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"(Don't Fear) The Reaper" is a song by the American rock band Blue Öyster Cult from their 1976 album, Agents of Fortune. It was written and sung by the band's lead guitarist, Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser and was produced by David Lucas, Murray Krugman, and Sandy Pearlman. The song is built around Dharma's opening, repetitive guitar riff, while the lyrics deal with eternal love and the inevitability of death. Dharma wrote the song while picturing an early death for himself.

The edited single version was Blue Öyster Cult's biggest chart success, reaching number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 in November 1976. Additionally, critical reception was mainly positive and, in 2004, "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" was listed at number 397 on the Rolling Stone list of the top 500 songs of all time.



  • 1 Background
  • 2 Composition
  • 3 Reception
  • 4 Accolades
  • 5 Other versions
    • 5.1 In other media
  • 6 Track listing
  • 7 Personnel
  • 8 Chart performance
  • 9 Notes
  • 10 References


"I felt that I had just achieved some kind of resonance with the psychology of people when I came up with that, I was actually kind of appalled when I first realized that some people were seeing it as an advertisement for suicide or something that was not my intention at all. It is, like, not to be afraid of it (as opposed to actively bring it about). It's basically a love song where the love transcends the actual physical existence of the partners."

— Buck Dharma, lead singer[2]

The song is about the inevitability of death and the foolishness of fearing it, and was written when Dharma was thinking about what would happen if he died at a young age. Lyrics such as "Romeo and Juliet are together in eternity" have led many listeners to interpret the song to be about a murder-suicide pact, but Dharma says the song is about eternal love, rather than suicide. He used Romeo and Juliet as motifs to describe a couple believing they would meet again in the afterlife. He guessed that "40,000 men and women" died each day, and the figure was used several times in the lyrics.[2]


"(Don't Fear) The Reaper" was written and sung by the band's lead guitarist, Dharma, and was produced by David Lucas, Murray Krugman, and Sandy Pearlman.[3] The song's distinctive guitar riff is built on the "i-VII-VI" chord progression, in an A minor scale.[4]

The riff was recorded with Krugmann's Gibson ES-175 guitar, which was run through a Music Man 410 combo amplifier, and Dharma's vocals were captured with a Telefunken U47 tube microphone. The guitar solo and guitar rhythm sections were recorded in one take, while a four-track tape machine amplified them on the recording. Sound engineer Shelly Yakus remembers piecing together the separate vocals, guitar and rhythm section into a master track, with the overdubbing occurring in that order.[5]

The song features the prominent use of the cowbell percussion instrument. The song was originally recorded without a cowbell, but the sound was overdubbed into the song at a later stage. Bassist Joe Bouchardremembered a producer requesting his brother, drummer Albert Bouchard, to play the cowbell on the track. Joe Bouchard recalled: "Albert thought he was crazy. But he put all this tape around a cowbell and played it. It really pulled the track together."[6] Producer David Lucas claims that the inclusion of the cowbell was his idea,[7] and guitarist Eric Bloom supports Lucas's claim.[8]


"(Don't Fear) The Reaper"



A sample of "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" from Blue Öyster Cult's 1976 album,Agents of Fortune.

Problems playing this file? See media help.

The song was on the Hot 100 chart for 20 weeks, reaching number 12 for the weeks beginning November 6 and November 13 in 1976.[9] It was the highest-charting U.S. song for Blue Öyster Cult and helped Agents of Fortune reach number 29 on the Billboard 200.[10] "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" charted even higher in Canada, peaking at number 7.[11] It was not released as a single in the UK until 1978, where it reached number 16 on the UK pop chart.[12]

Critical reception to the song was mostly positive. Denise Sullivan of Allmusic praised the song's "gentle vocals and virtuoso guitar" and its "haunting middle break which delivers the listener straight back to the heart of the song once the thunder is finished."[13] Nathan Beckett called it Blue Öyster Cult's "masterpiece" and compared the vocals to the Beach Boys.[14] Writing for PopMatters, James Mann remarked that "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" was a "landmark, genre-defining masterpiece" that was "as grand and emotional as American rock and roll ever got."[1] Pitchfork Media also referred to the song as a "masterpiece".[15]


In 1976 Rolling Stone named "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" the song of the year[3] and, in 2004, the magazine placed the song at number 397 on its list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time";[16] however, the 2010 version of the list moved the song down to number 405.[3] In 1997 Mojo listed the song as the 80th best single of all time,[17] while Q ranked "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" number 404 in its 2003 countdown of the "1001 Best Songs Ever".[18]

When The Guardian released its unranked list of the "1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear" in 2009, the song was included. The publication wrote that the song's charm "lies in the disjuncture between its gothic storyline and the sprightly, Byrdsian guitar line that carries it."[19] In his book The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made, rock critic Dave Marsh ranked the song at number 997.[20]

