By the end of 2019, few people would have suggested we’d live through a year any more devastating than 2016. That year, famous musicians seemed to be dying on a weekly basis. 2020 had even more of a drastic effect on the music industry with a global pandemic putting a halt on gigs and forcing various small, grass roots venues to close their doors forever.
On the plus side – and you always have to look for a positive, even in the most dire of circumstances – a dramatic change in circumstances has forced musicians to change their way of working. For those with home studios, it’s meant we’ve seen an increase in output. We’ve even been given unexpected albums – right at the end of the year, there were surprise releases from Paul McCartney and Taylor Swift and various other interesting albums were put together remotely. …And as we take stock on a terrible year, it seems that the gift of recorded music has been one of our only constants: 2020 may have been an absolute bastard in so many ways, but we’ve all found new music to love.
With their last studio album (‘Curse of The Hidden Mirror’) a distant memory, Blue Öyster Cult had become – to all intents and purposes – a nostalgia act by the middle of the 2010’s, tirelessly gigging up and down the United States playing their back-catalogue to the faithful. Since BÖC were always a brilliant live act and a couple of their latter day studio albums (‘Heaven Forbid’ and ‘Cult Classic’) hadn’t quite hit the mark, their desire to concentrate on playing to the masses made perfect sense. Despite never ending live shows in the US, they didn’t always venture across the Atlantic as often as you would hope, but festival appearances at the UK’s Ramblin’ Man Fair in 2015 and Germany’s Rock of Ages Festival the following year allowed European fans a couple of opportunities to get re-acquainted with their heroes.
The fashion for bands playing “complete album” live shows presents a double edged sword. On the negative side, this robs fans of the excitement and mystery of what the night’s setlist might bring. On the plus side, such a practice means that long neglected gems are given a live airing. In the case of Blue Öyster Cult’s ‘45th Anniversary: Live In London’ the latter definitely applies. Not only is their debut record is a stone cold classic, but it features several tunes that aren’t necessarily regular fixtures in their live sets, which lends this recording an instant vitality.
In 2012, Blue Öyster Cult released ‘The Columbia Albums Collection’, a seventeen disc set rounding up their output for the label between 1973 and 1988. It was a set that was worth picking up even for those that owned some of the albums previously, as it also included a couple of discs of rarities. For a limited time, owners could even access four previously unreleased live shows via the BÖC website, which was a definite sweetener for those who’d bought ‘Agents of Fortune’, ‘Spectres’ and ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ a couple of times over already.
To promote the box set, the band held a one-off concert in New York. Finally released as ‘Iheart Radio 2012’ in the summer of 2020, when heard retrospectively, it isn’t a perfect set by any means, though it has enough to recommend it. Capturing the band in front of a select audience of 200 fans, the recording could have had a similarly flat atmosphere to ‘Agents of Fortune – 2016’ (released via Frontiers Records in early 2020), but due to not being tied to such a rigid setlist, founders Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser and Eric Bloom, along with bassist Kasim Sulton, guitarist Richie Castallano and drummer Jules Radino, sound much less like a band going through the motions (no pun intended).
For a lot of people, 1981 is a year where the 1980s really found its feet. It’s a year where fewer things carry a feel of the 70s; it’s a year where the New Romantics and the new wave of synth pop stars dominated the charts. As well as being a solid year for pop, 1981 also found the New Wave of British Heavy Metal reaching its crescendo.