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(Don't Fear) The Reaper

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"(Don't Fear) The Reaper" is a song by the American rock band Blue Öyster Cult from their 1976 album, Agents of Fortune. It was written and sung by the band's lead guitarist, Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser and was produced by David LucasMurray Krugman, and Sandy Pearlman. It is built around Dharma's guitar riff that opens the song and repeats throughout. The lyrics deal with eternal love and the inevitability of death. Dharma wrote the song while picturing an early death for himself.

The edited single version was Blue Öyster Cult's biggest chart success, reaching number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 in November 1976. Critical reception was mainly positive.

In 2004, "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" was listed at number 397 on the Rolling Stone list of the top 500 songs of all time.


 [hide*1 Background and composition

Background and composition[edit]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 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.

— Buck Dharma, lead singer[1]

"(Don't Fear) The Reaper" was written and sung by the band's lead guitarist, Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser and was produced by David LucasMurray Krugman, and Sandy Pearlman.[2] 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. 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, not suicide. He used Romeo and Juliet as motifs to describe a couple believing they would meet again in the afterlife. He guessed that "40,000 men and women" died each day, and the figure was used several times in the lyrics.[1]

The song's distinctive guitar riff is built on the I-VII-VI chord progression in A minor.[3] The riff was recorded with Krugmann's Gibson ES175 running through a MusicMan 410 combo amplifier. Dharma's vocals were captured on a Telefunken U47 tube microphone. The guitar solo and rhythm section were recorded in one take, with a four-track tape machine amplifying it on the recording. Sound engineer Shelly Yakus remembers piecing together the separate vocals, guitar, and rhythm section into a master track, overdubbing in that order.[4]

It features the prominent use of a cowbell as percussion. The song was originally recorded without it and then overdubbed after the fact. Bassist Joe Bouchard remembered a producer requesting his brother, drummer Albert Bouchard, to play the cowbell on the track. "Albert thought he was crazy," his brother recalled. "But he put all this tape around a cowbell and played it. It really pulled the track together."[5] However, producer David Lucas claims that he was the one who suggested and played the cowbell.[6] Guitarist Eric Bloom remembers that he played it, but that the original idea came from David Lucas.[7]

Release and reception[edit]Edit

"(Don't Fear) The Reaper"MENU   0:00 A sample of "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" from Blue Öyster Cult's 1976 album,Agents of Fortune.----
Problems playing this file? See media help.

The song was on the Hot 100 for 20 weeks, reaching number 12 for the weeks of November 6 and November 13, 1976.[8] It was the highest-charting U.S. hit for Blue Öyster Cult and helped propel Agents of Fortune to number 29 on the Billboard 200.[9] "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" charted even higher in Canada, peaking at number 7.[10] It was not released as a single in the UK until 1978, where it reached number 16 on the UK pop chart.[11]

Critical reception to the song has been mostly positive. Denise Sullivan of Allmusic praised the song's "gentle vocals and virtuoso guitar" and its "haunting middle break which delivers the listener straight back to the heart of the song once the thunder is finished."[12] Nathan Beckett called it Blue Öyster Cult's "masterpiece" and compared the vocals to the Beach Boys.[13] PopMatters's James Mann remarked that "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" was a "landmark, genre-defining masterpiece" that was "as grand and emotional as American rock and roll ever got."[14] Stephen King cited the song as the inspiration for his novel The Stand, and as such it appears as the theme song for the TV miniseries based on the novel.[14]

In 1976, Rolling Stone named "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" the song of the year.[2] In 2004, Rolling Stone placed the song at number 397 on its list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time".[15] The 2010 version of the list moved the song down to number 405.[2] In 1997, Mojo listed the song as the 80th best single of all time.[16] Q ranked "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" number 404 in its 2003 countdown of the "1001 Best Songs Ever".[17] When The Guardian released its unranked list of the "1001 Songs Everyone Must Hear" in 2009, the song made an appearance. The song's charm, the magazine wrote, "lies in the disjuncture between its gothic storyline and the sprightly, Byrdsian guitar line that carries it."[18] In his book The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made, rock critic Dave Marsh named it the 997th best single.[19]

Other versions[edit]Edit

Blue Öyster Cult performed a live version of "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" on the band's 1978 album Some Enchanted Evening.[20] A live version appears on their 1982 album Extraterrestrial Live.[21] Blue Öyster Cult's 1991 live album Live 1976 features "(Don't Fear) The Reaper".[22] A live version appears on their 2002 album A Long Day's Night.[23] Buck Dharma released an acoustic version of the song on the 1994 various artists compilation album Guitar Practicing Musicians 3.[24]

Gus covered the song in 1996 for the Scream soundtrack. Finnish rock (then gothic metal) band H.I.M. recorded a version of the song on their 1997 debut album Greatest Lovesongs, Vol. 666.[25] Pop rock band theGoo Goo Dolls recorded a cover of "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" on their 1987 self-titled album.[26] In 1992, Clint Ruin and Lydia Lunch released the extended play Don't Fear the Reaper, on which their rendition of the song appears.[27] Apollo 440 transcribed an electronic version of the track on the 1995 debut album Millennium Fever.[28] In 1998, Jive Bunny & the Mastermixers recorded a cover of the song on their Rock the Partyalbum.[29] Celtic rock band Big Country included a cover of the song on their 2001 covers album Under Cover.[30] The Mutton Birds recorded a version for the 1996 movie The Frighteners; this version is also included on their 2002 greatest hits compilation Flock: The Best of the Mutton Birds.[31] Folk rock band Unto Ashes issued a rendition of "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" on the 2003 album Empty into White.[32] Alternative rockgroup The Beautiful South covered the song on their 2004 album Golddiggas, Headnodders and Pholk Songs.[33] "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" was covered by hardcore punk band Snuff on their 2005 album Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other: 1986-2002.[34] Synthpop band Heaven 17 recorded a cover of the song on their album Before After, also released in 2005.[35] Pat DiNizio, frontman for the Smithereens, covered the song on his 2006 solo album This Is Pat DiNizio.[36] In 2008, jam band moe. recorded a live version of the song on their Dr. Stan's Prescription, Volume 2 album.[37] Rock band L.A. Guns added a version of the song on their 2010 covers album Covered in Guns.[38] Pierce the Veil covered the song on the Punk Goes Classic Rock (2010) compilation.[39] Swedish doom metal band Candlemass covered the song on their 2010 EPDon't Fear The Reaper.[40]

In other media[edit]Edit

In addition to appearing in several films, most notably 1978's Halloween,[12] 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 MusicWill 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 are visibly annoyed by Frenkle, but Dickinson tells everyone, "I got a fever, and the only prescription--is more cowbell!" Buck Dharma thought the sketch was fantastic and said he never tired of it.[5]

In October 2013, Banksy featured the song on one of his installations in New York City (part of Better Out Than In), as well as on his YouTube video of this installation (titled 'Reaper').[41]

Track listing[edit]Edit

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



  • David Lucas – backing vocals, keyboards, percussion

Chart performance[edit]Edit

Chart (1976) Peak


Canadian Singles Chart[10] 7
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Chart[9] 12
U.K. Singles Chart[11] 16
Irish Singles Chart[42] 17

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