MUSIC MONDAY Don’t fear the Reaper


More Cowbell – SNL

Blue Öyster Cult ~ Live ~ Don’t Fear The Reaper ~ 2002

(Don’t Fear) The Reaper

(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” is a song by American rock band Blue Öyster Cult from the band’s 1976 album Agents of Fortune. The song, written and sung by lead guitarist Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser, deals with eternal love and the inevitability of death. Dharma wrote the song while picturing an early death for himself.

Released as an edited single (omitting the slow building interlude in the original), the song is Blue Öyster Cult’s highest chart success, reaching #7 in Cash Box and #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 in late 1976. Critical reception was positive and in December 2003 “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” was listed at number 405 on Rolling Stones list of the top 500 songs of all time.[4]


“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 [death] (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[5]

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.[5] 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.[6] He used Romeo and Juliet to describe a couple who wanted to be together in the afterlife.[7] He guessed that “40,000 men and women” died each day, and the figure was used several times in the lyrics; this rate was 100,000 off the mark.[8]

Composition and recordingEdit

“(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” was written and sung by lead guitarist Buck Dharma and produced by David Lucas, Murray Krugman, and Sandy Pearlman.[9]The song’s distinctive guitar riff is built on the “i-VII-VI” chord progression, in an A minor scale.[10] The riff was recorded with Krugman’s Gibson ES-175guitar, 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.[11]

Mojo described its creation: “‘Guys, this is it!’ engineer Shelly Yakus announced at the end of the first take. ‘The legendary once-in-a-lifetime groove!’ … What evolved in the studio was the extended solo section; it took them nearly as long to edit the five-minute track down to manageable length as it did to record it.”[12]

The song features prominent use of the cowbellpercussion instrument, overdubbed on the original recording. Bassist Joe Bouchard remembered the producer requesting his brother, drummer Albert Bouchard, play the cowbell: “Albert thought he was crazy. But he put all this tape around a cowbell and played it. It really pulled the track together.”[13]However, producer David Lucas says that he played it,[14] a claim supported by bandmember Eric Bloom.[15]


The song was on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for 20 weeks, reaching number 12 for the weeks beginning November 6 and November 13 in 1976.[16] It was BÖC’s highest-charting U.S. song and helped Agents of Fortune reach number 29 on the Billboard200.[17] “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” charted even higher in Canada, peaking at number 7.[18] The single edit was released in the UK in July 1976 (CBS 4483) but failed to chart. However the unedited album version was released as a single (CBS 6333) in May 1978, where it reached number 16 on the UK Singles Chart.[19]

Critical reaction was mostly positive. Denise Sullivanof Allmusic praised the song’s “gentle vocals and virtuoso guitar” and “haunting middle break which delivers the listener straight back to the heart of the song once the thunder is finished”.[20] Nathan Beckett called it BÖC’s “masterpiece” and compared the vocals to the Beach Boys.[21] Writing for PopMatters, James Mann hailed it as a “landmark, genre-defining masterpiece” that was “as grand and emotional as American rock and roll ever got”.[22] Pitchfork Media also referred to the song as a “masterpiece”.[23] “Extremely poetic” was the verdict of Fountains of Wayne founder Chris Collingwood. “A sad ballad about a man who wants to die with his true love before their love is spoiled by earthly things.”‘[12]

Track listingEdit

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



  • Michael and Randy Brecker – horns (their contribution appears only on the extended album track and was edited out of the released single)[25]
  • David Lucas – backing vocals, keyboards, percussion


“(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”
Single by Blue Öyster Cult
from the album Agents of Fortune
B-side “Tattoo Vampire”
Released July 1976
Recorded 1975
  • 5:08
  • 3:45 (single edit)
Label Columbia
Songwriter(s) Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser
Blue Öyster Cult singles chronology
“Then Came the Last Days of May”
(Don’t Fear) The Reaper
This Ain’t the Summer of Love
Official audio
“(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” on YouTube
Year Chart Peak
1976 Canada Top Singles (RPM)[18] 7
US Billboard Hot 100 Chart[17] 12
1978 Ireland (IRMA)[26] 17
UK Singles (The Official Charts Company)[27] 16
2017 US Billboard Hot Rock Songs[28] 11


