Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Blue Öyster Cult—
Secret Treaties


Released 1974 on Columbia/Columbia-Legacy
The Seth Man, June 2003ce
“I think the Blue Öyster Cult is funny.”
-Ralf Hütter (in conversation with Lester Bangs; “Kraftwerkfeature”, CREEM, September 1975)



It’s crazy that one of the most unlikely candidates for comprehending rib-tickling rock’n’roll (and a member of Kraftwerk, no less) would state the above in all deadpanned seriousness because underneath that dense fog of mystique that is Blue Öyster Cult lurked not only ass kicking rock’n’roll but thigh-slapping hoots galore as well. Something Blue Öyster Cult’s third album, “Secret Treaties” excelled at in its highly-arranged and tightly-choreographed descendant of monster Detroit noise twisted with progressive detailing on its soft white underbelly as a smothering amount of cryptic lyrics to make even the most obsessive Pynchon acolyte more paranoid, fall over with laughter AND get their rocks off all at once. How? I dunno, but I think it has a lot to do with...


1. Secret Cult Lyrics

I was in shock when I finally cast a double-taked first gander at the lyrics for “Secret Treaties” that were finally made public in the booklet of the recently remastered/reissued/bonus-tracked CD. Assuming that the mailing address listed on the original LP that had solicited my curious mind countless times to “send away for secret Cult lyrics” had long been abandoned, I remained ignorant of about oh, 80% of the lyrics. For years I was blissfully content in filling in the many yawning gaps of unknown verses that sometimes stretched the length of entire songs with the closest phonetic approximations that came to mind...

But that’s all changed now. And like I said, I’m in shock.

Now I don’t know if the lyrics are ENTIRELY meaningless -- certainly no more or less than “A-whop-bop-a-loom-op-a-lop-bam-boom,” “Wooly Bully” or “There’s a laydeez who’s shore/all that glitterzizz guld” -- but they ARE truly ambiguous, surreal and face it: funny as hell (Hang on, Blue Öyster Cult’s music DOES figure heavily here and I do love them -- at least up to “Agents Of Fortune” -- so don’t get the idea I’m just ragging on them outright.) So funny in fact, I dropped to the floor while reciting them out loud to my dog and a) my dog ran straight outta the room, b) I took down a bookshelf as I hit the floor sputtering, choking and flailing like an invalid and c) only regained composure some time much later. I forget how long my eyes smarted with tears as I repeatedly shrieked, “These lyrics are FUCKING GENIUS!!! YOU HEAR ME???!!! JEAN-YUSSSSS!!!” out my window into the side of my next door neighbour’s house (who weren’t even home at the time, the fuckers.) But the most hilarious fact about the lyrics is that Blue Öyster Cult HAD HELP. No, not NEED HELP, you got it right the first time. And if that don’t take all, it was the fair hands of Patti Smith, “Crawdaddy” scribe Richard Meltzer and BÖC producer Sandy “Give The Clash Enough Mott” Pearlman what took part in collaborating with the Öyster boys on ‘em. In fact, there’s not a single song absent from one of the above-mentioned outsider’s input, and I suspect not only because Patti and Cult keyboardist/guitarist Alan Lanier were romantically linked at the time, but it also secretly afforded all parties involved the freedom to take even bigger chances than normal, figgering if it all blew up in everybody’s faces and it all waxed foolish for some reason there’d always be somebody else to finger for its failure. Failure? As if...For BÖC truly were “Doyens of Punk Mysterioso.”


2. “Doyens of Punk Mysterioso”

What does it mean? I don’t know, but BÖC are exactly that -- “Doyens of Punk Mysterioso.”
I’ve been obsessed with the term ever since 1976, when it first surfaced under a heading in “The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock” for a Long Island-based group who flourished in the latter half of the sixties (who shall remain nameless not only to avoid tainting the theory which follows but also because they sucked a Danubean River of shit) and it impressed me greatly.

