For a brief spell during the mid-to-late ‘70, Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow managed to bridge the gap somewhat between the pioneering heavy metal dinosaurs (Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath) and the burgeoning, so-called new wave of British heavy metal (Iron Maiden, Diamond Head, Def Leppard). Dissatisfied with his work with Deep Purple, ace guitarist Blackmore left the band in 1975, and decided to start over again, this time with a band of his own. Former bandmate Roger Glover had done some producing work with a band named Elf, featuring an American, leather-lunged gnome of a singer named Ronnie James Dio, and while Blackmore was still with Deep Purple, he had already hired Elf to be his own band, with the exception of guitarist David Feinstein, and had even recorded a debut album. Over the next three years, that new band, dubbed Rainbow, would go on to put out four very solid hard rock albums, but by the time the ‘80s rolled around, Blackmore would go on to fire band members left and right, making the band nothing more than a vanity project, and settle for making record after record of MOR dreck, until calling it quits in 1984. Still, despite Blackmore’s legendary persnickety attitude, Rainbow put out loads of great songs, something best exemplified on the superb compilation Catch the Rainbow: The Anthology.
Spurred by their mutual love of Medieval themes and propulsive, progressive metal, Blackmore and Dio formed a formidable songwriting partnership, and the first disc of Catch the Rainbow, which focuses on the Dio albums, is stunning. While Rainbow’s debut album, Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, was a bit inconsistent, its highlights were outstanding, and its three best tracks are included here. Rainbow’s first hit, “Man on the Silver Mountain”, blends a wicked Southern rock opening riff by Blackmore with Dio’s fantasy lyric writing. Mickey Lee Soule’s Hammond organ and drummer Gary Driscoll’s workmanlike drumming make this a bit of a Deep Purple clone, but Dio’s fiery voice carries it. The pretentiously-titled “Sixteenth Century Greensleeves” possesses a memorable riff and cheesy, swashbuckling verses sung by Dio, but when you hear him snarl, “Let it shine on bright / Hang him high-auggghh!” you can’t help but love it. The lengthy, Pink Floyd-ish ballad “Catch the Rainbow” shows Dio’s vocal range, but the bland performance by the other former Elf members dulls it a bit, especially when you hear the tracks that follow.
In preparation for their second record, Blackmore hired keyboardist Tony Carey, bassist Jimmy Bain, and the brilliant drummer Cozy Powell. This reformed band, along with some much more muscular production courtesy of Martin Birch, recorded 1976’s Rainbow Rising, which has proven to be the band’s shining moment, and no less than three quarters of this great album is included here. Opening with a 90-second keyboard intro by Carey, “Tarot Woman” then bursts out of the gate, propelled by Powell’s powerful drumming. This is the sound of a band completely revitalized, and the four tracks from the album don’t let up one bit. “Starstruck” has a great groove to it, not to mention some great, classic “evil woman” Dio lyrics (“She’s there! Beware!”), while the eight-and-a-half-minute “Stargazer” soars in a Zeppelinesque way, aided by swirling orchestration by the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra. The roaring “Light in the Black” doesn’t let up from its breakneck pace for the entire eight minutes, and features one of the greatest vocal performances of Dio’s long career. The 13-minute blues opus “Mistreated”, from the 1977 live album Rainbow on Stage, showcases the band at their absolute peak.
1978’s Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll isn’t quite as strong as Rainbow Rising, but the four selections here hold their own very well. By now, the revolving door for incoming and outgoing members was in constant motion, but Blackmore, Dio, and Powell keep the music consistent. “Gates of Babylon” boasts a Middle Eastern feel, and even steals its riff from Jesus Christ Superstar, while “Kill the King” is the greatest metal song about regicide ever written. The hackneyed but catchy “Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll” hints at Rainbow’s more mainstream future, while “Rainbow Eyes”, the last track on the original album, and the last one on Disc One, serves as Dio’s swan song with the band.
In 1979, Dio did not want to go for a more radio-oriented approach with Rainbow, and when the opportunity to join Black Sabbath arose, he jumped at the chance. Rainbow’s post-Dio years, though commercially successful, were musically mediocre at best. Roger Glover joined the band as their new bassist, and also replaced Martin Birch as producer, and the subsequent albums were limp attempts at landing saccharine, Journey-style hits. On 1980’s Down to Earth, Dio was replaced by Graham Bonnet, who does a decent job on the three album tracks, but aside from the prog-rock of “Eyes of the World”, the music is dreadfully derivative, as “Since You’ve Been Gone” and “All Night Long”, while very catchy, just don’t measure up to the Dio songs. Things didn’t get better when Bonnet was replaced in 1981 by Joe Lynn Turner, one of the blandest hard rock singers who ever lived. The tracks with Turner’s vocals are awful, generic rock (Turner’s “Death Alley Driver” is laughable when compared to Dio’s “Light in the Black”), with only the mellow ballads “Stone Cold” and “Street of Dreams” managing to stand out.
When Blackmore and Glover rejoined Deep Purple for the 1984 comeback album Perfect Strangers, it signaled the end of Rainbow, as its former members splintered into so many other groups that it’s dizzying to think of them all, including Alcatrazz, Ozzy Osbourne’s band, Whitesnake, Dio’s solo group, with Turner even joining Deep Purple for a spell. Catch the Rainbow gives curious listeners a very detailed look at the up-and-down life of the band, and despite Rainbow’s woeful ‘80s output, the entire collection is still worthwhile, based on the first CD alone. Rainbow Rising might be the band’s one classic album, but when it comes to all the other music they made in their 10-year existence, this collection is all you need.
// Notes from the Road
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