RITCHIE BLACKMORE’S RAINBOW
Released on August 4, 1975 (Polydor Records)
Review by John Stoney Cannon:
In the world of rock and roll, it could be said that while rock stars may still come and go, legends are a thing of the distant past, and bands are lucky if they produce a member or even two that themselves reach legendary mythical status. Rare are bands like The Beatles, where the names John, Paul, George, and Ringo are all household names. More often than not, even in the most successful of bands, the main legend lies in a single member such as Jim Morrison of The Doors, Big Brother and the holding company’s Janis Joplin, and in more recent times (well the ’80s) Dee Snider of Twisted Sister. Even more rare are the times when a legendary artist contributes to history by introducing the world to a new talent who eventually themselves becomes the stuff of legend. For every Randy Rhoads brought into the mainstream by a legendary artist like Ozzy Osbourne, there are many more like singers Gary Cherone (Van Halen), John Corabi (Mötley Crüe), and guitarists Jimmy Crespo and Rick Dufay (Aerosmith), who despite giving more than valient efforts to their brief moments in those respective bands, end up merely a musical footnote in rock and roll history, which is what makes the lifespan of the band Rainbow even more incredible. Starting in 1975 and through the mid-’80s, legendary ex-Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore took an amazing trio of mildly successful vocalists to the next level helping to set up incredible careers for Joe Lynn Turner and Graham Bonnet, and introducing the world to arguably metal’s all time greatest frontman, Ronnie James Dio.
What started as a two song solo single with members of Dio and drummer Gary Driscoll of the band Elf turned out so enjoyable for Blackmore that he moved forward with the remaining members of the band to record enough tracks to release what was to be the solo album Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow with the seven original tracks co-written by Blackmore and Dio. The working partnership proved fruitful enough for Blackmore to push forward with Dio and a new roster of musicians as an official band under the name Rainbow of which Dio was a main member from 1975 until 1979 helping to create three legendary studio albums (Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, Rising, and Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll) and 1977 live album On Stage. As great as all of those were, no Rainbow album was more successful until 1982’s Straight Between The Eyes than that unexpected 1975 debut Rainbow record.
Starting off with signature Dio era Rainbow classic “Man On The Silver Mountain”, Blackmore and Rainbow left immediate notice that Deep Purple were in the rear-view mirror and he wasn’t playing around. With a strong contribution from Dio, this would become to a degree more of a Ronnie James Dio signature track along with future Rainbow song “Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll” and set the wheels in motion not only for Rainbow to become one of the biggest rock bands on the planet, but for Dio to become the standard bearer for what a metal vocalist should be. Despite his short stature, Dio‘s voice and stage presence made him larger than life and despite Gene Simmons‘ claims to the contrary, Dio‘s two-finger on stage hand gesture would become the automatic throw your hands up sign for metalheads world wide. That last part doesn’t seem like much but just think how often at a concert you suddenly realize that you’re “flashing the horns” without even meaning to? True, first came Elf for Dio, but it was here on this classic track that the legendary, late singer truly began his journey to become the innovative game changing mythical legend that we all know as love.
It’s tough to pick a favorite song or even a favorite side on Rainbow‘s first offering but through the first half of the world’s first look at the band Blackmore and Dio spit out just a hint of what was to come from both Rainbow and the Dio. On Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, the guitarist discovers a newfound energy and along with his new foil unleashes a ’70s rock and roll energy rarely seen from his former band. Yeah, Purple will always be known for great rock songs but the power created Blackmore once free of the confines of his former bandmates who had started to lean in a more funk groove direction, is apparent from the very first notes of Blackmore‘s post-Purple career.