‘Punk’ was still an entirely unknown term to me at the time. It was one I knew only from old black and white films -- ones where men always wore fedoras and suits, the women all looked like Virginia Mayo or Hillary Brook and wore weird hats and the cars looked like ancient science fiction cartoons that ran on pink bubble gas or something. And in these films, only tough guys would use the word “punk,” and always as a promise/threat or at least a condescending insult but it always had the same effect: it pissed off said “punk” into either throwing a punch and then promptly getting their ass kicked, or walking away with a slowburn to next week, too hurt to even mutter darkly under their retreating breath. (I’m taking a big jump forward now to link this up properly, but) I soon established in my teenage mind that “punk” was a term with an implication of people being tough and ultimately more cocky and confident than my young self at the time (Which was basically the rest of the world.) But best of all, it also seemed to have a no-nonsense, wise ass attitude to it as well...in fact, THE wise ass quality from hell I’d always admired through the comebacks of Bugs Bunny, The Marx Brothers and therefore Alice Cooper. Not caring one bit what anybody thought about what you said, because you were ALREADY getting the last laugh.

And as for the “mysterioso” bit, it seemed to balance it all out with a supernaturally-inspired angle. Truthfully, I HAD NO IDEA WHAT IT MEANT (AND STILL DON’T) but it’s evocative and has been ringing in my ears for decades now: just as hard as when I first heard The Doors, Steppenwolf, The Stranglers, The Dictators and every successive minor key, organ-based one-shot, premature jack-off garage band. But when I finally saw photos of them, it all clicked as I noticed they all seemed to share some key imagery...

For a start, darkness and especially night is THE prime motif on many of their sleeves (natch, what with it being the Mother of all mysteries, along with death.) Secondly, these dudes lurking around on these LP jackets at that time of night weren’t exactly evil, but seemed to hold at least a grim knowledge behind their collective stern countenances of what lay ahead. And through their sleeves and song titles they carried themselves (and my candy-assed suburban teenage self along with them) through endless vistas of city streets and into an alternative nighttime world where untold borderline teenage/adult kicks I was still unaware of lurked in the shadows. These streets were always chilly, damp and deserted, and against this backdrop these bands would pose looking as cool and badass as possible -- decked out with long or longish hair (with at least one member with facial hair), leather jackets and aviator shades...but still not mean enough to be a “real” gang of sociopaths by any stretch.

For a brief period and in the most unlikely of places between glam and punk, “Doyens of Punk Mysterioso” flourished as a stock action pose with every shade of greatness cutting in on the action: From The Litter, Crow Music, Kiss, Nite City, The Streetwalkers to Sire-era Flamin’ Groovies these dopes wandered onto the set of a late night street scene looking to “shake some action” or at best to be continually caught in the act looking like they were. And almost always, at least one member barely cut it in the mean, moody and magnificent stakes -- looking more like the doofus who in any dangerous encounter would be the one to wind up in face down in a pool of his own blood; or at very least, the one who got eternally hit up for a light THEN a free cigarette. But they all looked ready for immediate action in an almost willfully hollow macho way: be it loose women, fights, a late night cruise to the end of the night or at worse, another gang located at the dark end of the street (caught posing with a photographer shooting the sleeve for their next album.)

For all its totally spurious macho “Rock’n’Roll Animal”-isms, the above imagery impressed me by its strangeness much as it made my teenage wisenheimer rear its head and laugh outwardly at its overtly hyperbolised tough guy/danger-stranger stance. But it also made me curiously whisper to myself, “Are these guys for real, or what?”

And this is where Blue Öyster Cult comes in, because a truer link between The Doors and The Patti Smith Group outside of “Gloria” never existed.


3. Eric Bloom’s Dog Collar Is Punk As Fuck

Modeled on Iggy’s 1970-era model (I Wanna Be Your) dog collar was the thinner, studded one that BÖC guitarist/vocalist Eric Bloom strapped around his thrapple during the period of the first three albums. Just look at that shot of him in the booklet of “Secret Treaties”: wearing aviator shades and that dog collar while pouting, bearded and dressed totally in black (long-sleeved t-shirt with a rhinestone pattern and leather pants) except for his metallic stack heels as he stood posed in front of one Marshall stack too many wielding his black SG “stun guitar” menacingly. I’m deaf just LOOKING at that shot and I GOTTA be that when I grow up or die trying because we are talking ROCK capital “R” 40,000 meters tall AND in spades, diamonds, kings AND queens. And I can think of no other example of “Doyen of Punk Mysterioso” anywhere else at the time of BÖC’s ascent during the early-to-mid seventies that personifies this stance so purely.


