Blue Öyster Cult – Don’t Fear The Reaper

More Cowbell?

Although this song has been played to death on the radio…I still will not turn the dial if I hear it come on.

Blue Öyster Cult’s first hit, this song was written by lead guitarist Donald Roeser, also known as Buck Dharma. He contributed his vocals to this track and also wrote their other Top 40 hit, “Burnin’ For You.” This song peaked at #12 in the Billboard 100 and #16 in the UK in 1976.

The album Don’t Fear The Reaper was on was Agents of Fortune. It peaked at #29 in the Billboard 100 in 1976.

The album features vocals and songwriting from Patti Smith. She was keyboardist Allen Lanier’s girlfriend at the time and had also contributed to one of BOC’s previous albums, Secret Treaties.

The song is played quite a bit on the radio but it is Halloween week so it fits.

From Songfacts

This was rumored to be about suicide, but it actually deals with the inevitability of death and the belief that we should not fear it. When Dharma wrote it, he was thinking about what would happen if he died at a young age and if he would be reunited with loved ones in the afterlife. Dharma explained in a 1995 interview with College Music Journal: “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 it (as opposed to actively bring it about). It’s basically a love song where the love transcends the actual physical existence of the partners.”

Blue Öyster Cult was considered a “cult” band, somewhere in the realm of heavy metal with complex and often baffling lyrics dealing with the supernatural. Those inside the cult took the time to understand that like Black Sabbath, BOC combined outstanding musicianship with fantasy lyrics, and they weren’t for everyone. “Don’t Fear The Reaper” exposed them to a wider audience, which was good for business but bad for art. Buck Dharma said in a 1980 interview with NME: “Ever since ‘The Reaper’ was a hit we’ve been under pressure to duplicate that success; the body of our work failed. Even on (1977 album) Spectres everyone tried to write a hit single and that’s a bad mistake. The Cult is never destined to be successful at a format. To be a singles band you have to win the casual buyer.”

Some of the lyrics were inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet. In Shakespeare’s play, Romeo swallows poison when he believes Juliet is dead. Juliet responds by taking her own life. This led many people to believe the song was about suicide, but Dharma was using Romeo and Juliet as an example of a couple who had faith that they would be together after their death.

For the lyrics that begin, “40,000 men and women,” Dharma was guessing at the number of people who died every day.

An April 8, 2000 Saturday Night Live skit with Christopher Walken made fun of the extremely loud cowbell in this song. In the skit, the band would get upset when Will Ferrell would play the bell too loud, but Walken kept calling for “More Cowbell.” In the skit, Walken plays a super-producer named Bruce Dickinson, who the band respects enough to put up with his cowbell antics. There really is a Bruce Dickinson (besides the Iron Maiden lead singer), but he didn’t produce “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” – that was David Lucas, who also brought us the General Electric “we bring good things to life” and the AT&T “reach out and touch someone” jingles. Dickinson is an archivist who works on album reissues, which means gathering master tapes to ensure the best sound quality. He is credited as the reissue producer on a later version of the album, which apparently is how he was named in the sketch.

Lucas and Dickinson both appeared on the Just My Show podcast, and Lucas explained that the cowbell was his idea, as the song “needed some momentum.” He grabbed a cowbell from a nearby recording studio and “just played four on the floor… not hard to do.” He found out about the SNL skit when a friend instant messaged him as it was airing.

Dickinson says he’s always felt a little funny about getting the producer role in the famous skit, but it has made life more interesting. Said Dickinson, “I work with Iggy Pop on a lot of stuff and a lot of times when he calls and I pick up the phone, he goes ‘More cowbell!'”

Blue Öyster Cult released their last album in 2001, but continued touring with core members Buck Dharma and Eric Bloom. When we spoke with Bloom in 2016, he said he still enjoyed performing this song, but he’s a little more ambivalent about the “More Cowbell” skit. “I saw it live on my TV in my house, and did not know it was going to be on, so I was more shocked than amused when it was on,” he said. “I certainly see the humor after it was on. It certainly has legs – it has become part of Americana at this point. Somebody brings it up to me on a regular basis.”

This has been used in several horror movies, including Halloween, The Frighteners and Scream (the version used in Scream is an acoustic cover by Gus Black). It was also used in a very non-horror capacity in the party scene of the Disney movie Miracle, which is about the US Hockey team beating the USSR at the 1980 Olympic Games. 

This wasn’t released as a single in the UK until 1978, where it became their only hit in England.

Stephen King quoted the lyrics to this song in his novel The Stand, in which 99.9% of the US population is killed by a manmade disease called “Superflu.” It is also used in King’s miniseries of the same name during a montage showing the corpses of those who had been killed by the disease. King often quotes songs in the beginning of his books. 