In 1976 Rolling Stone named “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” the song of the year[9] and, in 2004, the magazine placed the song at number 397 on its list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time“;[30]however, the 2010 version of the list moved it down to number 405.[9] In 1997 Mojo listed the song as the 80th best single of all time,[31] while Q ranked “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” number 404 in its 2003 countdown of the “1001 Best Songs Ever.”[32]

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.”[6] 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.[33]

Other versionsEdit


“More Cowbell”Edit

The song was memorialized in the April 2000 Saturday Night Live 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 is visibly annoyed by Frenkle, but Dickinson tells everyone, “I got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell!” Buck Dharma said that the sketch was fantastic and he never gets tired of it[13] but also lamented that it made the song lose its ‘creepy’ vibe for some time.[39]

A segment of the song was performed by Red Hot Chili Peppers on May 22, 2014,[40] as the conclusion of a drumming contest between the band’s drummer Chad Smith and actor Will Ferrell. In a repeat of the 2000 SNL sketch, Ferrell again played cowbell for the rendition, which appeared on an episode of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.[41][42]

In other mediaEdit

Stephen King cited the song as the inspiration for his novel The Stand, and its lyrics are quoted at the beginning of the novel. It also appears as the opening theme song for the 1994 TV miniseries based on the novel.[22] It was subsequently used as the end credits music for the sixth episode of the 2020-21 miniseries adaptation.

In the film Halloween, the song plays in the car when Jamie Lee Curtis‘ character, Laurie Strode, is being stalked by serial killer Michael Myers.[43]

The 1994 film The Stoned Age features the song when one of the main characters criticizes the song as being “a pussy song” despite it being performed by Blue Oyster Cult.[44]

The song was featured in the starting tracklist of the rhythm game Rock Band.[45]

Mad World – Gary Jules

Uploaded on Jan 8, 2006

The original video of Gary Jules’ and Michael Andrews’ cover version of Mad World, directed by Michel Gondry. Throughout the video children are making animated figures on the sidewalk below. (the song was featured in the movie Donnie Darko. If you haven’t seen it, seriously consider it.)

Directed by Michel Gondry


Mad World

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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“Mad World”
Single by Tears for Fears
from the album The Hurting
B-side “Ideas as Opiates”
“Saxophones as Opiates” (12″)
Released 20 September 1982
Format 7″, 12″
Recorded 1982
Genre Synthpop, new wave, post-punk
Length 3:32
Label Phonogram, Mercury
Writer(s) Roland Orzabal
Producer Chris Hughes
Ross Cullum
Tears for Fears singles chronology
Pale Shelter (You Don’t Give Me Love)
Mad World
Music sample

Mad World” is a song by the British band Tears for Fears. Written by Roland Orzabal and sung by bassist Curt Smith, it was the band’s third single release and first chart hit, reaching #3 on the UK Singles Chart in November 1982. Both “Mad World” and its B-side, “Ideas as Opiates”, appeared on the band’s debut LP The Hurting the following year. The song eventually became Tears for Fears’ first international hit, reaching the Top 40 in several countries in 1982 and 1983, peaking notably at #2 in South Africa.[1]

Two decades later, the song made a popular resurgence when it was covered in a much slower, minimalist style by composers Michael Andrews and Gary Jules for the soundtrack to the movie Donnie Darko in 2001. This version reached #1 in the UK in December 2003, and also became an international hit.


“Mad World” was originally written on acoustic guitar when Orzabal was 19, it was a deliberate attempt to write something in the vein of Duran Duran’s “Girls on Film“. After a few false starts with Orzabal on vocals, Smith took over and “suddenly it sounded fabulous”.[2]

It began life intended to be the b-side for the band’s second single “Pale Shelter (You Don’t Give Me Love)“. At Polygram’s insistence, the band instead decided it may be something people would like to hear on the radio and held back its release, waiting to issue the song as a single in its own right after re-recording it with producer Chris Hughes, a former drummer with Adam and the Ants.[3]

That came when I lived above a pizza restaurant in Bath and I could look out onto the centre of the city. Not that Bath is very mad – I should have called it “Bourgeois World”![4]

