One Track Mind: Blue Öyster Cult, "Burnin' for You" (1981; 2012 reissue)

Everybody remembers “Don’t Fear The Reaper” — Blue Öyster Cult’s No. 12 hit from 1976 — and I admit, I’ve always been a fan of the song’s false ending, followed by Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser’s super-sly return. But, for me, the better song remains “Burnin’ For You,” which spent three weeks stuck at No. 40 in 1981.

A billowing riff, these stuttering drums, then a cascading vocal — and “Burnin’ for You” is off. This tough little track, part of a new 2-CD Legacy Recordings compilation called The Essential Blue Oyster Cult that’s due on April 17, 2012, couldn’t be further from the dreamscape wonder, the weird guitar symphony, the ever-lovin’ cowbell of BÖC’s career-making tune of five years before.

Composed, as was “Reaper,” by Roeser (this time, with help from Richard Meltzer), “Burnin’ For You” was part of an ’81 release called Fire of Unknown Origin which was produced by Martin Birch — famous for having worked with Black Sabbath during the Heaven and Hell era. Blue Öyster Cult’s earlier recordings had been done with A&R man Murray Krugman, along with seminal band contributor Sandy Pearlman. There were also reports that this track was originally slated for inclusion on a Roeser solo album — peeling back another layer in the mystery of its offbeat dissimilarities with the band’s earlier hit.

Its message couldn’t have been any more different, either. Whereas “Reaper” argued that we should accept our fates with a dreamy, whirling certitude, here we’re exhorted to “Burn out the day, burn out the night!” There was a suicidal passion to their initial hit, while this one sounds like a balled-up fist of steely determination.

And that’s not even my favorite part.

After the first verse, BÖC returns to the thrumming intro once more, building even more tension as Roeser attacks the lyrics with a rhythmic force — offering a series of lines beginning with the word “time.” There’s “time is the season” and “ain’t no reason,” “ain’t on my side” and “I’ll never know,” but then, right in the middle, Roeser winkingly adds: “Time to play B-sides.” (Quick, kids, what’s a B-side? That’s what I thought.) It’s a sly little gift, as Roeser slips in an of-the-moment piece of nostalgia, and something I still look forward to each time this song spins. Elsewhere on Essential, there is plenty of heavier, edgier fare — “Godzilla,” y’all! — to recommend, as well. But “Burnin’ For You,” for all of these reasons, is the A-side I’ll always love.

Blue Öyster Cult was rounded out in the classic period by vocalist Eric Bloom, bassist Joe Bouchard, keyboardist Allen Lanier and drummer Albert Bouchard. Check them out in this pyromaniacal, heavy-rotation video for “Burnin’ For You.” Recorded in the storm drains of Los Angeles, it was all but unavoidable during MTV’s infancy.

The Essential Blue Oyster Cult, featuring 31 live and studio tracks recorded between 1972-185, was produced for Legacy Recordings by Bruce Dickinson, the actual archivist whose name was swiped by the Christopher Walken character in a memorable Blue Öyster Cult-themed Saturday Night Live skit from 2000. “Dickinson,” you’ll recall, kept calling for more cowbell from Will Ferrell during a sendup of the sessions for “Don’t Fear The Reaper.”

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Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.