The double live album phenomenon that would reach its apogee with the release of KISS Alive! and Frampton Comes Alive! was less than a year away when Blue Öyster Cult released On Your Feet or on Your Knees, in February, 1975. (Apparently, BOC didn’t get the memo that exclamation points would be de rigueur on live albums.) Even so, the waves were cresting, and BOC, despite having released a scant three studio albums with no hits to speak of, were a strong live draw, and this record is a fascinating time capsule that allows listeners to discover a band approaching its creative peak, only moments before breaking through with “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” the song that would change their lives forever.
Unlike most live albums of the day, which captured a single gig, On Your Feet or on Your Knees was recorded in six different venues ranging from medium-sized halls to massive arenas with the best cuts culled from each show. The performances are presented entirely in their raw, unadulterated state without overdubs or computer editing, leaving every bum note, missed cue, and questionable background vocal intact, revealing an excitement, urgency, and drama that was missing from most of their studio output.
Kicking things off is “The Subhuman,” an unusually moody and dark choice for a set opener but one that makes sense for a band that defiantly went against the grain. The highlight of this song—as well as the album—is Buck Dharma’s (aka Donald Roeser) tasteful soloing, which here takes on a Latin-inspired flair reminiscent of Carlos Santana. During this time, Dharma played either a Gibson SG Special with a custom white finish and dual P90 pickups or a Les Paul Deluxe with mini humbuckers, and his tone is amazing--clear, articulate, and refined with a pleasing midrange that slices through the mix.
Next up is the riff-rocker “Harvester of Eyes,” during which vocalist/rhythm guitar player Eric Bloom holds down the foundation with his Gibson SG Standard while Dharma adds outstanding flourishes. “Hot Rails to Hell,” which would have made a more appropriate opener, is a classic rock ’n’ roller with Chuck Berry-on-speed rhythms and a breezy, fleet-fingered solo by Dharma. This segues nicely into the hyperspeed boogie and pile-driving riffage of “The Red and the Black,” which culminates in a frenzied pull-off solo.
BOC bring down the tempo without sacrificing intensity with “Seven Screaming Dizbusters,” revealing their psychedelic roots (an early incarnation of the band called the Stalk-Forrest Group was signed to Elektra as the East Coast’s answer to the Doors) with an incredibly complex arrangement that switches from two-fisted riffs to soaring melodies in a heartbeat.
Perhaps the best reason for any guitar aficionado to check out this album is “Buck’s Boogie,” an instrumental showcase for Buck Dharma’s underrated chops. While the title was apparently inspired by the Yardbirds’ classic “Jeff’s Boogie,” the song differs significantly from garden-variety, blues-based guitar solos with its minor-key melodies and complex time signatures. Sure, Dharma hits a few nasty clams here and there, but this is live, baby, and it’s great to hear a guitarist pushing himself beyond his comfort zone without a net.
Another stellar Buck Dharma moment follows as he takes over the mic to sing “The Last Days of May,” breaking up the verses with several extended melodic solos. OYFOOYK’s live version of “The Last Days of May” absolutely destroys the studio recording, creating a palpable feeling of danger, dread, and drama for this tale of a drug deal gone horribly wrong. The band kicks things up a notch as keyboardist Alan Lanier straps on a Les Paul and BOC become a three-guitar army for “Cities on Flame.” Boasting one of the baddest riffs of all time, this song underscores why the band earned the heavy metal tag back in the day. And just wait till you hear the extended guitar solo-we’re talking heavy.
Proving that you can never have too much of a good thing, halfway through the high-energy set closer, “ME 262,” drummer Albert Bouchard steps away from the drums, picks up a Les Paul, and joins the boys to jam at the front of the stage. That’s four—count ‘em, four—Gibsons and a bass for the show-stopping climax. With a guitar quartet playing a harmonized line, the band creates an almost symphonic effect, culminating in a rousing crescendo.
Multiple encores have become a meaningless cliché these days, but BOC actually earned their callbacks. “Before the Kiss (A Redcap)” is fun but somewhat loose, but the penultimate number, “Maserati GT (I Ain’t Got You)” is a revelation. Just as Aerosmith did the impossible by making “Train Kept a Rollin’” their own (it was once thought that the Yardbirds’ version of the Rock and Roll Trio’s tune couldn’t be topped), BOC lay claim to Jimmy Reed’s “I Ain’t Got You” (also covered by the Yardbirds), piling on stomping riffs and harmonized guitar solos that blend blues, metal, and Southern rock into one seamless whole.
The album’s closer, a cover of Steppenwolf’s biker anthem, “Born to be Wild,” might at first seem like an uninspired choice, but Buck Dharma and Eric Bloom engage in an SG duel like a couple of swashbuckling pirates, and the response from the crowd is positively thunderous.
Shockingly, On Your Feet or on Your Knees has never been remixed or remastered for CD. Although Blue Öyster Cult released two more live albums over the next seven years, none of them captured their renegade power and instrumental mastery better than this record. If you haven’t yet sold your turntable on eBay, stroll down to your local vinyl store, pick a copy of On Your Feet or on Your Knees, and behold one of rock’s great unsung treasures.