—Roland Orzabal

“Mad World” was the first single off the finished album. The intention was to gain attention from it and we’d hopefully build up a little following. We had no idea that it would become a hit. Nor did the record company.[4]

—Curt Smith

Curt Smith’s ad lib in the song’s final chorus resulted in a mondegreen. Smith clarified the actual lyric in 2010:

With Mad World’s again-resurgent popularity, I’m getting asked more frequently about the last line on the album version from The Hurting, a line which I occasionally also sing in concert. The actual line is: “Halargian world.” (Not “illogical world”, “raunchy young world”(!), “enlarging your world”, or a number of other interesting if not amusing guesses.) The real story: Halarge was an imaginary planet invented by either Chris Hughes or Ross Cullum during the recording of The Hurting. I added it as a joke during the lead vocal session, and we kept it. And there you have it.[5]

—Curt Smith


[2] The song was influenced by the theories of Arthur Janov, author of The Primal Scream.[citation needed] The lyric “the dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had” suggests that dreams of intense experiences such as death will be the best at releasing tension.[6]

Lyrically the song is pretty loose. It throws together a lot of different images to paint a picture without saying anything specific about the world.[4]

—Roland Orzabal

It’s very much a voyeur’s song. It’s looking out at a mad world from the eyes of a teenager.[4]

—Curt Smith

Song versions

The 7″ version of “Mad World” is the same mix of the song found on The Hurting. The song had only one remix on its initial release, the World Remix that was featured on a 7″ double-single. This mix is very similar to the album version, with the most notable differences being the additional echo added to the intro and middle sections and the subtraction of a subtle keyboard part from the bridge. A later remix by noted British music producer Afterlife was featured on the 2005 reissue of the Tears for Fears greatest hits collection Tears Roll Down (Greatest Hits 82–92).


Ideas as Opiates” is a song that originally served as the B-side to the “Mad World” single. It was later re-recorded for inclusion on The Hurting. The song takes its name from a chapter title in Arthur Janov‘s book Prisoners of Pain and features lyrics related to the concept of primal therapy. The song is musically sparse, featuring just a piano, drum machine, and saxophone. An alternative version of this song titled “Saxophones as Opiates” was included as a B-side on the 12″ single and is mostly instrumental.

That’s the chapter from Janov, and it’s really a reference to people’s mindsets, the way that the ego can suppress so much nasty information about oneself – the gentle way that the mind can fool oneself into thinking everything is great.[4]

—Roland Orzabal

It really was all about that kind of thing – the psychological answer to religion being the opiate of the masses, whereas we thought ideas were, more than anything else.[4]

—Curt Smith

Music video

Curt Smith in the “Mad World” music video

The promotional clip for “Mad World”, filmed in late summer 1982, was Tears for Fears’ first music video. It features a gloomy looking Curt Smith staring out a window, while Roland Orzabal performs a bizarre dance outside on a lakeside jetty. A brief party scene in the video features friends and family of the band, including Smith’s then-wife Lynn.

According to Smith, “When we made the video in a country estate on the cheap, we bussed all our friends and family up from Bath and had a fun day. The woman who’s having the birthday party in the video is my mum.”[2]

The clip was directed by Clive Richardson who was notable for his work at that time with Depeche Mode.

Track listings

7″: Mercury / IDEA3 (United Kingdom) / 812 213-7 (United States)
  1. “Mad World” – 3:32
  2. “Ideas as Opiates” – 3:54
7″: Mercury / IDEA3 (Ireland) / 6059 568 (Australia, Europe) / TOS 1411 (South Africa)
  1. “Mad World” (World Remix) – 3:30
  2. “Ideas as Opiates” – 3:54
7″ double pack: Mercury / IDEA33 (United Kingdom)
  1. “Mad World” – 3:32
  2. “Mad World” (World Remix) – 3:30
  3. “Suffer the Children” (Remix) – 4:15
  4. “Ideas as Opiates” – 3:54
12″: Mercury / IDEA312 (United Kingdom) / 6400 677 (Europe)
  1. “Mad World” – 3:32
  2. “Ideas as Opiates” – 3:54
  3. “Saxophones as Opiates” – 3:54

