Pots of Gold. The studio recordings of Rainbow reviewed: Part One – The Dio Years

  Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow (1975)

When Ritchie Blackmore grew tired of the increasing amount of funk being put into Deep Purple he decided to record a solo album. Apparently he would sit in the studio during the rehearsals and recording sessions for ‘Stormbringer’ play an absolute killer riff and then say ‘ No I’m saving that one for my solo album’. Those of us that have known and loved the man in black for years can hear him saying it. He also for some reason had a burning desire to cover the Quatermass song ‘Black Sheep Of The Family’. The rest of Deep Purple didn’t want to know. So in true Blackmore style he decided to do it without them. Using instead long time Purple support band Elf minus their unfortunate guitar player Steve Edwards.

These initial sessions, which were originally only to record a single soon became Blackmore’s main interest. It wasn’t long before he decided to quit Purple and form a new band based around the new material he was writing with Elf vocalist Ronnie James Dio which he called Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. It has been suggested that this name was inspired by the huge rainbow that adorned the set of the California Jam in 1974 but wherever it came from it certainly sounds better than Ritchie Blackmore’s Elf which was surely never considered!! Blackmore was particularly impressed with Dio’s mediaeval imagery and the pair quickly formed a formidable writing partnership. Unfortunately the other members of Elf were not held in such high regard by Blackmore and were all jettisoned following the recording of the album.

Opening track ‘Man on the Silver Mountain’ boasted an instantly recognisable riff and remained a live favourite throughout the Dio years. It remains one of Blackmore’s best compositions. ‘Catch the Rainbow’ also became a live favourite and once again allowed Blackmore and Dio to shine both individually and together with its laid back bluesy melodic feel. Dio still plays it today with his solo band. ‘Temple Of the King’ and ‘Sixteenth Century Greensleeves’ continued the atmospherical almost Arthurian theme. The latter named being the song originally written as the B side to ‘Black Sheep Of The Family’ when the project was just to be a single. ‘Snake Charmer’ and ‘Self Portrait’ are more traditional rock tracks which in places are not unlike Elf. ‘If You Don’t Like Rock ‘n’ Roll’ is pretty much a throwaway rock boogie thing that was probably used as a warm up in rehearsals but is still more than listenable and extremely Elf-like. The album closer, an instrumental cover of ‘Still I’m Sad’ was also in the live set for a while but in a live setting was done with vocals. As for the track that started the whole thing off ‘Black Sheep Of The Family’ it sits a little uncomfortably in amongst the Blackmore/Dio compositions and in the end was never released as a single or played live.

‘Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow’ remains one of the best albums of the mid seventies and was responsible not only for putting Blackmore back on track but also for pushing Ronnie James Dio into the limelight for the first time on the big stage. The fact that he has remained there ever since says it all. This album is as far removed from the radio friendly eighties version of Rainbow as you could imagine and should be a part of any serious rock fans collection.

  Rising (1976)

After the debut album Blackmore sacked all of the band apart from Dio. He assembled a line-up which, had it been allowed to survive longer than this one studio album and a world tour, could well have been spoken about in the same breath as the #2 line-up of Deep Purple.

Add to the already talented pot of Blackmore and Dio, hard hitting drummer Cozy Powell, technically brilliant keyboard player Tony Carey and the no frills bass of Jimmy Bain and you’ve got pretty much all you need for a classic rock band.

Everything about this album is top quality, with the possible exception of ‘Do You Close Your Eyes’ which is a little out of place but thankfully is the shortest song on the album. From the opening notes of ‘Tarot Woman’ you sense you are about to hear something special ……. by the time the riff kicks in you know you’ve got there. Blackmore is almost certainly playing at his fastest on this album and never lets up for a second. It is also probably his heaviest album. Dio’s vocals are superb throughout, the rhythm section of Powell and Bain drive the album along at a million miles an hour and Carey’s organ interplays with the guitar without trying to sound like a Jon Lord clone. Having said all that though tune and melody have not been sacrificed for speed and power. ‘Starstruck’ is as catchy as any pop rock track with a chorus you can’t help but sing along with. As for the two epics that made up side two in the vinyl days they showcase the talents of Blackmore and Dio as both songwriters and performers as good as anything either of them has done. ‘Light in The Black’ is unfortunate in that it has to follow the classic ‘Stargazer’ and for some may get lost in the shadow of the formers brilliance.
Even the cover is a classic and would surely rank alongside the best if there were to be a ‘Rate Your Album Cover’ website!  

For many this is the ultimate Rainbow album, for many it is the ultimate heavy rock album. I can’t disagree with that at all and it will always be a particularly special album for me as it was one of the first rock albums I ever bought. Almost thirty years later it still sounds as fresh as when I first heard it.

‘Rising’ is close to Blackmore’s finest hour. It is certainly Rainbow’s.

  Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll (1978)
Another Rainbow album, another Rainbow line-up is sadly an appropriate opening line for every Rainbow album. But the sadness is deeper in this case.

The ‘Rising’/’On Stage’ line-up of Blackmore/Dio/Powell/Carey & Bain would surely have pushed ‘Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll’ into the five star bracket or at least close to it. Unfortunately David Stone was no match for Tony Carey and whilst Bob Daisley is a fine bass player some of the bass work on this album is handled by Blackmore himself. Therefore the total chemistry of ‘Rising’ is the missing ingredient here.

Despite that this is still a very fine album containing some of Rainbow’s best songs. The album opening title track became something of an anthem and was given the full scale singalong audience participation treatment in the Rainbow live shows even throughout the Bonnet/Turner years. In recent times it has become the same at Dio shows. Good as it is it can get a little repetative and I would have prefered to see ‘Kill The King’ as the opening cut. Particularly as that song had been opening the live set for well over a year before the studio version was recorded. It made it’s first appearance on the the previous years ‘On Stage’ live set and was as much a classic opening track as ‘Highway Star’ had been for Deep Purple. Racing along at a million miles an hour without sacrificing tune or melody was fast becoming Rainbow’s forte. On ‘Kill The King’ the whole band shines but particularly Blackmore. It is some of his finest work. This track is to me the closest to ‘Rising’ in quality. ‘L.A Connection’ probably gave a hint at what was to come in the future with its good radio friendly riff. An edited version was actually released as a single (in glorious red vinyl no less). ‘Gates Of Babylon’ is another Stargazeresque track and although lacking in that tracks majesty and magnificence contains more classic Blackmore guitar. ‘Lady Of The Lake’ is another good solid rock tune. ‘Sensitive To Light’ and ‘The Shed’ are possibly what lets the album down. Pretty much run of the mill fillers that they are. Which leaves ‘Rainbow Eyes’ a track which surprises everyone the first time they hear the album. The fact that Blackmore and Dio could write ‘Kill The King’ and ‘Rainbow Eyes’ two tracks that are as far removed from each other as you could imagine is testament to their genius. A slow soft beautiful song which could almost be called a lullaby is possibly a strange end to the Dio years but it is a mighty fine one.

(C. Martin Leedham. All originally published on RYM September 2007. Since these were written Ronnie James Dio has sadly passed away however the reviews have been left in their original form)

About Martin Leedham

Music critic, Horse Racing Tipster, Hapless Dreamer, Defender of the Underdog
This entry was posted in Album Reviews, Classic Rock, Deep Purple, Music, Music Reviews, Rock, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Pots of Gold. The studio recordings of Rainbow reviewed: Part One – The Dio Years

  1. David Haworth says:

    Thanks for these reviews the Purple/ Rainbow/ Coverdale ones all make interesting reading and its nice to see stuff written by someone wit h an obvious and genuine love of the music.
    Thank you

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