Truth be told, I blame Blue Öyster Cult. Most of the frustrating and painful auditory issues I suffer from as an old man (I believe) are a direct result of the brutal punishment I endured from attending numerous BÖC concerts as a teenager. The unrelenting kick and snare assault at the hands (and feet) of drummer Albert Bouchard would pierce my skull for 75 minutes at a time — leaving me with (an estimated) 67% hearing loss. Also, the ungodly decibel level at which the keyboard work of Allen Lanier was unleashed over the band’s mega-watt sound systems ultimately would affect my equilibrium throughout this life, and possibly the next. And as I would learn (the hard way), choosing to purchase and consume pharmaceuticals from unlicensed reps in the parking lot at any BÖC show never would prove prudent.
The band’s array of boogie-based, prog-inspired, (oft) cowbell-driven arena anthems, including “Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll,” “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” and “Godzilla” already had become FM radio staples. Toward the end of their first decade as a major label recording act, BÖC had dropped seven studio LPs and a double-live set. Although only two of those releases achieved gold status, the fellas had built a massive, loyal arena audience — back when bands could do that kinda thing. And their live shows had become legendary, particularly at high school cafeteria lunch tables far and wide. But despite their notoriety as an enormously popular concert attraction, BÖC needed to really crush it with their eighth slab.
Produced by veteran studio ace, Martin Birch (Deep Purple, Rainbow, Whitesnake, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden), Fire of Unknown Origin fought fiercely for the “Class of ’81” valedictorian honors. Complicated yet carefree, sophisticated yet sassy, she was the cheerleader captain who wasn’t afraid to sneak out past curfew — the intriguing babe next door who everybody wanted to bang — even the guys.
Simply put, if the drums suck, then your record sucks. But if the drums are world-class, well… And in that regard, Albert Bouchard was more than worthy of nabbing MVP accolades throughout this nine-track maneuver. His drum work (and sound) were consistently crisp and punchy as a muther — always on-point, never over-reaching and totally current (at least for the time). And when pinned to the fat and fluid blameless basslines of his brother, Joe Bouchard, a solid rhythm section foundation was laid on which a truly great record could be built. While the dynamic vocal/guitar duo of Eric Bloom and Donald ‘Buck Dharma’ Roeser combined with keyboardist Allen Lanier was a formidable force, the Bouchard boys constructed the platform on which the trinity could be worshiped properly as golden gods.
Free of dinosaur-like distinctions, the opening title track snapped and popped with all the appealing promise of rock’s bright future, while the leadoff single, “Burnin’ for You,” was an irresistible summertime sing-along — one of classic rock’s most endearing and enduring fearless feel-goods. Although several of the tunes were intended initially for the 1981 film, Heavy Metal, only Bloom’s “Veteran of the Psychic Wars” actually made it into the movie soundtrack. Hypnotic and cosmic, it remains one of the record’s tallest standouts. While “Sole Survivor” would likely have felt at home on Agents of Fortune, “Heavy Metal: The Black and Silver” definitely would have made for a snug fit on Smell the Glove.
Galloping through the intersection of Prog Avenue and Pop Street, “Vengeance” also provided a noteworthy moment, and “After Dark” revealed how BÖC now shared as much common ground with Patty Smyth as with Patti Smith. Arguably the record’s crown jewel, “Joan Crawford” stood out from the pack (at first glance) as a result of Lanier’s magnificent, Juilliard-caliber piano intro. Conjuring images of apocalyptic doom following the imagined resurrection of the controversial late film star, Joan Crawford, the song was gloriously chaotic. The video would be one of the first banned by MTV for its sexually-explicit nature.
Stylistically, the record was kinda all over the place. Truth be told, the same can be said for most of the band’s LPs. But that was back when bands could do that kinda thing. And at the end of the day, it always worked famously. Four decades later, Fire of Unknown Origin remains an impressive and important entry in the impeccable BÖC catalogue.
Fire of Unknown Origin Track Listing:
1. Fire of Unknown Origin – 4:09
2. Burnin’ for You – 4:29
3. Veteran of the Psychic Wars – 4:48
4. Sole Survivor – 4:04
5. Heavy Metal: The Black and Silver – 3:16
1. Vengeance (The Pact) – 4:41
2. After Dark – 4:25
3. Joan Crawford – 4:55
4. Don’t Turn Your Back – 4:07
Run Time: 39:06
Release Date: June 1981
Record Label: Columbia