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(Don't Fear) The Reaper

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"(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 edit)
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 edited 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[edit]

"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 (from all causes), and the figure was used several times in the lyrics; but this number was about 100,000 too low.[8]

Composition and recording[edit]

"(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-bVII-bVI" 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 edit 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[edit]

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 edit was released in the UK in July 1976 (CBS 4483) but failed to chart. However the unedited 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[edit]

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

Personnel[edit]

with:

Charts[edit]

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[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[29] Platinum 600,000double-dagger

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

The Mutton Birds version[edit]

New Zealand band The Mutton Birds recorded a version for the soundtrack of Peter Jackson's film The Frighteners.[citation needed] In 1997, it peaked at No.48 on the Australian ARIA singles charts, the only Mutton Birds single to chart in Australia.[30]

Keep Shelly in Athens cover[edit]

Greek duo Keep Shelly in Athens released a version of the song in 2019 [31] that was later included on the soundtrack of the 2020 film Unhinged, heard during the closing credits.

Accolades[edit]

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";[32] 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,[33] while Q ranked "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" number 404 in its 2003 countdown of the "1001 Best Songs Ever."[34]

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.[35]

Legacy[edit]

"More Cowbell"[edit]

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.[36]

A segment of the song was performed by Red Hot Chili Peppers on May 22, 2014,[37] 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.[38][39]

In other media[edit]

Stephen King cited the song as the inspiration for his novel The Stand, and its lyrics are quoted at the beginning of the novel.[40] It also appears as the opening theme song for the 1994 TV miniseries based on the novel.[40][22] It was subsequently used as the end credits music for the fifth episode of the 2020-21 miniseries adaptation.

In the 1994 book The Discworld Companion, written by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Briggs, the family motto of Mort of Sto Helit is revealed to be "Non Timetis Messor", dog Latin for "don't fear the reaper".[41] This is referenced once more in Pratchett's 1997 novel Hogfather,[42] the first reference in the mainline Discworld series. In 2010, Hubert Chesshyre designed Pratchett's coat of arms, which feature the motto "Noli Timere Messorem", a corrected Latin translation of "don't fear the reaper".[43]

In the film Halloween, the song plays in the car when Jamie Lee Curtis and Nancy Kyes' characters, Laurie Strode and Annie Brackett, are being stalked by serial killer Michael Myers. [44] It is used again in the 2022 sequel Halloween Ends, playing over the final scene and ending credits. [45]

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.[46]

The 2022 horror film X by A24 has the song playing on the protagonists' van radio at the film's climactic mid-point. The slasher nature of the scene, as well as the film's setting in 1979, suggests an intentional homage by director Ti West to Halloween.[47]

The song was featured in the starting tracklist of the rhythm game Rock Band.[48]

The song is used throughout the video game Returnal, appearing unaltered in the house and car sequences and in a modified version against the Hyperion boss fight, played on an organ.[49]

The 2006 video game Prey features the song, which is heard playing on a jukebox as Jen's bar is attacked.[50][51]

The 2022 Netflix series 1899 features the song in Episode 4 before the end credits roll.[52]

Notes[edit]

  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". Rolling Stone.
  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". Pitchfork. Archived from the original on 2015-09-16. Retrieved 2015-01-18.
  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 credits 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 April 29, 2022.
  30. ^ Australian-Charts.com website
  31. ^ Buckley, David. "Unhinged (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)".
  32. ^ "The Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Rock List Music. Retrieved May 2, 2010.
  33. ^ "Mojo – The 100 Greatest Singles Of All Time". Rock List Music. Retrieved August 6, 2011.
  34. ^ "Q – 1001 best songs ever (2003)". Muzieklijstjes.nl (in Dutch). Retrieved August 6, 2011.
  35. ^ Marsh 1999, p. 628
  36. ^ Spitz, Marc. "'(Don't Fear) the Reaper' Is a Creepy Tune, Even With the Cowbell". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 June 2018.
  37. ^ Newman, Jason (16 May 2014). "Chad Smith, Will Ferrell Talk Trash for 'Fallon' Drum-Off". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 31 January 2015.
  38. ^ 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. Archived from the original on 2021-12-12. Retrieved 27 May 2014.
  39. ^ 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.
  40. ^ a b "(Don't Fear) The Reaper". Performing Songwriter. Retrieved July 31, 2022.
  41. ^ "The Annotated Pratchett File v9.0 – The Discworld Companion". Retrieved 2 September 2022.
  42. ^ "The Annotated Pratchett File v9.0 – Hogfather". Retrieved 2 September 2022.
  43. ^ "The College of Arms September 2010". College of Arms. September 2010. Retrieved 2 September 2022.
  44. ^ Spitz, Marc (20 May 2016). "'(Don't Fear) the Reaper' Is a Creepy Tune, Even With the Cowbell". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 March 2019.
  45. ^ "'Halloween Ends' Ending, Explained". Retrieved 17 October 2022.
  46. ^ Spitz, Marc (May 20, 2016). "'(Don't Fear) the Reaper' Is a Creepy Tune, Even With the Cowbell (Published 2016)". The New York Times.
  47. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (March 14, 2022). "'X' Review: '70s Horror Meets '70s Porn in the Rare 'Chain Saw' Homage That Earns Its Fear". Variety. Retrieved June 22, 2022.
  48. ^ "Review: 'Rock Band' hits right notes for music fans". CNN. Retrieved 12 April 2019.
  49. ^ "Five Standout Moments from Returnal on PlayStation 5". 4 May 2021.
  50. ^ "Prey Goes For The Gut With In-Game Music - IGN". IGN. IGN. Retrieved 29 July 2022.
  51. ^ "10 Video Games That Peaked Too Early – Page 11 - WhatCulture.com". WhatCulture.
  52. ^ "1899 soundtrack: Every song featured in the Netflix series". 18 November 2022. Retrieved 20 November 2022.

References[edit]