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(Don't Fear) The Reaper

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"(Don't Fear) The Reaper"
Single by Blue Öyster Cult
from the album Agents of Fortune
B-side"Tattoo Vampire"
ReleasedJuly 1976 (1976-07)
Format7-inch single
  • 5:08
  • 3:45 (single edit)
Songwriter(s)Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser
Blue Öyster Cult singles chronology
"Then Came the Last Days of May"
"(Don't Fear) The Reaper"
"This Ain't the Summer of Love"
Official audio
"(Don't Fear) The Reaper" on YouTube

"(Don't Fear) The Reaper" is a song by American rock band Blue Öyster Cult from the band's 1976 album Agents of Fortune. The song, written and sung by lead guitarist Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser, deals with eternal love and the inevitability of death. Dharma wrote the song while picturing an early death for himself.

Released as an edited single (omitting the slow building interlude in the original), the song was Blue Öyster Cult's highest chart success, reaching #7 in Cash Box and #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 in late 1976. Critical reception was mainly positive, and in 2004, "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" was listed at number 405 on the Rolling Stone list of the top 500 songs of all time.


"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 [death] (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[4]

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.[4] 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, rather than suicide.[5] He used Romeo and Juliet as motifs to describe a couple believing they would meet again in the afterlife.[citation needed] He guessed that "40,000 men and women" died each day, and the figure was used several times in the lyrics; this rate was 100,000 off the mark.[6]

Composition and recording

"(Don't Fear) The Reaper" was written and sung by lead guitarist Buck Dharma and produced by David Lucas, Murray Krugman, and Sandy Pearlman.[7] The song's distinctive guitar riff is built on the "i-VII-VI" chord progression, in an A minor scale.[8] The riff was recorded with Krugman's Gibson ES-175 guitar, which was run through a Music Man 410 combo amplifier, and Dharma's vocals were captured with a Telefunken U47 tube microphone. The guitar solo and guitar rhythm sections were recorded in one take, while a four-track tape machine amplified them on the recording. Sound engineer Shelly Yakus remembers piecing together the separate vocals, guitar and rhythm section into a master track, with the overdubbing occurring in that order.[9]

Mojo described its creation: "'Guys, this is it!’ engineer Shelly Yakus announced at the end of the first take. ‘The legendary once-in-a-lifetime groove!’ ... What evolved in the studio was the extended solo section; it took them nearly as long to edit the five-minute track down to manageable length as it did to record it."[10]

The song features prominent use of the cowbell percussion instrument, overdubbed on the original recording. Bassist Joe Bouchard remembered the producer requesting his brother, drummer Albert Bouchard, play the cowbell: "Albert thought he was crazy. But he put all this tape around a cowbell and played it. It really pulled the track together."[11] However, producer David Lucas says that he played it,[12] a claim supported by bandmember Eric Bloom.[13]


The song was on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for 20 weeks, reaching number 12 for the weeks beginning November 6 and November 13 in 1976.[14] It was BÖC's highest-charting U.S. song and helped Agents of Fortune reach number 29 on the Billboard 200.[15] "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" charted even higher in Canada, peaking at number 7.[16] The single edit was released in the UK in July 1976 (CBS 4483) but failed to chart. However the unedited album version was released as a single (CBS 6333) in May 1978, where it reached number 16 on the UK Singles Chart.[17]

Critical reaction was mostly positive. Denise Sullivan of Allmusic praised the song's "gentle vocals and virtuoso guitar" and "haunting middle break which delivers the listener straight back to the heart of the song once the thunder is finished".[18] Nathan Beckett called it BÖC's "masterpiece" and compared the vocals to the Beach Boys.[19] Writing for PopMatters, James Mann hailed it as a "landmark, genre-defining masterpiece" that was "as grand and emotional as American rock and roll ever got".[20] Pitchfork Media also referred to the song as a "masterpiece".[21] "Extremely poetic" was the verdict of Fountains of Wayne founder Chris Collingwood. "A sad ballad about a man who wants to die with his true love before their love is spoiled by earthly things."'[10]