Other versions[edit][]

Blue Öyster Cult released live recordings of the song on numerous albums, including the 1978 album Some Enchanted Evening;[21] the 1982 album, Extraterrestrial Live;[22] the 1991 live album, Live 1976;[23] and the 2002 album, A Long Day's Night.[24] Dharma released an acoustic version of the song on the 1994 various artists compilation album Guitar Practicing Musicians 3.[25]

  • Gus covered the song in 1996 for the Scream soundtrack.
  • Finnish band H.I.M. recorded a gothic metal version of the song on their 1997 debut album Greatest Lovesongs, Vol. 666.[26]
  • Pop rock band, the Goo Goo Dolls, recorded a cover version of "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" on their 1987 self-titled album.[27]
  • In 1992 Clint Ruin and Lydia Lunch released an EP, titled Don't Fear the Reaper, on which their rendition of the song appears.[28]
  • Apollo 440 transcribed an electronic version of the track on the 1995 debut album Millennium Fever.[29]
  • In 1998 Jive Bunny & the Mastermixers recorded a version of the song for their Rock the Party album.[30]
  • Celtic rock band Big Country included a version of the song on their 2001 cover-version album Under Cover.[31]
  • The Mutton Birds recorded a version for the 1996 movie The Frighteners, which is also included on their 2002 greatest hits compilation Flock: The Best of the Mutton Birds.[32]
  • Folk rock band Unto Ashes recorded a rendition of "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" on the 2003 album Empty into White.[33]
  • Alternative rock group The Beautiful South covered the song on their 2004 album Golddiggas, Headnodders and Pholk Songs.[34]
  • "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" was covered by hardcore punk band Snuff for their 2005 album Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other: 1986-2002.[35]
  • Synthpop band Heaven 17 recorded a version of the song for their album Before After, released in 2005.[36]
  • Pat DiNizio, frontman of The Smithereens, covered the song for his 2006 solo album, This Is Pat DiNizio.[37]
  • In 2008 moe., a jam band, recorded a live version of the song for their Dr. Stan's Prescription, Volume 2 album.[38]
  • Rock band L.A. Guns added a version of the song to their 2010 cover-version album Covered in Guns.[39]
  • Pierce the Veil's version of the song appears on the 2010 Punk Goes Classic Rock compilation.[40]
  • Swedish doom metal band Candlemass recorded a version of the song for their 2010 EP, also titled Don't Fear The Reaper.[41]
  • Swedish Metal Band, Wolf also did a version on their album Evil Star.[42]

In other media[edit][]

In addition to appearing in several films, most notably 1978's Halloween and its remake.[13] Stephen King cited the song as the inspiration for his novel The Stand, and it appears as the theme song for the TV miniseries based on the novel.[1]

The song was memorialized in the April 2000 Saturday Night Live (SNL) comedy sketch "More cowbell". The six-minute sketch presents a fictionalized version of the recording of "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" on an episode of VH1's Behind the Music. Will Ferrell wrote the sketch and played Gene Frenkle, an overweight cowbell player. "Legendary" producer Bruce Dickinson, played by Christopher Walken, asked Frenkle to "really explore the studio space" and up the ante on his cowbell playing. The rest of the band are visibly annoyed by Frenkle, but Dickinson tells everyone, "I got a fever, and the only prescription--is more cowbell!" Buck Dharma thought the sketch was fantastic and said he never tired of it.[6]

In October 2013, Banksy featured the song as part of one of his installations, titled "Reaper", in New York City, U.S. (part of Better Out Than In); the song also appears on his YouTube video of the installation.[43]

A segment of the song was performed by Red Hot Chili Peppers in 22 May 2014,[44] as the conclusion of a drumming contest between the band's drummer Chad Smith and actor Ferrell. In a repeat of the 2000 SNLsketch, Ferrell again played cowbell for the rendition, which appeared on an episode of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.[45]

The song featured in the season two finale of Orange Is the New Black.[46]

Track listing[edit][]

7" Vinyl
  1. "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" (Roeser) – 3:45
  2. "Tattoo Vampire" (Albert Bouchard, Helen Robbins) – 2:40


  • Eric Bloom – guitar, percussion
  • Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser – guitar, synthesizer, percussion, lead vocals
  • Allen Lanier – keyboards, guitar, bass
  • Joe Bouchard – bass, piano
  • Albert Bouchard – drums, acoustic guitar, percussion, harmonica


  • David Lucas – backing vocals, keyboards, percussion

Chart performance[edit][]

Chart (1976) Peak


Canada Top Singles (RPM)[11] 7
Ireland (IRMA)[47] 17
UK Singles (The Official Charts Company)[12] 16
US Billboard Hot 100 Chart[10] 12