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How Blue Oyster Cult Broke Through With ‘On Your Feet or on Your Knees’

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For Blue Oyster Cult, the overnight success of 1975’s On Your Feet or on Your Knees took a while.

They had slowly been building a devoted concert following in the early ’70s, but could boast far less success with their studio efforts. Both 1972’s Blue Oyster Cult and 1973’s Tyranny and Mutation had struggled to even break into the Billboard Top 200, peaking at No. 172 and 122, respectively. But signs of a long-hoped-for breakthrough could be found with 1974’s Secret Treaties, which shot to a comparatively lofty No. 53.

On Your Feet or on Your Knees, released on Feb. 26, 1975, did the trick by playing up the Long Island quintet’s road skills. In fact, the success of this concert recording led to a wholesale re-evaluation of those first three studio projects, which are now deemed classics. Blue Oyster Cult’s uniquely idiosyncratic brand of hard rock, distinguished by its cryptic lyrics and provocative imagery to match, had begun to make sense.

Blue Oyster Cult suddenly had a No. 22 hit on their hands — something helped along by a new-found focus on promotion. Sandy Pearlman and Murray Krugman, their management and production team, were savvy enough to leverage controversy with On Your Feet or on Your Knees. Frontman Eric Bloom’s remark about an S&M whip before the band kicks into “7 Screaming Diz-Busters,” for instance, was anything but casual. An aggressive Columbia Records marketing campaign, including everything from discounted pricing to media-baiting promotion materials, turned some heads, too.

But, in truth, Blue Oyster Cult richly deserved this hard-earned moment of success. On Your Feet or on Your Knees, which included three songs from each of Blue Oyster Cult’s previous albums, underscored what a well-oiled musical outfit they’d become. Concert highlights included the always-frantic “Red and the Black,” the contrastingly mellow and majestic “Then Came the Last Days of May,” and “Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll,” with its serpentine riff and evergreen message.

Lengthier explorations of tracks like “The Subhuman” and “ME 262” offered new insights. The album also included a show-stopping in-concert-only instrumental “Buck’s Boogie,” led by Buck Dharma Roeser. Finally, two effusive cover versions (Calvin Carter’s “I Ain’t Got You” and Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild”) rounded out On Your Feet or on Your Knees by offering a glimpse back to Blue Oyster Cult’s club band days — closing this first chapter of their on-the-rise career.

Successes like “Don’t Fear the Reaper” and “Godzilla” followed, but they might never have happened without the rallying call to action of On Your Feet or on Your Knees.

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