Blue Oyster Cult, often known as BOC, released “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” in 1976. The members had formed the band in 1967, but their most successful years were between 1975 and 1981. “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” enjoyed great popularity upon its release and is number 405 on the Rolling Stone 500 List. Dharma, Blue Oyster Cult guitarist, wrote and sang the song.
Fans seemed to respond to the edgy hard rock music followed by gentle interludes. There are also many repetitive words and phrases that fixate themselves in the mind. The topic of death is also somewhat unusual for rock and roll music.
The song begins by pointing out how each season comes into being and dies as the next season comes along. If seasons don’t fear the reaper, the verse concludes, why should humans?
The next verse is written directly to a loved one, telling her not to be afraid because they will take hands and flee the reaper together.
After a short interlude, the song takes on a slightly more sinister tone as the singer points out:
“Romeo and Juliet
Are together in eternity, Romeo and Juliet
40,000 men and women every day, like Romeo and Juliet”
The next verse goes back to the theme of flying from the reaper holding hands. Then:
“Love of two is one
Here but now they’re gone
Came the last night of sadness
And it was clear she couldn’t go on.”
The next verse sets the mood by describing the door blowing open and the wind snuffing out candles and ruffling the curtains. Finally, the wind speaks to the woman:
“Come on baby, and she had no fear
And she ran to him, then they started to fly
They looked backward and said goodbye, she had become like they are
She had taken his hand, she had become like they are
Come on baby, don’t fear the reaper.”
“(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” is a poignant look at how people slowly let go of life and turn toward death. In the beginning, death is just a concept. Then it is a risk, but one that can be evaded. Next, the singer recalls lovers who have died, like Romeo and Juliet, but he still sees himself and his loved one being together through eternity.
The singer finally acknowledges the reality and sadness of his coming loss. By the time the song is over, he has reluctantly released his lover’s hand into death and watches as she floats fearlessly away.