Chart positions

Year Chart Position
1982 UK Singles Chart 3
1983 Australian Singles Chart 12
1983 German Singles Chart 21
1982 Irish Singles Chart 6
1983 New Zealand Singles Chart[7] 25
1983 South African Singles Chart 2
1983 Swiss Singles Chart 10

Michael Andrews and Gary Jules version

“Mad World”
Single by Michael Andrews featuring Gary Jules
from the album Donnie Darko (Original Soundtrack) and Trading Snakeoil for Wolftickets
B-side “No Poetry”
Released 2001
15 December 2003
Format CD
Recorded 2000
Genre Piano rock
Length 3:06
Label Sanctuary

“Mad World” achieved a second round of success almost twenty years later after it was covered by Michael Andrews and Gary Jules for the film Donnie Darko (2001). While the Tears for Fears version featured synthesizers and heavy percussion, the Andrews/Jules version was stripped down; instead of a full musical backing, it used only a set of piano chords, a cello, and modest use of a vocoder on the chorus. Their version was originally released on CD in 2002 on the film’s soundtrack, but an increasing cult-following spawned by the movie’s DVD release finally prompted Jules and Andrews to issue the song as a proper single. The release was a success in late 2003, becoming the Number One single over the Christmas holiday in the UK, a feat Tears for Fears themselves never accomplished. The music video, directed by Michel Gondry, has since been very popular on YouTube, with its most popular posting garnering over 60 million views by September 2013.[8] It is included on the DVD compilation Michel Gondry 2: More Videos (Before and After DVD 1). The song was later included in the commercial to the videogame Gears of War. [9] A instrumental version plays in Gears of War 3 when Dom sacrifices himself to save Delta Squad by attacking hordes of Locust and Lambent. Its success did not translate to the United States, where it reached number 30 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart.

Gary Jules recently performed “Mad World” with Mylène Farmer on her Timeless 2013 Tour.[10]

Track listings

CD1: Sanctuary / SANXD250 (United Kingdom)
  1. “Mad World” – 3:06
  2. “No Poetry” – 3:59
  3. “Mad World” (alternate version) – 3:37
CD2: Sanctuary / SANXD250X (United Kingdom)
  1. “Mad World” (Grayed Out Mix) – 6:45
  2. “The Artifact & Living” – 2:26
  3. “Mad World” (video) – 3:20

Chart positions

Chart (2003/2004/2007/2009/2010) Peak
UK Singles Chart 1
US Billboard Modern Rock Tracks 30
Australian Singles Chart 28
Austrian Singles Chart 13
Belgium Flanders Singles Chart 23
Canadian Digital Singles Chart 1
Danish Singles Chart 6
Dutch Singles Chart 4
French Digital Singles Chart[11] 11
German Singles Chart 3
Irish Singles Chart 2
Portuguese Singles Chart[12] 1
Swedish Singles Chart 10
Swiss Singles Chart 53
New Zealand Singles Chart 37

Year-end charts

Chart (2004) Position
German Singles Chart[13] 14
Chart (2000–2009) Peak
UK Top 100 Songs of the Decade 53[14]


Region Certification Sales/shipments
Germany (BVMI)[15] Gold 250,000^
Italy (FIMI)[16] Gold 25,000*
United Kingdom (BPI)[17] Platinum 600,000^
*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone

Chart positions for Adam Lambert’s version

Chart (2009) Peak
Canadian Hot 100 10
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 19
U.S. Billboard Pop 100 30