The dark blues rock of “Self Portrait” with the tandem bass and guitar breaks is wickedly infectious and the solo classic Blackmore. Rainbow leaves little out on the part of the record following up the first eight minute double dose of boot down serious rock and roll following with the cool boogie of their take on Quatermass tune “Black Sheep of the Family” complete with cool slide guitar. Dio delivers a soulful wail more along the lines of Grand Funk‘s Mark Farner with so much perfection that you almost forget it’s Ronnie James on the vocals yet on side one closer “Catch The Rainbow”, the diminutive vocalist shows for the first time his amazing ability to sing a ballad in a performance that can only be described as soul stealing. Of course, the music underneath is perfectly placed especially Blackmore‘s tasty guitar. In this one defining moment, Dio discovers his voice and forever his style and delivery is etched in time never to change, but to grow into stuff of legend.
Side two gets back to rocking with the groove romp of “Snake Charmer”, a tall tale of a warning expressed with all the subtlety of a train coming off the tracks. “No hope for you” sings Dio which could easily be a message to detractors and non-believers of the future legend. My God, this is about as great as ’70s rock and roll as you can get. Purple were doing some cool stuff themselves at the time but yeah, nothing as powerful as this. With Tommy Bolin, they would put on the cool record Come Taste The Band later in the year but Deep Purple‘s last album before their first break up would not hold a candle to Blackmore‘s new rock and roll life with Rainbow. His former band couldn’t deliver a ballad like “Temple of The Kings” with its beautiful renaissance-inspired guitar overtones and old world myth style lyrics. Only Ronnie James Dio can sing a line like “One day in the year of the fox” and not sound overly Hobbit nerdy. It’s a beautiful melodic rock style that he would use throughout his career to create departures from his usual fare of witches and wizards hard rock and metal.
On “If You Don’t Like Rock ‘N’ Roll”, Rainbow jump back into the boogie romp teased on side one. This time, Rainbow show that they can have a bit of fun too with a rock and roll anthem perfect for a few drinks with friends and topped with a sweet honky tonk piano bit and cheers at the finale. It’s a neat little break from the darker sides of the record but merely a nice breather before the album’s second hottest moment after “Man On The Silver Mountain” — the three and a half minute blast of classic Rainbow song “Sixteenth Century Greensleeves.” If truth be known, while I absolutely love the prior tune, “Sixteenth Century Greensleeves” was the Rainbow song that made me a fan and to this day remains my favorite Rainbow track of the Dio era as well as one of my top five all-time favorite Rainbow songs. While the album closing cover of the Yardbirds‘ “Still I’m Sad” is a pretty cool rocking track, for me Rainbow‘s first album will always start with the power of “Man On The Silver Mountain” and finish with the stomping delivery of “Sixteenth Century Greensleeves.” When I think of the magic and man of Ronnie James Dio, it always starts with this song despite Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow beginning with better known “Man On The Silver Mountain.”
The true worth of a great album is how it directs you after listening and with a revisit to Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow while writing this review, I was moved to immediately experience other Dio-era Rainbow tracks like “Stargazer” from follow up Rising and the beautiful “Rainbow Eyes” and “Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll”, both from the album of the same name. From there, it was on to a few tracks from On Stage before my hunger for more Dio vocals took me into a full on listen to my favorite Black Sabbath album Heaven And Hell. It’s not surprising though that an album that started so much 45 years ago would start a fire just by putting it on the turntable years later. It’s a result that happens more often than not when I listen to Rainbow‘s first album.
There’s just something about coming in contact with greatness that leaves you thirsty for more and while Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow has more than enough tasty tunes to fill the cup, the lingering effects leave you wanting a more. It’s that perfect combination between the uptight veteran personality of guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and early hunger of the ever creative Ronnie James Dio that for a brief time came together to make for a once in a lifetime combination that is impossible to overlook and hard to pass up. It’s the Snake Charmer coming face to face with the Man On The Silver Mountain in the Temple of The King to try and Catch The Rainbow. As the story goes, the Rainbow was caught and the treasure found and with it, a place in rock history bought and paid for in full.
Review by Sam Burgh:
Rainbow’s first studio album, Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, is a great example of how diverse an artist or band can be. Ronnie James Dio, Ritchie Blackmore, Micky Lee Soule, Craig Gruber and Gary Driscoll released their debut album in 1975, and what a trip it was. Dio, arguably one of the best vocalists in hard rock and metal, and Ritchie Blackmore, famous for being the guitarist for Deep Purple, are both considered pioneers for the heavy metal genre. This line-up of Rainbow made for a unique sound and created interesting lyrical content that sends us on a strange musical path.
