Monday, July 1, 2013

Grayson Hall Vs. Blue Öyster Cult

"Aggression unchallenged is aggression unleashed."

So begins this radio spot for 1974's "Secret Treaties" album by Blue Öyster Cult. A quote from the Roman fabulist Phaedrus, it's just one of many bizarre references to philosophy and war (some of them fabricated) associated with the third album from BÖC.

Grayson Hall
If you've already pressed "play" on the video above, you've probably figured out why I'm sharing it. During the 1970s, actress Grayson Hall did voice-over work on promotional spots for several bands. According to R.J. Jamison's excellent biography of Hall, A Hard Act to Follow, the actress loaned her voice to advertisements for groups like HEART, THE ROLLING STONES and ELO. While I've got no hard evidence that proves that's Hall's voice in the BÖC promo spot at the top of this post, it certainly sounds like her in full Magda Rakosi-mode. UPDATE: Her son has since confirmed that's her voice in the ad.

If you've wandered into this page after Googling the words "Blue Oyster Cult," here's a primer on Grayson Hall: She received an Academy Award nomination for her work in the John Huston movie, Night of the Iguana. Today, she's probably best known for her work Dark Shadows, where she played Dr. Julia Hoffman, enemy and ally to vampire Barnabas Collins. She passed away in 1985 at the age of ... well, nobody's really sure.

If I've got one passion in life, it's Dark Shadows. But, if I had two, the other would be Blue Öyster Cult, a band I've been obsessed with since discovering them in high school. The idea that Dark Shadows and Blue Öyster Cult would form a Venn Diagram of Awesome just delights me to no end. While I doubt Hall would have cared, her work on this radio promo puts her in the company of people like Stephen King and Howard Stern, who also provided voice over work for BÖC on different projects.

"Secret Treaties" is littered with allusions to producer Sandy Pearlman's long-delayed (and ultimately never finished) IMAGINOS concept album. The story behind the making "Imaginos" would fill a book but, barring that, the 1988 album's Wikipedia page will have to suffice. BÖC was a band that favored the "concept album" approach to recording ... not in the epic-narrative PINK FLOYD sense, though. BÖC preferred idea- and sound-driven concept albums. If that makes any sense.

Because of that, "Imaginos was difficult to fit into the sensibilities of a band like BÖC. A few ideas from "Imaginos" found their way to "Secret Treaties," but not in a way that made any sense to casual listeners. People were left scratching their heads about the album's references to war and philosophy for another 15 years, when an abridged version of "Imaginos" was finally unleashed upon the world.

For me, "Secret Treaties" is a weird beast. It contains my favorite BOC song, "Astronomy," but it's not one of my favorite albums. Many of the tracks feel like rough drafts when compared to the industrial-strength jam sessions they'd quickly become in concert. Compare the studio version of "Dominance and Submission" with any of the live versions and you'll hear what I mean.

If you're interested in the band, I'd suggest starting with their first album, the self-titled Blue Öyster Cult. It's an atmospheric, dangerous-sounding recording that straddles the band's early psychedelic days and the very beginnings of American heavy metal. Some of my other favorites are "Tyranny and Mutation," "Spectres," the live album "On Your Feet Or On Your Knees"* and 1998's "Heaven Forbid" (which features a number of lyrics by science fiction/horror genius John Shirley and a terrible, terrible album cover.)

(*For purists, though, LIVE IN THE WEST is considered the superior live album from this era. Story has it that BÖC was unhappy with the track selection for ON YOUR FEET  and compiled their own two-disc live album, giving it away to friends and family.)


Ralph said...

... and if you've ever seen BOC in concert, don't forget - the Hot Rails site is always looking to post your recollections - for example, since Treaties came out in 74, here's that year's gig page:

Anonymous said...

AWESOME!!!! Cousin Barnabas, you FIERCELY RULE ! I had given up all hope of ever hearing this..

cheers, Steve Shutt (Gothick)

Baron Mordo said...

Interesting. Most BÖC fans list "Secret Treaties" as BÖC's best album. Beginning with "Spectres," BÖC started getting way over produced, ultimately ending up with the shallow 80s synth style heard on the practically unlistenable "Revolution By Night" and "Club Ninja."

Cousin Barnabas said...

RBN and CN have about three songs between them that are pretty decent. I like SPECTRES quite a lot, but the band started to get less interesting when they decided to become knockoff of The Cars in 1979.

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