4. Five Screaming Diz-Brains And Eight Screaming Diz-Busters

After their first two truly weird but kinda patchy albums -- the ones with the black, white and a hint of red op art sleeves -- they convened to create one even weirder and not patchy in the least. Which was not gonna be a walk in the park by any means, seeing as their songs -- brutally hard and not held back one iota by their glossy production -- were already fucking out there. And the titles...Oh, man are you ready? You never will, so here goes: “She’s As Beautiful As A Foot,” “I’m On The Lamb But I Ain’t No Sheep,” “Workshop Of The Telescopes,” Mistress Of The Salmon Salt” -- and possibly the one that will kill you if you even try figgering it out -- “7 Screaming Diz-Busters.”

Talk about taking the cake and shoving it down its own trap before you get to beg for a corner piece: These boys ain’t right. In fact, BÖC were visionary geniuses who donned the dumb-ass cloak of “Heavy Metal” AND had to pretend to be dumber than they were. Luckily, they succeeded: for they were five screaming Diz-Brains who dropped a perfect load of eight screaming diz-busters into a sacred text that everybody else knew as a record called “Secret Treaties.” Its only failure was that it didn’t stop the rising tide of Heavy Metal then and there. It shoulda: cause it showed how it could be done the right way, and is as perfect as an album got in 1974...or ever. The front line of guitarists numbered at least two at all times in the form of Eric Bloom and Buck “Donald Roeser” Dharma. On occasion, it would swell to three with when keyboardist Alan Lanier would switch over to guitar. And for encores, it would be the entire band: Eric, “Donald”, Alan, Joe (already on Fender bass) and his brother, drummer Albert Bouchard while a BÖC roadie would take to the drum set behind this Long Island Guitar Army...

Enough with the preliminaries, we’re going in.


5. “Hitler’s on the phone from Berlin / Says, ‘I’m gonna make you a star!’”

“Secret Treaties” is without a doubt BÖC’s finest moment: Comprised of eight screaming diz-busters loosely comprising an epic of something so secret...they never tell you. So secret...even THEY didn’t know. And that’s truly the beautiful thing about BÖC, so loosen up and fergit all that intellectual’n’conceptual stuff behind it and just plunge right it, because all these unrevealed and non-non-sequitur lyrics they cook up pretending to be all heady sci-fi metaphysical stuff to outweigh their combined IQ are a nighttime soundtrack for driving around in circles stoned in a big black car through the urban dead of night. And when BÖC refrain the lines “And the joke’s on you” over and over on side two’s “Flaming Telepaths” they coulda been just as easily directing that to any members of their listening audience fruitlessly searching for some (ANY) clues as to the meaning behind their cryptic, damaged lyrics. Good luck: you’d be far more successful translating the Stele of Hammurabi and setting it to a reggae version of “Louie Louie” (if only Bob Marley hadn’t done it first with “No Woman, No Cry,” that is.)

