Most of Blue Öyster Cult's new 17-disc box set, containing remastered versions of every album the Long Island hard-rock band ever made, didn't impress singer Eric Bloom. "It is what it is," he says. But then he starts talking about the 1980 version of The Beatles' "I Want You (She's So Heavy)," recorded at the Dothan Civic Center in Dothan, Ala., and becomes noticeably more excited about the exhaustive 40th anniversary collection.
"We only played it maybe two or three times," Bloom says. "Luckily, our sound man got a board mix of it. I believe it was on cassette, which he has. He's no longer in our employ, but we're still in touch. He did a lot of work to make it sound better. I just got my own copy of this thing two days ago, and that's the first thing I went to listen to."
Bloom, who still lives on Long Island, spends much of a half-hour phone interview raving about the live recordings and rarities contained on the box set. Three tracks are from the obscure 1984 Nick Nolte-Judd Hirsch movie, "Teachers"; plus hard-to-find albums such as 1985's "Ninja," and a previously unreleased Stephen King spoken-word introduction to 1988's "Astronomy." "I already read on Facebook the most hard-core fans say, 'I already had all of this,' " Bloom says. "That's like 11 people."
Aside from Bloom and those 11 people, just about nobody thinks of "Imaginos" or "Teachers" when considering Blue Öyster Cult. The band's core came together in 1967 at Stony Brook University as a sort of glam-rock-and-early-metal hybrid first known as the Soft White Underbelly, then the Stalk-Forrest Group. They signed with The Doors' record label, Elektra, but lost their lead singer and replaced him with Bloom just as they were about to take off. Elektra dropped the band, which decamped to Conry's, a biker bar off Hempstead Turnpike and, as rocker Lenny Kaye writes in the box set's liner notes, "further gritted their sound."
What does that even mean? "I think it's sort of a nonscientific method," Bloom says. "We played there two, three nights a week for a couple weeks in a row. Bikers were hanging out there, and there were fistfights on the dance floor, and it was quite a place.
"I remember in particular some fight on the middle of the dance floor. The stage was low, and somebody was shoving somebody's head into the bass drum, which made our drummer drum harder. The ambience of the place might have made us a little more 'fast and furious.' We weren't very good at mellowing it out, shall we say."
With the help of their manager, producer and all-around Svengali, Sandy Pearlman, the band would by 1972 officially rename itself Blue Öyster Cult and sign to Columbia Records. Its first couple of albums shows a hybrid of Black Sabbath and the MC5, but by 1974's "Secret Treaties," it began to distinguish itself with strong melodies and harmonies to go with a thudding rhythm section and preposterously long guitar solos. The radio breakthrough was the chugging "Harvester of Eyes." "We were in a car when we heard it played," Bloom recalls, "the first time I ever heard one of my songs on the radio."
B.Ö.C. was starting to take off by 1976, when it softened its sound for the enduring rock-radio smash "(Don't Fear) the Reaper." That hit has come to define the band, partly due to a legendary 2000 "Saturday Night Live" skit in which Christopher Walken demands more cowbell from Will Ferrell. "Reaper," along with 1981's similar-sounding "Burnin' for You," was a pop departure for a decidedly heavy band. "In the earliest days, there were five writers in a room. We all lived in one house," Bloom says. "Eventually, we got a little more successful and everybody got their own place. In 1976, when Buck [Dharma, the band's guitarist] wrote 'Reaper,' people started bringing in songs they'd written themselves, so the writing aesthetic changed. Luckily for us, it clicked."
Bloom, 67, grew up in Queens, moved to Manhattan as a kid, then wound up living all over Long Island after college. The band's first house was in Thomaston, a section of Great Neck, and the singer liked the area so much he bought a house there in 1976 and never left. It's a house, by the way, that is filled with video games and consoles of all kinds. He has played just about everything over the decades -- Pong, Mattel Intellivison, World of Warcraft and, today, a variety of PC games, especially Guild Wars 2. The subject prompts Bloom to enthusiastically recall all the computers he has owned since roughly the mid-'80s.
Given such obsessions, can he thus relate to those 11 over-the-top Blue Öyster Cult completists who own every single piece of material the band has put out? "I guess I can!" Bloom says with a laugh. "Our manager, Steve, he'll fly to England to see The Who play a show. But I don't think there's any band in the world I would do that for."
An Öyster collection that has it all
Highlights from "Blue Öyster Cult: The Columbia Albums Collection":
"Cities on Flame With Rock and Roll" (from 1972's "Blue Öyster Cult"): One of the first undeniable monster riffs from underrated rhythm guitarist Allen Lanier.
"Harvester of Eyes" (from 1974's double-live "On Your Feet or on Your Knees"): The first B.Ö.C. hit and the first to seamlessly bring all the elements together -- a speedy-tight rhythm section, distinctive Buck Dharma guitar solos and a futuristic wah-wah sound.
"Don't Fear (The Reaper)" (demo from 1976 "Agents of Fortune" sessions): Band's signature hit, in an earlier form sans cowbell, is so light it sounds like a Firefall outtake.
"Kick Out the Jams" (from 1978's "Some Enchanted Evening"): The Cult's roots simultaneously honor Detroit's MC5 as a key glam-rock influence and reclaim this proto-punk classic as solo-crazy heavy metal.
"Godzilla" (previously unreleased 1977 version): When the pop "Don't Fear (The Reaper)" and "Burnin' for You" came to define B.Ö.C., longtime fans pointed to this Nirvana-influencing anthem as the real thing.
"I Want You (She's So Heavy)" (previously unreleased 1980 version): "If it wasn't for The Beatles, I don't think Blue Öyster Cult would be musicians today," singer Eric Bloom announces, in a poignant introduction about three weeks after John Lennon's death.
"7 Screaming Diz-Busters" (1983 radio broadcast): At more than 10 minutes, this track is filled with dueling guitars and tempo changes galore but still manages to kick butt.
"Summa Cum Laude" (from 1984 "Teachers" soundtrack): Of the three B.Ö.C. tracks recorded (but never used) for a mediocre movie, this Dharma-penned college-rebel anthem is the best, even if it sounds like Peter Gabriel's "Shock the Monkey."
"The Siege and Investitutre of Baron von Frankenstein's Castle at Weisseria" (from 1988's "Imaginos"): Notable for its ridiculously great title and lead guitar by champion metal noodler -- and fellow Long Island native -- Joe Satriani.
"Stephen King Spoken Intro" (previously unreleased from "Imaginos" sessions): "A bedtime story for the children of the damned," the horror author declares in his best Vincent Price-like cadence as the guitars come in.
Blue Öyster Cult
WHEN | WHERE 6 Sunday night, Best Buy Theater, 1515 Broadway, Manhattan
INFO $29.50-$49.50; 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com
MORE "Blue Öyster Cult: The Columbia Albums Collection" is in stores Nov. 6