Popular culture

  • In 2011, the song was covered in the TV reality show The Glee Project.
  • In late 2006, a condensed version of the Andrews/Jules cover of “Mad World” was featured in the award-winning commercial for the video game Gears of War.[18]
  • In addition to its usage in numerous advertisements and fan-made YouTube videos, the Andrews/Jules cover has also become a popular choice for background music in television dramas, having appeared in the following series among others: Being Human (U.S.), Brothers & Sisters, Cold Case, CSI, Dead Like Me, Smallville, The Cleveland Show, The OC, Jericho and The Mentalist. The Lambert version has appeared in ER, FlashForward and General Hospital. Curt Smith sang this song on the television show Psych.
  • It is used on Broadway as the closing number in Butley starring Nathan Lane (2006).
  • The Andrews/Jules version was used in the 28 July 2010, episode of So You Think You Can Dance by choreographer Stacey Tookey in a routine about homelessness, performed by Billy Bell and Ade Obayomi.
  • The 2011 game Gears of War 3 contains a distinct instrumental cover of Gary Jules’ version that plays when Dom saves Delta Squad by sacrificing himself to destroy the Locust and Lambent attacking them.
  • UFC fighter Chris Leben used the Gary Jules version as his walkout theme at UFC 138.
  • An instrumental cover of the Andrews/Jules version was used in one of the scenes of the 2011 Philippine film Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story.
  • Cleveland from the animated Fox television program The Cleveland Show sang “Mad World” for the first 2 minutes of the show that aired 1 April 2012.
  • In the web-based parody of Yu-Gi-Oh!, Yu-Gi-Oh: The Abridged Series, “Mad World” is adopted as the theme for Noah Kaiba.
  • A commercial for the video game Battlefield: Bad Company titled “Mad World” uses the chorus, sung by Sweetwater. It is used as he and Haggard run through a destroyed street. Haggard is annoyed and questions the meaning of the line “the dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had.” He then proposes the song “Shortnin’ Bread“.
  • The Gary Jules version was used in an advertisement for Underground: The Julian Assange Story, which was shown on Network Ten in Australia in 2012.
  • The Gary Jules version is also used in the credits of the movie Donnie Darko.

Other versions and covers

In addition to the Andrews/Jules version, “Mad World” has been recorded over the years by the following artists:

Samples and quotations

  • Wale (rapper) samples a version of the song on his track “Vanity” on his album The Gifted.
  • Prozak samples the song on the track “American Princess”, from the Strange Music compilation Strictly Strange 08 (2008).
  • British dubstep artist The Bug, with vocalist Warrior Queen, included the song “Insane” on the album London Zoo (2008). The song ends with a quote from “Mad World”.
  • Orbital sampled the song on “The Moebius”, the first song on their debut album.


  1. Jump up ^ [1]
  2. ^ Jump up to: a b Guardian: ‘Tears For Fears: how we made Mad World’
  3. Jump up ^ Mad World. Retrieved 9 April 2009.
  4. ^ Jump up to: a b c d e f Cranna, Ian (1999). In The Hurting: Remastered & Expanded [CD booklet]. London: Mercury Records.
  5. Jump up ^ Curt Smith. “It’s a Mad Halargian World.” Curt Smith: The Official Site. October 11, 2010.
  6. Jump up ^ Toby Creswell (2007), 1001 Songs, Hardie Grant Publishing, pp. 87–88, ISBN 978-1-74066-458-5
  7. Jump up ^ Mad World,
  8. Jump up ^ Mad World (Gary Jules),
  9. Jump up ^ Bissell, Tom. Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter. p. 56.
  10. Jump up ^
  11. Jump up ^ “French Digital Singles Chart”. SNEP. Lescharts. 2010-05-01.
  12. Jump up ^ Billboard
  13. Jump up ^
  14. Jump up ^ Radio 1 Official Chart of the Decade, as broadcast on BBC Radio 1 on Tuesday 29 December 2009, presented by Nihal
  15. Jump up ^ “Gold-/Platin-Datenbank (Michael Andrews featuting Gary Jules; ‘Mad World’)” (in German). Bundesverband Musikindustrie.
  16. Jump up ^ “Italian single certifications – Michael Andrews feat. Gary Jules – Mad World” (in Italian). Federation of the Italian Music Industry. Select Online in the field Scegli la sezione. Select Weekand Year —-. Enter Michael Andrews feat. Gary Jules in the field Artista. Click Avvia la ricerca
  17. Jump up ^ “British single certifications – Michael Andrews ft Gary Jules – Mad World”. British Phonographic Industry. Enter Mad World in the field Search. Select Title in the field Search by. Select single in the field By Format. Click Go
  18. Jump up ^ Ross Miller (2006). “Mad World: Gears ad propels song to #1 on iTunes”. Joystiq. Retrieved 27 February 2010.

External links



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