2001 CD reissue bonus tracks
“Fire of Unknown Origin” (original version) (Eric Bloom, A. Bouchard, J. Bouchard, Roeser, Smith) – 3:30
“Sally” (demo version) (A. Bouchard) – 2:40
“(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” (demo version) (Roeser) – 6:20
“Dance the Night Away” (demo version) (Jim Carroll, Lanier) – 2:37