Don’t Fear The Reaper

All our times have come
Here but now they’re gone
Seasons don’t fear the reaper
Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain, we can be like they are

Come on baby, don’t fear the reaper
Baby take my hand, don’t fear the reaper
We’ll be able to fly, don’t fear the reaper
Baby I’m your man

La, la, la, la, la
La, la, la, la, la

Valentine is done
Here but now they’re gone
Romeo and Juliet
Are together in eternity, Romeo and Juliet
40,000 men and women everyday, like Romeo and Juliet
40,000 men and women everyday, Redefine happiness
Another 40,000 coming everyday, We can be like they are

Come on baby, don’t fear the reaper
Baby take my hand, don’t fear the reaper
We’ll be able to fly, don’t fear the reaper
Baby I’m your man

La, la, la, la, la
La, la, la, la, la

Love of two is one
Here but now they’re gone
Came the last night of sadness
And it was clear she couldn’t go on

Then the door was open and the wind appeared
The candles blew then disappeared
The curtains flew then he appeared, saying don’t be afraid

Come on baby, and she had no fear
And she ran to him, then they started to fly
They looked backward and said goodby, she had become like they are
She had taken his hand, she had become like they are
Come on baby, don’t fear the reaper

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

33 thoughts on “Blue Öyster Cult – Don’t Fear The Reaper”

  1. This song was always very ‘listenable’ for me. But the SNL skit erased all of that. Now I just listen for the cowbell, and I think of the skit, haha. I never noticed the Bruce Dickinson mention. That’s yet another layer to the humor and irony.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was funny…and sometimes I do the same thing if I pay attention to the song…listening for that cowbell.

      I never knew Patti Smith had anything to do with that band. It just doesn’t compute to me.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. We have played it before and it’s not easy on guitar to keep that up. I found a new respect for it after playing it.
      Yep Halloween is the reason it’s posted…it is creepy.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, I understand. My husband is a big BOC fan. He tells me I’m being too dramatic. He loves the album Tyranny and Mutations. It’s a pretty obscure album by them. I saw them in concert. They were good. They had a mechanical Godzilla. It was impressive back in the day.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’ve seen video of the Godzilla! I would have loved to seen that. I’ve liked some of the album stuff I heard from them…I mostly know the hits but they were a good band.
        Yea it sounds simple to do until you play the dang thing. I must have heard it a thousand times but yet I still like it.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yeah, they’re very theatrical. Do you remember Night Court? The TV show? Ellen Foley was the early prosecutor. She was replaced by Markie Post very early in the show. Anyway, she was the singer on Meatloaf’s Paradise by the Dashboard Light. Well, she was a big Broadway star and she did back up vocals for BOC a lot. BOC are a bunch of theater weirdos that like rock music.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Loved Night Court and had a crush on Markie Post.
        I remember Foley…I didn’t know that. Thanks for the info about BOC I certainly didn’t know they loved thearter… All I know about them is that they are all short…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This song has been so overplayed, which has ruined it for me 😦 Funny skit on SNL with the cowbell. Will Ferrell at his best. The article reminded me of that movie The Frighteners with Michael J Fox. That was a good movie! Didn’t realize it was directed by Peter Jackson until today.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t realize it was directed by hin either…
      For some reason….although I’ve heard it over and over…I still like it. I usually hate them when that happens.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hey I figured out that the movie with Kim Darby I was so scared watching isn’t Trilogy of Terror (which I thought she was in one of the segments) is Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. I just watched the other 2 segments of Trilogy of Terror though 🙂 Good stuff!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes its fun stuff. I’m about to reblog one more thing…Tales from the Crypt from the early seventies. Joan Collins in all of her goodness lol. It’s really good…it’s an anthology with 5 different stories…the best one of the seventies.

        I know that Darby movie.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Yea I read about that. He was fun to listen to… our band would play late at nights and I would drive home listening to him.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I love this song but, the first time I heard it, it was like 2:00am and I woke up, listening to it. I used to listen to the radio and leave it on when I slept. This, at 2am, freaked me the f*** out. Very surreal.

    As the years went by, I, somehow, began to associate it with The Twilight Zone episode with Robert Redford as Death, dressed as a cop. The year doesn’t line up but, my brain just automatically goes to TTZ. Go figure.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would have never guessed! No actually…it is an odd song It does fit the Robert Redford episode great. He is so cool in that and the ending is great…yea she dies but he is so gentle about it.


  4. Classic single, it’s not overplayed in the UK so still sounds fresh. I dug out the Cowbell skit last year on youtube after it was referenced. Funny! Doesn’t spoil anything for me, a classic can survive affectionate mockery 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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