Chart performance

Year Chart Peak
1976 Canada Top Singles (RPM)[16] 7
US Billboard Hot 100 Chart[15] 12
1978 Ireland (IRMA)[22] 17
UK Singles (The Official Charts Company)[23] 16
2017 US Billboard Hot Rock Songs[24] 11


In 1976 Rolling Stone named "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" the song of the year[7] and, in 2004, the magazine placed the song at number 397 on its list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time";[25] however, the 2010 version of the list moved it down to number 405.[7] In 1997 Mojo listed the song as the 80th best single of all time,[26] while Q ranked "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" number 404 in its 2003 countdown of the "1001 Best Songs Ever."[27]

When The Guardian released its unranked list of the "1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear" in 2009, the song was included. The publication wrote that the song's charm "lies in the disjuncture between its gothic storyline and the sprightly, Byrdsian guitar line that carries it."[5] In his book The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made, rock critic Dave Marsh ranked the song at number 997.[28]

Other versions

Blue Öyster Cult performed a live version of "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" on the band's 1978 album Some Enchanted Evening.[29] A live version appears on their 1982 album Extraterrestrial Live.[30] Blue Öyster Cult's 1991 live album Live 1976 features "(Don't Fear) The Reaper".[31] A live version appears on their 2002 album A Long Day's Night.[32] Buck Dharma released an acoustic version of the song on the 1994 various artists compilation album Guitar Practicing Musicians 3.[33]

Gus Black covered the song in 1996 for the Scream soundtrack. Finnish gothic rock band HIM recorded a version of the song on their 1997 debut album Greatest Lovesongs, Vol. 666.[34] Pop rock band the Goo Goo Dolls recorded a cover of "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" on their 1987 self-titled album.[35] In 1992, Clint Ruin and Lydia Lunch released the extended play Don't Fear the Reaper, on which their rendition of the song appears.[36] Apollo 440 transcribed an electronic version of the track on the 1995 debut album Millennium Fever.[37] In 1998, Jive Bunny & the Mastermixers recorded a cover of the song on their Rock the Party album.[38] Celtic rock band Big Country included a cover of the song on their 2001 covers album Under Cover.[39] 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.[40] Folk rock band Unto Ashes issued a rendition of "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" on the 2003 album Empty into White.[41] Alternative rock group The Beautiful South covered the song on their 2004 album Golddiggas, Headnodders and Pholk Songs.[42] "(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.[43] Synthpop band Heaven 17 recorded a cover of the song on their album Before After, also released in 2005.[44] Pat DiNizio, frontman for the Smithereens, covered the song on his 2006 solo album This is Pat DiNizio.[45] In 2008, jam band moe. recorded a live version of the song on their Dr. Stan's Prescription, Volume 2 album.[46] Rock band L.A. Guns added a version of the song on their 2010 covers album Covered in Guns.[47] Pierce the Veil covered the song on the Punk Goes Classic Rock (2010) compilation.[48] Swedish doom metal band Candlemass covered the song on their 2010 EP Don't Fear The Reaper.[49]


"More Cowbell"

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 Music. Will 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 said that the sketch was fantastic and he never gets tired of it[11] but also lamented that it made the song lose its 'creepy' vibe for some time.[50]

A segment of the song was performed by Red Hot Chili Peppers on May 22, 2014,[51] as the conclusion of a drumming contest between the band's drummer Chad Smith and actor Will Ferrell. In a repeat of the 2000 SNL sketch, Ferrell again played cowbell for the rendition, which appeared on an episode of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.[52][53]

In other media

Stephen King cited the song as the inspiration for his novel The Stand, and it appears as the opening theme song for the TV miniseries based on the novel.[20] Its lyrics are also quoted at the beginning of the novel.

