(Don't Fear) the Reaper

"(Don't Fear) The Reaper"
DontFearTheReaper.jpg
Single by Blue Öyster Cult
from the album Agents of Fortune
B-side"Tattoo Vampire"
ReleasedJuly 1976 (1976-07)
Recorded1975
Genre
Length
  • 5:08
  • 3:45 (single )
LabelColumbia
Songwriter(s)Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser
Producer(s)
Blue Öyster Cult singles chronology
"Then Came the Last Days of May"
(1975)
"(Don't Fear) The Reaper"
(1976)
"This Ain't the Summer of Love"
(1976)
Official audio
"(Don't Fear) The Reaper" on YouTube

"(Don't Fear) The Reaper" is a song by American rock band Blue Öyster Cult from the band's 1976 album Agents of Fortune. The song, written and sung by lead guitarist Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser, deals with eternal love and the inevitability of death. Dharma wrote the song while picturing an early death for himself.

Released as an ed single (omitting the slow building interlude in the original), the song is Blue Öyster Cult's highest chart success, reaching #7 in Cash Box and #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 in late 1976. Critical reception was positive and in December 2003 "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" was listed at number 405 on Rolling Stone's list of the top 500 songs of all time.[4]

Background[]

"I felt that I had just achieved some kind of resonance with the psychology of people when I came up with that, I was actually kind of appalled when I first realized that some people were seeing it as an advertisement for suicide or something that was not my intention at all. It is, like, not to be afraid of [death] (as opposed to actively bring it about). It's basically a love song where the love transcends the actual physical existence of the partners."

 — Buck Dharma, lead singer[5]

The song is about the inevitability of death and the foolishness of fearing it, and was written when Dharma was thinking about what would happen if he died at a young age.[5] Lyrics such as "Romeo and Juliet are together in eternity" have led many listeners to interpret the song to be about a murder-suicide pact, but Dharma says the song is about eternal love, rather than suicide.[6] He used Romeo and Juliet to describe a couple who wanted to be together in the afterlife.[7] He guessed that "40,000 men and women" died each day, and the figure was used several times in the lyrics; this rate was 100,000 off the mark.[8]

Composition and recording[]

"(Don't Fear) The Reaper" was written and sung by lead guitarist Buck Dharma and produced by David Lucas, Murray Krugman, and Sandy Pearlman.[9] The song's distinctive guitar riff is built on the "i-VII-VI" chord progression, in an A minor scale.[10] The riff was recorded with Krugman's Gibson ES-175 guitar, which was run through a Music Man 410 combo amplifier, and Dharma's vocals were captured with a Telefunken U47 tube microphone. The guitar solo and guitar rhythm sections were recorded in one take, while a four-track tape machine amplified them on the recording. Sound engineer Shelly Yakus remembers piecing together the separate vocals, guitar and rhythm section into a master track, with the overdubbing occurring in that order.[11]

Mojo described its creation: "'Guys, this is it!’ engineer Shelly Yakus announced at the end of the first take. ‘The legendary once-in-a-lifetime groove!’ ... What evolved in the studio was the extended solo section; it took them nearly as long to the five-minute track down to manageable length as it did to record it."[12]

The song features prominent use of the cowbell percussion instrument, overdubbed on the original recording. Bassist Joe Bouchard remembered the producer requesting his brother, drummer Albert Bouchard, play the cowbell: "Albert thought he was crazy. But he put all this tape around a cowbell and played it. It really pulled the track together."[13] However, producer David Lucas says that he played it;[14] while bandmember Eric Bloom claims that he was the one to play it.[15]

Reception[]

The song was on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for 20 weeks, reaching number 12 for the weeks beginning November 6 and November 13 in 1976.[16] It was BÖC's highest-charting U.S. song and helped Agents of Fortune reach number 29 on the Billboard 200.[17] "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" charted even higher in Canada, peaking at number 7.[18] The single was released in the UK in July 1976 (CBS 4483) but failed to chart. However the uned album version was released as a single (CBS 6333) in May 1978, where it reached number 16 on the UK Singles Chart.[19]

Critical reaction was mostly positive. Denise Sullivan of Allmusic praised the song's "gentle vocals and virtuoso guitar" and "haunting middle break which delivers the listener straight back to the heart of the song once the thunder is finished".[20] Nathan Beckett called it BÖC's "masterpiece" and compared the vocals to the Beach Boys.[21] Writing for PopMatters, James Mann hailed it as a "landmark, genre-defining masterpiece" that was "as grand and emotional as American rock and roll ever got".[22] Pitchfork Media also referred to the song as a "masterpiece".[23] "Extremely poetic" was the verdict of Fountains of Wayne founder Chris Collingwood. "A sad ballad about a man who wants to die with his true love before their love is spoiled by earthly things."'[12]