The first of eight screamin’ diz-busters, “Career Of Evil” starts up with creaky murk-o-rama organ to the fore, much in the same way Dave Greenfield would do on The Stranglers’ “Rattus Norvegicus IV” in three years. Bloom intones Patti Smith’s lyrical CV for the aforementioned career of evil, and they’re completely over qualified for the position. The list of blackmail and dirty deeds done bum dirt cheap pile upwards, so they wisely chose it as the A-side for their next single, of course. These guys never gave up, I swear. “I plot your rubric scarab” is the first sung lyric on the album, and they get even more baffling as the tracks pass by like thunder clouds in fast motion. This crossfades into the lobotomy-recovering and ominous seascape of “Subhuman” where “Öyster boys are swimming now/Hear them chatter on the tide” as Bloom throws in those extra Dylanesque nasal passage intonations just for kicks right before the furtive and frantically paced two guitar/one organ chorus riff they continually rise and fall into. Becalmed twin guitars swim upstream over Lanier’s backing organ swirls and misty e-piano tinklings until it fades into the opening tick-tock cowbell (later reprised to fantastic effect on their monster hit single, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”) that lights the fuse of “Dominance And Submission.” This song is a screaming classic from its beginning to its grand finale rock’n’roll ending. It’s tightly wound and frantically hammered out with all speed, and who knows what the fuck the lyrics mean. Especially, that creepy intonation that comes outta nowhere alla time whispering with a glint in it’s eye, uttering “radios appear.” Upon last entry, it’s a prelude for the title getting repeated about 40 times as an insanely rising entreaty of: “Sub-MISSION!” against the matter-of-factly group chorus of “Dominance” like a chained call-and-response see-saw ride down in the dungeon on the rack, with “Roeser”/Dharma finishing it all up with a truly perfect and wrecked guitar solo topped off by Bouchard’s multi-smacked pang cymbals. It all hits the wall in woozled echo wobbles drunkenly off into the middle of the true cities in flame with rock’n’roll that is “ME 262.” The by-product of too many late nights hunkered down in their parents’ basement with their pals huffing glue, watching re-runs of old WWII movies while staging interplanetary war on distant planets via sub-plots copped from old Marvel comics until passing out under a mountain of empty beer cans AND waking up the following afternoon only to do it all over again. Perfect. I’m laughing at the second verse, “Hitler’s on the phone from Berlin / Says: ‘I’m gonna make you a star!’” so I don’t care anymore. Neither do BÖC, especially as that turbo-propelled Nazi craft screams above and swoops behind them as they rock out into overdrive. Rock’n’roll rendered with thickly buzz-saw guitars and skeletal piano filigrees until all cuts out to the march of goose-stepping feet, bombs going off, air raid sirens and general last ditch 1945 pandemonium. Over and over they return to the main riot riff not altogether dissimilar to Hawkwind’s “Kings Of Speed” of the following year until a voice calmly announces from behind the security of the studio glass: “Bombers at twelve o’clock high.” But it’s too late -- Bloom and “Roeser”/Dharma’s guitars swoop up and down to return fire at the last remains of the Luftwaffe squadron not blown out of the sky while standing in the middle of the road just as single-handedly and heroically stupid and blood’n’guts as General George “C. Scott” Patton did with his pearl-handled revolver in the film at that German fighter trying to flat-hat his ass. They rejoin the pummeling Bouchard rhythm section to rock out amid further air raid sirens with a resounding blast.


6. “I’m after rebellion / I’ll settle for lies”

Side two of “Secret Treaties” is all cross-faded, flowing together swiftly and gracefully and veering altogether into a hard rock that becomes more progressive-tinged with each track. The ever-descending “Cagey Cretins” kicks in, and never lets up. “Whatcha got there, honey?” asks Bloom as Albert Bouchard kicks up a tight and ever-rousing rhythm section together with Brother Joe. He further inquires, “Is it a worm?” Hahahahahahaha...Buck “Donald Roeser” Dharma’s guitar solo is rendered without a single misstep or a wasted effort, and is one of his best all-time solos. The middle section is a yo-yo ride down further and further into creepy weather, down the toilet and straight into the sewer at the speed of steaming log. They shoot up through the sewer grate to return to the main fray, ending it all on a shiny dime they found back there down in the sewer. ”Harvester Of Eyes” is the ballad of the album, and would be extremely sleazy if it were not for the totally sick-o lyrics. The vocals are rendered like Alice Cooper offa “Killer” and another “Roeser”/Dharma solo cuts in and everything to ribbons. Bloom soon is gibbering out the lyrics all at once so that you REALLY can’t tell what the hell he’s on, or on about. But soon, a small child’s musical box starts tinkling innocently, signaling from here on in, you’re on your own because the remainder of side two is hogged up by two massive epics in the shape of ”Flaming Telepaths” and “Astronomy.” Both are incredible in their impenetrability, scope and heavily-arranged though dazzlingly performed delivery. “Flaming Telepaths” starts with one-fingered Stooge piano, boggy Moog and searing guitar all delivered somewhat like Granicus throwing in snatches of “The Ballad of Dwight Fry” in the middle of their own epic “Paradise” albeit with far more piano and a sprawling Moog centerpiece. The song ends stretched to an ever-accelerating “Donald Roeser”/Dharma soloing guitar canvas as over and over the intonation of “And the joke’s on you.../ And the joke’s on you.../ And the joke’s on you...” goes on for far too long until It cuts out and into a distant hi-hat and piano beginning the epic tension-reliever of all Mothers, “Astronomy.” The lyrics are excerpted from a sprawling poem written by producer Sandy Pearlman in the mid-sixties entitled “Imaginos” and it is a towering epic to be reckoned with. I rarely don’t cry or feel my heart swell whenever I hear it. Against turgid organ and a multi-layered thickness you’d be hard pressed to find outside of progressive rock, fewer still rendered with the force of the five Öyster boys giving it their all. Especially against a rallying chorus whose only words are: “Hey!” “Hey!” “Hey!”