The coat-of-arms of British fantasy writer Terry Pratchett, granted to him in 2010, has Noli Timere Messorem (Don't Fear the Reaper) as its motto. References to the song have appeared in Pratchett's work before and Death personified as The Reaper plays a recurring role in his books.[54]

In the movie Halloween, the song plays in the car when Jamie Lee Curtis' character is being stalked by serial killer Michael Myers.[55]

The song was featured in the Full Motion Video Game Ripper, which, coincidentally, also featured Christopher Walken[56].

The song was featured in the starting tracklist of the rhythm game Rock Band.[57]

Track listing

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




  1. ^ Kelly Boyer Sagert (1 January 2007). The 1970s. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 181. ISBN 978-0-313-33919-6. Meanwhile, Blue Oyster Cult released two of the decade's hard rock favorites: "Don't Fear the Reaper" and "Godzilla.
  2. ^ Martin Charles Strong; Brendon Griffin (2008). Lights, camera, sound tracks. Canongate. p. 18. ISBN 978-1-84767-003-8. Reaper' was a one-off return to their 60s psychedelic roots.
  3. ^ Jurek, Thom. "Agents of Fortune - Blue Öyster Cult". AllMusic. Retrieved March 21, 2019. The album yielded the band's biggest single with "(Don't Fear) The Reaper," a multi-textured, deeply melodic soft rock song with psychedelic overtones.
  4. ^ a b Lien, James (November 6, 1995). "Buck Dharma interview". College Music Journal. New York City: CMJ.
  5. ^ a b "Life and death: 1000 songs everyone must hear". The Guardian. March 19, 2009. Retrieved August 6, 2012.
  6. ^ "Great Moments in Pedantry: Fact-checking "Don't Fear the Reaper"".
  7. ^ a b c "500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Rolling Stone. Wenner Publishing. 7 April 2011.
  8. ^ Rooksby 2002, p. 93
  9. ^ Forlenza, Jeff (June 1, 2009). "Classic Tracks: Blue Oyster Cult's "(Don't Fear) The Reaper"". Mix. Retrieved August 2, 2012.
  10. ^ a b Mojo, August 1997, p52
  11. ^ a b Farhi, Paul (January 29, 2005). "Blue Öyster Cult, Playing Along With 'More Cowbell'". Washington Post. Retrieved August 2, 2012.
  12. ^ George, Eli (June 30, 2011). "Blue Oyster Cult cowbell ringer honored". WIVB-TV. Archived from the original on July 2, 2011. Retrieved August 2, 2012.
  13. ^ Sauro, Tony (September 17, 2009). "Blue Oyster Cult's innovative use of a cowbell will never be forgotten". The Record (Stockton). Retrieved August 7, 2012.
  14. ^ "Agents of Fortune". Blue Öyster Cult. Retrieved August 6, 2012.
  15. ^ a b "Blue Oyster Cult awards". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved August 2, 2012.
  16. ^ a b "RPM Top Singles". RPM. RPM Music Publications Ltd. 26 (7). November 13, 1976. Archived from the original on November 1, 2014. Retrieved August 2, 2012.
  17. ^ Betts 2004, p.89
  18. ^ Sullivan, Denise. "(Don't Fear) The Reaper review". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved August 2, 2012.
  19. ^ Beckett 2004, p. 88
  20. ^ a b Mann, James (July 25, 2001). "Blue Oyster Cult: Agents of Fortune / Tyranny and Mutation". PopMatters. Retrieved August 2, 2012.
  21. ^ The Clash: The Essential Clash | Album Reviews | Pitchfork
  22. ^ "Search the Charts". Irish Recorded Music Association. Retrieved August 2, 2012.
  23. ^ "(Don't Fear) The Reaper". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 10 September 2015.
  24. ^ "Blue Öyster Cult (Don't Fear) The Reaper Chart History". Billboard. Retrieved March 11, 2018.
  25. ^ "The Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Rock List Music. Retrieved May 2, 2010.
  26. ^ "Mojo – The 100 Greatest Singles Of All Time". Rock List Music. Retrieved August 6, 2011.
  27. ^ "Q – 1001 best songs ever (2003)". (in Dutch). Retrieved August 6, 2011.
  28. ^ Marsh 1999, p. 628
  29. ^ Ruhlmann, William. "Some Enchanted Evening review". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved August 7, 2012.
  30. ^ Ruhlmann, William. "Extraterrestrial Live review". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved August 7, 2012.
  31. ^ Ruhlmann, William. "Live 1976 review". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved August 7, 2012.