Track listing[]

7" Vinyl
  1. "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" (Roeser) – 3:45
  2. "Tattoo Vampire" (Albert Bouchard, Helen Robbins) – 2:40

Personnel[]

with:

Charts[]

Year Chart Peak
position
1976 Canada Top Singles (RPM)[18] 7
US Billboard Hot 100 Chart[17] 12
1978 Ireland (IRMA)[26] 17
UK Singles (The Official Charts Company)[27] 16
2017 US Billboard Hot Rock Songs[28] 11

Certifications[]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[29] Gold 400,000double-dagger

double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

Accolades[]

In 1976 Rolling Stone named "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" the song of the year[9] and, in 2004, the magazine placed the song at number 397 on its list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time";[30] however, the 2010 version of the list moved it down to number 405.[9] In 1997 Mojo listed the song as the 80th best single of all time,[31] while Q ranked "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" number 404 in its 2003 countdown of the "1001 Best Songs Ever."[32]

When The Guardian released its unranked list of the "1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear" in 2009, the song was included. The publication wrote that the song's charm "lies in the disjuncture between its gothic storyline and the sprightly, Byrdsian guitar line that carries it."[6] In his book The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made, rock critic Dave Marsh ranked the song at number 997.[33]

Other versions[]

Legacy[]

"More Cowbell"[]

The song was memorialized in the April 2000 Saturday Night Live comedy sketch "More Cowbell". The six-minute sketch presents a fictionalized version of the recording of "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" on an episode of VH1's Behind the Music. Will Ferrell wrote the sketch and played Gene Frenkle, an overweight cowbell player. "Legendary" producer Bruce Dickinson, played by Christopher Walken, asked Frenkle to "really explore the studio space" and up the ante on his cowbell playing. The rest of the band is visibly annoyed by Frenkle, but Dickinson tells everyone, "I got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell!" Buck Dharma said that the sketch was fantastic and he never gets tired of it[13] but also lamented that it made the song lose its 'creepy' vibe for some time.[39]

A segment of the song was performed by Red Hot Chili Peppers on May 22, 2014,[40] as the conclusion of a drumming contest between the band's drummer Chad Smith and actor Will Ferrell. In a repeat of the 2000 SNL sketch, Ferrell again played cowbell for the rendition, which appeared on an episode of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.[41][42]

In other media[]

Stephen King cited the song as the inspiration for his novel The Stand, and its lyrics are quoted at the beginning of the novel. It also appears as the opening theme song for the 1994 TV miniseries based on the novel.[22] It was subsequently used as the end crs music for the fifth episode of the 2020-21 miniseries adaptation.

In the film Halloween, the song plays in the car when Jamie Lee Curtis' character, Laurie Strode, is being stalked by serial killer Michael Myers.[43]

The 1994 film The Stoned Age features the song when one of the main characters criticizes the song as being "a pussy song" despite it being performed by Blue Oyster Cult.[44]

The song was featured in the starting tracklist of the rhythm game Rock Band.[45]

Notes[]