“Astronomy” carries along with such a massive expanse of feeling, it tricks you into thinking it’s really the entire second side of “Secret Treaties” due to all the complex, thought-through arrangements. It is truly massive, beautiful and wordlessly sad, despite its monolithic lyrics...They end this dreamtime epic and with it the album, and with that -- the sound of distant, howling winds.

And that’s “Secret Treaties” in a nut-sack. It’s been a long time coming, but only because its true vision was clouded by too many of their post-“Agents Of Fortune” albums which just got more and more produced as they tilted themselves off that tight-ass tightrope they once precariously balanced themselves so perfectly on. And it’s been an even longer time since my high school pal Bob Mischka first tried to convince me of the greatness of “Secret Treaties” and he was dead right when he proclaimed it in his usually effusive terms of “Giant!” (So Bob, if you’re out there: “I’m bashed” and this review is dedicated to you, numbskull.) Thanks also to Gregg Gehrlein who not only saw BÖC on the “Secret Treaties” tour, but convinced me I needed this record and subsequently suffered endless evil intonations of “Too much revolution, then,” “It will be time” and “Radios appear” from my yap down the phone as a result.


7. “Mommy! Mommy!” (Postscript)

Although dissimilar in tempo and execution from the airtight and expansive sound of “Secret Treaties”, a clutch of outtakes from the sessions could’ve/shoulda/weren’t at all released as an excellent extended play single and are tacked onto the end of the recent CD re-issue. First up is ”Boorman The Chauffer” (sic), misspelled as perfectly as its careening qualities. Who’s behind the wheel of the black limozeen we’re doing doughnuts in the parking lot of the 7-11 with? Oh, Boorman the Chauffer, and he’s not stopping for anything as BÖC head back to Lawn Guylan on the Belt Parkway to the sanctuary of Cult HQ located at an undisclosed locale somewhere in Nassau County. Albert Bouchard really chops it up and down and all around with rapidly executed snare fills, interfacing with the “Roeser”/Dharma + Bloom 2-way guitar with blasting cap ignition. Bloom’s razzing intro “This song is about ya muthah!” for the the killer “Mommy” starts up with prominent organ and those ever-tight arrangements. It’s truly killer, seeing Bloom dispassionately voicing displeasure with his mother, his wife AND his daughter in the following way: ”I’d like to see ‘em dead/I hope they buy the farm/I’m going to plan it now/I’m gonna use a bomb!” But with the mindless chorus of “Mommy! Mommy!”, how could it miss, I ask ya...

”Mes Dames Sarat” is an Alan Lanier composition, starting up with rapidly scratching, jock-itch guitars and crazy, tilt-o-whirl organ rollercoastering throughout this full-throttle nighttime encounter oozing overall threatening overtones. A true “Doyens of Punk Mysterioso” moment, then. The vocals are super-drawled out as Albert Bouchard flies economically all over the kit. There’s also the A-side version of “Career Of Evil” (mixed differently with ultra-treated vocals that lands it even more squarely in “Love It To Death” territory) as well as the single that followed “Secret Treaties.” It’s (get this) a tightly nailed down cover of “Born To Be Wild.” No way.

B. Ö’Cult were elders sworn to an unspoken fealty, so respect them or be subject to dire consequences. But you must decide how to take them: on your feet, knees or both.

Or better yet: your head.