Do you remember Blue Oyster Cult?
Probably not. They are an American rock band, but it’s almost thirty years since any of their albums made the charts on this side of the Atlantic. Their greatest commercial success in Britain was their 1976 album Agents of Fortune, from which came the single Don’t fear the reaper. It wasn’t exactly teenybopper stuff.
However, if Agents of Fortune happened to be the first record by Blue Oyster Cult that you had bought, it made you an object of scorn amongst some of the critics and the purists among the fans. ‘Real fans’, wrote a critic at the time, ‘followed Blue Oyster Cult when they were still called Soft White Underbelly. Now, of course, you would have the opportunity to go onto the website of the critic’s paper and ask, ‘how could I be a fan in those days? I was still at primary school. How many primary school fans did they have? Where would a child at primary school forty years ago have had a chance to hear their music? Where would the child have found money to buy their records?’ In those days, all you could do was fume at the purists.
Music had a lot of purists. The Northern Soul movement grew out of people rejecting artists who enjoyed commercial success. The fans of Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple tended not to take Yes as a serious band. There were serious rock enthusiasts for whom mention of Rainbow or Status Quo was heresy (don’t ask me why, the ones I knew adhered to a rigid code of what was ‘in’ and what was ‘out’).
Purists were a strange lot; it was almost as if success somehow compromised their integrity. Or maybe it was some insecurity on part of the fans, as if the band was subject to their own personal patronage and that a growth in the number of those buying the records would somehow dilute that sense of ownership.
Only years later, did I reach the point where I would admit to liking stuff that would have brought scorn and derision from the purists. The man who serviced the parish’s fire extinguishers each year talked of playing in an AC/DC tribute band.
‘I saw them’, I said, ‘Monsters of Rock. Castle Donington, 1981’.
He gave me an odd look. ‘I didn’t think you’d be into the heavy metal’.
He obviously thought it didn’t go with the clerical collar. ‘I like Tamla Motown as well, ‘ I said.
‘I like a bit of the old soul myself’, he said.
It’s good to escape from the purists.