  1. ^ Kelly Boyer Sagert (1 January 2007). The 1970s. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 181. ISBN 978-0-313-33919-6. Meanwhile, Blue Oyster Cult released two of the decade's hard rock favorites: "Don't Fear the Reaper" and "Godzilla.
  2. ^ Strong, Martin Charles; Griffin, Brendon (2008). Lights, camera, sound tracks. Canongate. p. 18. ISBN 978-1-84767-003-8. Reaper' was a one-off return to their 60s psychedelic roots.
  3. ^ Jurek, Thom. "Agents of Fortune - Blue Öyster Cult". AllMusic. Retrieved March 21, 2019. The album yielded the band's biggest single with "(Don't Fear) The Reaper," a multi-textured, deeply melodic soft rock song with psychedelic overtones.
  4. ^ Stone, Rolling (December 11, 2003). "500 Greatest Songs of All Time".
  5. ^ a b Lien, James (November 6, 1995). "Buck Dharma interview". College Music Journal. New York City: CMJ.
  6. ^ a b "Life and death: 1000 songs everyone must hear". The Guardian. March 19, 2009. Retrieved August 6, 2012.
  7. ^ Targoff, Ramie (Fall 2012). "Mortal Love: Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and the Practice of Joint Burial". Representations. 120 (1): 17–38. doi:10.1525/rep.2012.120.1.17.
  8. ^ "Great Moments in Pedantry: Fact-checking "Don't Fear the Reaper"". Boing Boing.
  9. ^ a b c "500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Rolling Stone. Wenner Publishing. 7 April 2011.
  10. ^ Rooksby 2002, p. 93
  11. ^ Forlenza, Jeff (June 1, 2009). "Classic Tracks: Blue Oyster Cult's "(Don't Fear) The Reaper"". Mix. Retrieved August 2, 2012.
  12. ^ a b Mojo, August 1997, p52
  13. ^ a b Farhi, Paul (January 29, 2005). "Blue Öyster Cult, Playing Along With 'More Cowbell'". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 2, 2012.
  14. ^ George, Eli (June 30, 2011). "Blue Oyster Cult cowbell ringer honored". WIVB-TV. Archived from the original on July 2, 2011. Retrieved August 2, 2012.
  15. ^ Sauro, Tony (September 17, 2009). "Blue Oyster Cult's innovative use of a cowbell will never be forgotten". The Record (Stockton). Retrieved August 7, 2012.
  16. ^ "Agents of Fortune". Blue Öyster Cult. Retrieved August 6, 2012.
  17. ^ a b "Blue Oyster Cult awards". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved August 2, 2012.
  18. ^ a b "RPM Top Singles". RPM. RPM Music Publications Ltd. 26 (7). November 13, 1976. Archived from the original on November 1, 2014. Retrieved August 2, 2012.
  19. ^ Betts 2004, p.89
  20. ^ Sullivan, Denise. "(Don't Fear) The Reaper review". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Archived from the original on August 21, 2012. Retrieved June 19, 2020.
  21. ^ Beckett 2004, p. 88
  22. ^ a b Mann, James (July 25, 2001). "Blue Oyster Cult: Agents of Fortune / Tyranny and Mutation". PopMatters. Retrieved August 2, 2012.
  23. ^ "The Clash: The Essential Clash | Album Reviews | Pitchfork".
  24. ^ "Blue Oyster Cult Drummer Reveals Truth About Cowbell on 'Don't Fear the Reaper,' Says It Sounded Like 'Crap' First". www.ultimate-guitar.com.
  25. ^ Refer to the personnel listing and artiste crs provided on the sleeve notes of the LP Agents Of Fortune, CBS records (1976)
  26. ^ "Search the Charts". irishcharts.ie. Irish Recorded Music Association. Retrieved August 2, 2012.
  27. ^ "(Don't Fear) The Reaper". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 10 September 2015.
  28. ^ "Blue Öyster Cult (Don't Fear) The Reaper Chart History". Billboard. Retrieved March 11, 2018.
  29. ^ "British single certifications – Blue Oyster Cult – Don't Fear the Reaper". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved November 22, 2019.
  30. ^ "The Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Rock List Music. Retrieved May 2, 2010.
  31. ^ "Mojo – The 100 Greatest Singles Of All Time". Rock List Music. Retrieved August 6, 2011.
  32. ^ "Q – 1001 best songs ever (2003)". Muzieklijstjes.nl (in Dutch). Retrieved August 6, 2011.
  33. ^ Marsh 1999, p. 628
  34. ^ Ruhlmann, William. "Some Enchanted Evening review". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved August 7, 2012.
  35. ^ Ruhlmann, William. "Extraterrestrial Live review". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved August 7, 2012.
  36. ^ Ruhlmann, William. "Live 1976 review". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved August 7, 2012.
  37. ^ Cult Classic - Blue Oyster Cult | Songs, Reviews, Crs | AllMusic, retrieved 2021-06-17
  38. ^ Horowitz, Hal. "A Long Day's Night review". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved August 7, 2012.
  39. ^ Spitz, Marc. "'(Don't Fear) the Reaper' Is a Creepy Tune, Even With the Cowbell". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 June 2018.
  40. ^ Newman, Jason (16 May 2014). "Chad Smith, Will Ferrell Talk Trash for 'Fallon' Drum-Off". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 31 January 2015.
  41. ^ The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (22 May 2014). "Will Ferrell and Chad Smith Drum-Off" (Video upload). The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on YouTube. Google, Inc. Retrieved 27 May 2014.
  42. ^ Thomas, Sarah (23 May 2014). "More cowbell: Will Ferrell, Chad Smith face off on Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 23 June 2018.
  43. ^ "'(Don't Fear) the Reaper' Is a Creepy Tune, Even With the Cowbell". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 March 2019.
  44. ^ Spitz, Marc (May 20, 2016). "'(Don't Fear) the Reaper' Is a Creepy Tune, Even With the Cowbell (Published 2016)" – via NYTimes.com.
  45. ^ "Review: 'Rock Band' hits right notes for music fans". CNN. Retrieved 12 April 2019.

References[]