  32. ^ Horowitz, Hal. "A Long Day's Night review". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved August 7, 2012.
  33. ^ Erlewine, Stephen. "Guitar Practicing Musicians review". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved August 7, 2012.
  34. ^ Ravelin, Antti. "Greatest Lovesongs, Vol. 666 review". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved August 7, 2012.
  35. ^ "Goo Goo Dolls Overview". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved August 7, 2012.
  36. ^ "Don't Fear the Reaper Overview". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved August 7, 2012.
  37. ^ Bush, John. "Millennium Fever review". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved August 7, 2012.
  38. ^ "Rock the Party Overview". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved August 7, 2012.
  39. ^ "Under Cover Overview". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved August 7, 2012.
  40. ^ "Flock: The Best of the Mutton Birds Overview". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved August 7, 2012.
  41. ^ Raggett, Ned. "Empty into White review". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved August 7, 2012.
  42. ^ Ruhlmann, William. "Golddiggas Headnodders & Pholk Songs review". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved August 7, 2012.
  43. ^ "'Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other: 1986-2002 Overview". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved August 7, 2012.
  44. ^ Schnee, Steve. "Before After review". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved August 7, 2012.
  45. ^ Deming, Mark. "This Is Pat DiNizio review". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved August 7, 2012.
  46. ^ Monger, James. "Dr. Stan's Prescription, Volume 2 review". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved August 9, 2012.
  47. ^ Monger, James. "Covered in Guns review". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved August 7, 2012.
  48. ^ "Pierce The Veil featured on Punk Goes Classic Rock : Equal Vision Records". February 26, 2010. Archived from the original on October 23, 2013. Retrieved September 5, 2013.
  49. ^ "MAXI Candlemass". Official website. Archived from the original on October 17, 2013. Retrieved July 24, 2013.
  50. ^ Spitz, Marc. "'(Don't Fear) the Reaper' Is a Creepy Tune, Even With the Cowbell". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 June 2018.
  51. ^ Newman, Jason (16 May 2014). "Chad Smith, Will Ferrell Talk Trash for 'Fallon' Drum-Off". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 31 January 2015.
  52. ^ The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (22 May 2014). "Will Ferrell and Chad Smith Drum-Off" (Video upload). The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on YouTube. Google, Inc. Retrieved 27 May 2014.
  53. ^ Thomas, Sarah (23 May 2014). "More cowbell: Will Ferrell, Chad Smith face off on Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 23 June 2018.
  54. ^ "The Annotated Pratchett File v9.0 – Hogfather". Retrieved 6 May 2017.
  55. ^ "'(Don't Fear) the Reaper' Is a Creepy Tune, Even With the Cowbell – The New York Times". Retrieved 22 March 2019.
  56. ^ "Ripper". Next Generation. Imagine Media (10): 83–84. October 1995.
  57. ^ "Review: 'Rock Band' hits right notes for music fans – CNN". Retrieved 12 April 2019.
  58. ^ Refer to the personnel listing and artiste credits provided on the sleeve notes of the LP Agents Of Fortune, CBS records (1976)


  • Betts, Graham (2004). Complete UK Hit Singles 1952–2004 (1st ed.). London: Collins Press. ISBN 0-00-717931-6.
  • Brackett, Nathan (2004). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide. Rolling Stone LLC (4th ed.). New York City. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8.
  • Marsh, Dave (1999). The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made. New York City: Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-80901-X.
  • Rooksby, Rikky (2002). Riffs: How to Create and Play Great Guitar Riffs. Backbeat Books. ISBN 0-87930-710-2.
This page was last edited on 10 May 2019, at 15:47
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