The most notable song on the album starts off as track one, which is “Man On The Silver Mountain.” Right out of the gate, Blackmore’s guitar work is immediately recognizable. It sounds like they plucked it right out of a Deep Purple song. Dio doesn’t disappoint as usual, with his legendary voice also being instantly recognizable. The song is about a Jesus Christ-like figure, at least according to the band. What do you really expect with Ronnie James Dio? Most of the songs he sings seem to tie in a fantasy theme, whether it be goblins, castles, knights, yadda yadda yadda. This song is a great opener that features a great guitar riff, some nice organ wedged in and Dio’s iconic voice. Can’t go wrong there.
The next track is “Self Portrait.” The melody is nice and the song has a satisfying guitar solo towards the end. The most noteworthy element to “Self Portrait” is the obvious jazz influence that the drummer, Gary Driscoll, plays throughout the song. This is a solid track that is a great follow-up to “Man On The Silver Mountain.” Next is “Black Sheep of The Family”, which sounds a lot like it could be a Lynyrd Skynyrd song, at least when it comes to the groove, guitar tone and harmonies. It’s a fast-paced rocker that really showcases Dio’s voice.
“Catch The Rainbow” slows us down a bit. The sound is very similar to Pink Floyd, along with the David Gilmour-esque guitar solo. I really dig the psychedelic style of this song, and it is a great example of how diverse Rainbow are with their sound. Next up is “Snake Charmer”, which is another great rock ‘n’ roll song. The rhythm section consisting of Driscoll’s drumming and Craig Gruber’s booming bass meshes really well and creates a chugging effect throughout the track. “Temple of The King” doesn’t do anything for me. It’s just a bland song with, dare I say, an annoying vocal performance. I just find the song a little cringeworthy and very skippable. In a very pleasant turn, “If You Don’t Like Rock N Roll” begins with a sound that reminds me of a late ‘50s or early ‘60s rock song. The piano is reminiscent of Little Richard with the other players giving it a heavier twist. This is a fun song and one of my favorites on the album. It’s a nice change away from songs about fairy tales.
Speaking of fairy tales, “Sixteenth Century Greensleeves” is next up. This track is a good rocker with a heavy sound and a catchy melody. This is definitely one that will get your head bobbing. We also get a nice solo from Blackmore that is very pleasing to hear. “Still I’m Sad” is an awesome instrumental piece that rounds out the album. The riff is gritty and raw with an intense drum beat that carries the rhythm through the song. This is my favourite song on the album just because of how satisfying the sound is. It’s just a cool rock song with a fantastic groove all the way through.
Just like that, Rainbow’s debut album is over. Looking back on what I heard, this is an impressive album that has just the right amount of experimentalism without losing the iconic sound of the Dio / Blackmore combination. Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow is a great album from a great group. They were an underrated band for sure, but Dio’s career blew up to the highest level and Blackmore is considered one of the best rock guitarists of his time. There’s a lot of talent here that bloomed in to a solid band that is Rainbow.
01. Man On The Silver Mountain
02. Self Portrait
03. Black Sheep of The Family
04. Catch The Rainbow
05. Snake Charmer
06. Temple of The King
07. If You Don’t Like Rock ‘N’ Roll
08. Sixteenth Century Greensleeves
09. Still I’m Sad
Ronnie James Dio – lead vocals
Ritchie Blackmore – guitars
Micky Lee Soule – piano, melloton, clavinet, organ
Craig Gruber – bass
Gary Driscoll – drums
Shoshana – backing vocals (4, 9)
Produced by Ritchie Blackmore, Martin Birch and Ronnie James Dio
Mixed by Martin Birch
Reviewed by John Stoney Cannon and Sam Burgh for Sleaze Roxx, August 2020
Rainbow‘s “Man On The Silver Mountain” single: